I, Georgia Tech, challenge you to an honor du-el!
Hometown: Pelargir, Gondor. Uh, I mean Atlanta, Georgia.
Last season: Got off to a great start, beating Notre Dame 33-3 in South Bend, but then everyone realized that, oh yeah, Notre Dame sucks. Struggled to a 4-4 ACC record before falling to Georgia for a seventh straight year, which was deemed enough to earn coach Chan Gailey his walking papers; defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta coached the Jackets in their bowl game, a 40-28 Roady's Humanitarian Bowl loss to Fresno State. They finished the season 7-6 overall and unranked.
The season thus far: Not bad, actually. Under new coach Paul Johnson's diabolical triple-option offensive scheme, Tech shot out to a 6-1 start and a #21 ranking before losing to Virginia at home; they're now 8-3 (5-3 ACC) and ranked #18 in the AP poll, #23 in the coaches'. And if Virginia beats Virginia Tech this weekend, Georgia Tech represents the Coastal Division in the ACC title match, no matter what happens in the UGA-GT game.
Hate index, 1 being homemade apple pie, 10 being squash and most other gourd-related foodstuffs: Fifty. You should know why if you've been reading this blog for any significant length of time, but if you don't, here's a good place to start, followed by this, and the first couple paragraphs of this probably bear mentioning as well.
Associated hottie: Trick question! We all know there are no girls at Tech. But here's Jennifer Copeland, a Florida model who's at least willing to pretend she's a Tech fan.
I've gotta think some money changed hands to make this happen; I just don't know how much.
Celebrity preview: You can talk smack about the Dawgs if you must, but you better not say shit about my mom, who dissects the Jackets in her own unique way here.
What excites me: Here's an SAT question for you:
What does this series of numbers represent?
95 110 105 104 85 102 45 99 90
a) the weight, in pounds, of each of the last nine Vogue cover models
b) the nine state and U.S. highways that pass through Henderson, Nevada
c) the ages of the nine men currently serving in Dick Cheney's "shadow cabinet"
d) the rankings (out of 120) of each of Georgia Tech's nine D-IA opponents in total offense
If you answered "d," give yourself a cookie. Such are the plum benefits of playing in this year's ACC: In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king, and in the land of sucktastic offenses, any team that can play even a modicum of defense comes out looking like the '75 Steelers. In contrast to these stiffs, though, Georgia's offense comes in at #24 in the nation, averaging exactly 429 yards per game. That includes a 19th-ranked passing game cranking out 268.5 yards per contest, which should be particularly meaningful this weekend, because who's the best QB the Jackets have had to account for this season? Cullen Harper? Christian Ponder? Whoever it is, they probably had neither the arm nor the receiving corps that Matt Stafford will have when he takes the field this weekend.
I know Matt Stafford. I've watched Matt Stafford. Matt Stafford is a Facebook friend of mine (request pending). You, ACC quarterbacks, are no Matt Stafford.
Georgia has also had two weeks to prepare for the Jackets' triple-option attack, and Mark Richt has done an incredible job of making the most of any extra time he's given to get ready for games. The Dawgs are 24-4 in the Richt era when they've had more than a week to prepare, 11-2 (0.846) if you take out season openers and bowl games; they're 8-3-2 against the spread coming off a bye week. (Oddly enough, their only two regular-season losses coming off a bye were to Auburn, in '01 and '05.) Earlier this season, the Dawgs used their first bye to get up off the mat after their loss to Alabama and throttle the Volunteers; obviously, that wasn't a perfect game by any stretch, but Knowshon went over 100 yards and Stafford set a new career high in passing yards, and our defense straight-up crushed the Vol offense, so clearly we did something right in our off week. And just as that bye came at a perfect time, when we needed to regroup after a humiliating loss, so does this one, after three straight weeks of sloppy and distracted performances by our D. There's reason to be optimistic that this last bye was similarly used to regain a little focus.
And that's only one of the intangibles that break solidly in Georgia's favor -- not that anyone who's monitored this rivalry over the past seven years needs to be reminded. The game is in Athens, where the Jackets have won only one out of every three times in this series. And for all the swagger Tech has supposedly found under Paul Johnson -- who, to his credit, is about as diametrically opposite to Chan Gailey as a coach can get -- they're still the ones who have lost seven in a row, and thus the ones upon whom there is the most pressure to perform on Saturday. None of the guys on this year's Tech squad have anything particularly positive to take from their past experiences with the Dawgs; QB Josh Nesbitt's one pass attempt against Georgia last year was picked off, while Jonathan Dwyer, leading all of Tech's rushers with 1,184 yards on 170 carries, had exactly two carries for two yards versus UGA a year ago.
They may have broken through the iron-clad Chan Gailey seven-win ceiling, but the Jackets have yet to prove they can make any meaningful dents in Georgia's domination of this series. Paul Westerdawg puts it pretty succinctly: If "wanting it" was all that mattered, Tech would be the ones with the seven-year winning streak. But they're not. So . . . so what?
