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Post Georgia 37 – Ga. Tech 14: A rivalry with new life

Wednesday November 30, 2022

Last year I noticed how flat the vibe was around the Tech game from the host team. Neither the Tech fans nor – more importantly – their players wanted much to do with the game. It was clean, old-fashioned apathy.

The difference in 2021 was the indifference. Georgia fans turned out in strong numbers to see their #1 team, but the sense of rivalry was muted….The color palette of the stadium revealed the apathy of Tech fans. Assured of a three-win season and the return of their head coach, Tech fans wanted nothing to do with this game. The sarcastic cheer for Tech’s initial first down summed it up: how much energy could you put into a rivalry when it’s all you can do to move the chains?

Some of that hopelessness might have been understandable when the #1 team went up against an opponent with only three wins, but it was still jarring to see the life sucked out of the rivalry. If this year’s midseason promotion of Brent Key to head coach did anything for the Tech program, it was to restore some pride and purpose in their program. The wins that came were a byproduct. While Tech’s fans were still few and far between on Saturday for their first visit to Athens since 2018, you saw the difference on the field. This Tech team, while overmatched, was at least not the passive bystander to their own rout that they were a year ago. Tech brought reasonable game plans on both sides of the ball and, for a few possessions, came out with more energy and enthusiasm than a Georgia team that might have expected little resistance en route to another blowout. I don’t know how to say this without sounding condescending, but it was refreshing to see a Tech team put up a fight.

Georgia seemed unprepared for a Tech team willing to compete. In 2021 it didn’t matter: Georgia didn’t let a disinterested Tech team drag them into a sloppy game. Georgia played to its standard, scored on its first four possessions, and only punted once. That same focus wasn’t in place from the start in the 2022 game, and a more determined Tech team was able to stay in the game until the middle of the third quarter.

Tech’s opening series tested Georgia’s defensive discipline. It wasn’t a good sign that the game opened with a pair of 9-yard runs. The Jackets then hit a couple of easy receiver screens to the outside to cross midfield. Georgia seemed to stop the drive, but a well-executed slot fade on 4th-and-9 gave Tech a first-and-goal. (The Jackets ran that slot fade as window-dressing on a number of plays on the drive and even attempted it on first down before succeeding on fourth down. Bullard played it well on first down but got beat on fourth down.) Tech brought in their running quarterback, the left edge of the defense collapsed, and Tech walked in the first first-quarter touchdown given up by the Georgia defense all season. Chambliss got caught looking inside, and I’m still not sure where Lassiter was headed on the play.

It wasn’t a much better start for the offense. The inexplicable trend of using Brock Bowers primarily on short screens continued, and Bennett missed Kearis Jackson on third down. The Bulldogs dodged a bullet on Tech’s second possession. The Jackets again drove near midfield. They ran a fake toss that sucked in Christopher Smith and then had a wide open tight end seam route that caught reserve ILB Rian Davis out of position. Fortunately Tech’s TE dropped the pass. A completion would have created another scoring opportunity for them. A 7-0 deficit was bad enough but nothing to be concerned about. Giving up consecutive scores to open the game and going down 10 or 14 points before many fans found their seats would have sounded some alarms.

Georgia settled down somewhat as they slowly woke up. The running game came to life as McIntosh ripped off the season’s longest run by a tailback to spark the drive that put Georgia into the lead for good. The Dawgs missed another scoring opportunity as a questionable offensive facemask penalty on a fourth down conversion forced a punt. The defense, for the second straight week, couldn’t pin the opponent inside their own 5 and left themselves with no time for points at the end of the half.

The Dawgs pulled away in a dominant third quarter. Another penalty forced a field goal on Georgia’s first drive of the half after a touchdown pass to Arian Smith was ruled to be out of bounds. The defense forced their first three-and-out of the game, and the threat of a punt rush seemed to force problems with Tech’s punt operation. The Dawgs cashed in on the short 17-yard field, but again it wasn’t easy. Georgia couldn’t punch it in from the goal line, and Bowers had to scoop a short pass off the turf on fourth down. Tech fumbled on their next play to set up another Georgia field goal, and Georgia was able to open the quarter with 13 quick points before Tech managed a first down. A 99-yard touchdown drive featuring an 83-yard wheel route completion from Bennett to McIntosh blew the game open entering the fourth quarter and cleared the way for the reserves and seniors to finish out the game.

So Georgia again finishes the regular season 12-0. It’s a huge accomplishment in any year, but to do it in consecutive seasons is unprecedented at Georgia and rare for any program. Georgia didn’t take the same path to 12-0 in both seasons. Last year we were talking about the near-perfect shutout of Tech. This year for the fourth or fifth time we’re talking about starting slowly or the weather or “playing with their food” or some other explanation for an incomplete effort in a game that turns out to be a win with a margin of victory in double digits. We should know better though about the predictive nature of these games. We’ve seen this team turn it on for their biggest games, and a team that looked focused and ascendant heading into last year’s postseason fell flat in the SEC championship game. With the motivation of the program’s first SEC title since 2017, the memory of a bad loss to LSU in 2019, and a top playoff seed and virtual home semifinal game on the line, you’d expect Georgia to be a little more locked in at the start the next time they take the field.

  • Weekly appreciation of Jack Podlesny. Three points is better than nothing as the team was forced to kick field goals on three of their first five scores, and you hate to think how demoralizing a miss would have been as Tech hung close. The 50-yarder was a rocket shot.
  • Georgia has a problem on the edge. I don’t know if the solution is going with a younger player like Jalon Walker, but that will be a focal area of the defense going into the playoff.
  • Watching a late defensive line stunt involving Bear Alexander, Jalon Walker, and Mykel Williams after a nice open-field stop by Marvin Jones should give you warm fuzzies about the future of the defense.
  • Those reserves had three of Georgia’s four credited sacks in the game.
  • David Daniel-Sisavanh has to hate garbage time. He’s been on the coverage end of late scores by Michigan, South Carolina, and now Georgia Tech.
  • As a defensive lineman it’s tough for Jalen Carter to get the stats of an edge or a linebacker, but he’s so disruptive getting into the backfield and making the rest of the front six or seven better.
  • Speaking of Carter, he was a secondary target out of the backfield on the goal line pass play that went to Bowers. It’s good to show another look out of that tight formation, and we’ve seen him catch the ball before.
  • For a while a 13-yard swing pass to McIntosh was the longest pass play of the game. Bowers had five receptions for only 20 yards. Bennett completed passes to just five players. The downfield attempt to Arian Smith was a great pass, and there weren’t the weather issues of a week ago. For whatever reason the midrange, much less downfield, passing game has been kneecapped over the past few games. There’s no better example than the productivity of Bowers. Since his 154 yards against Florida, Bowers has 15 catches for 98 yards – just 6.5 yards per catch. That’s a lot of ineffective screens. The TE seam we saw at South Carolina is still a thing, right?
  • That wheel route to McIntosh turned out to be Bennett’s final pass at Sanford Stadium. What a way to go out for someone who will leave undefeated at home as Georgia’s QB1.
  • Rosemy-Jacksaint had just the one catch, but that was a tough one in space for a much-needed touchdown. It’s been a long time since that smooth touchdown against Florida in 2020, but he’s more than a tough blocker.
  • As at Mississippi State, Milton put the cherry on top with a long touchdown run. It will be interesting to see how a healthier Milton works into the McIntosh/Edwards rotation in the postseason especially as McIntosh also is playing his best football.
  • Georgia ran the ball well the past two weeks with over 245 yards on the ground in each game. That and a strong defense might be behind the retreat of the passing game, but we know Georgia will need the dynamic and aggressive offense we’ve seen earlier in the year against the more well-rounded opponents they’ll face in the postseason.
  • Second half Ringo vs. first half Ringo was one of the more decisive victories of the day.
  • Mondon and Dumas-Johnson were fantastic. Both Kentucky and Tech took shots across the middle when Georgia subbed in Marshall and Davis at ILB. The defense needs to be able to sub at those spots without much loss of continuity.
  • The late Beck fumble ended Georgia’s quest for their first turnover-free game since Vanderbilt. It might have been slow going for a few quarters, but Georgia at least didn’t give Tech’s offense the advantage of a short field until the kickoff return to midfield in the 4th quarter. Great job by the defense there to stuff Tech at midfield and force the turnover on downs. Milton finished things off from there.
  • The list of seniors, as always, only tells part of the story. Georgia will lose some underclassmen. We know there will be transfers. There’s also still the possibility under Covid rules that some seniors who walked might return. Only a handful of the seniors, like Stetson Bennett’s forced retirement, are for sure done. Whoever ends up having played their last game at Sanford has been part of some historic success at Georgia and will be remembered fondly.

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