In any number of variations, the "triple option" has been known to result in tears.
What worries me: Here's what: "Wanting it more" may not win games, but "crushing people with a mind-boggling rushing attack" clearly will, at least a few. With Paul Johnson's triple-option system running more or less at full speed, the Techies rank fourth in the nation (and first in the BCS conferences) with 271 rushing yards per game at a 5.5-yard-per-carry clip. And they're doing it against solid defenses, too: They rolled up 162 rushing yards on Boston College (ranked #7 nationwide against the run), 278 on Virginia Tech (#19), and 288 on Florida State (#21).
Does Georgia's run defense qualify as "solid"? Well, up until a few weeks ago it did, but after allowing a total of 427 rushing yards through their first seven games (at a piddling 2.4-ypc average), the Dawgs have allowed 723 rushing yards in their last four (with the average carry jumping up to 4.2 yards). This is a baaaad trend to be livin' under when you're about to face a triple-option attack. Moreover, the concept of "assignment" football that defenses typically shift to when they're about to face an option attack requires a tremendous amount of discipline, and that's something we just haven't been exhibiting lately. We're not tackling well at all, and even when we do, we're committing dumb-ass face-mask or late-hit penalties that enable other teams to keep drives alive. (Maybe that's one benefit of our guys having to defend the triple-option: You're much less likely to incur a roughing-the-passer penalty when they only pass it 12 times per game.)
Has Georgia learned enough discipline and got enough fire back in their bellies over the past two weeks to play a smarter, more disciplined brand of football against the Jackets? I guess we'll see. Senator Blutarsky sounds optimistic that the meaning of this rivalry, and the importance of an eighth straight win, are not lost on this year's players. And Mark Richt, to his credit, has always seemed well aware that he's going to take Tech's very best shot and has found ways to prepare for that. But we won't know for sure until the two teams take the field at noon Saturday.
Ain't a damn thing changed, boy, protect ya neck.
Player who needs to step up: WLB Rennie Curran. Not that Rennie hasn't been stepping it up for the past three months, mind you; even during the doldrumiest of Georgia's defensive doldrums, #35 has consistently been out there chopping wood (and heads, Wu-Tang style). But the Dawg defense needs a leader to keep their bellies aflame and their heads in the game, and it's most likely gonna fall to Curran to be that guy. First order of business: Teaching the rest of the starters how to tackle, perhaps? At the very least, somebody needs to tell Reshad Jones that this isn't flag football, and a mere chest bump, no matter how forcefully it's administered, does not automatically cause an opposing ball carrier to be declared "down."
What I think will happen: A few days before the Georgia-Alabama game back in September, my co-worker Stanley, who graduated from Georgia but was raised deep in the heart of Bama country, predicted that "either Georgia's going to win a very close game, or Bama's just going to blow them out." At the time, I scoffed; needless to say, any lingering scoffing had ceased by halftime.
Exhibit (A) as to what happens when one takes a tough opponent for granted.
Why do I bring this up now? Well, I think the outlook for the 101st official edition of Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate is kind of similar. No, I don't mean that Georgia is destined for another 31-0 first-half jackhammering, but I do think we'll know very early on what kind of attitude each team is bringing to this game. If the Dawgs decide to continue filling the role of Tech's personal tormentor -- the Jerry to their Tom, if you will, the Bugs Bunny to their Elmer Fudd -- while the Jackets end up continuing their long-standing tradition of soiling themselves at the mere sight of a super-G, then the Dawgs probably roll up another two-touchdown win aesthetically similar to last year's. If, on the other hand, the Jackets truly are a team transformed under Paul Johnson, while the Dawgs phone it in on defense in a manner similar to what they did against Kentucky or Florida, then it'll be Georgia on the bad end of an early 14-0 score (or worse) that they never quite manage to make up.
I believe the more likely outcome, though, lies somewhere in between those two: If UGA and Tech both bring their respective A games, then this is a hard-fought contest that goes all the way down to the final minutes. Let's not beat around the bush here: Tech is averaging 271 rushing yards per game this season, and my guess is they get at least that many on Saturday; if you put a gun to my head, I'd guess they go over the 300-yard barrier for the fifth time this season. However, it's instructive to remember that North Carolina gave up 326 yards on the ground to Tech two weeks ago and still managed to pound them 28-7. They accomplished this by doing two things: forcing Josh Nesbitt into a dismal passing day (10-22, 97 yards, one pick) and winning the turnover battle (+3).
Hope you've got some of this game tape in your Netflix queue, Willie.
The latter isn't something Georgia has been particularly adept at this season -- I was surprised to find that we're actually -1 on the year, which is only good for a tie for 67th in the nation. Part of the reason for that, though, is that we haven't taken away or coughed up the ball all that many times this season. And if we take care of the ball this weekend the way we have in our best moments, then we've got a chance to win the turnover battle by forcing Tech into some mistakes. The Jackets are currently only tied for 78th in the country in turnovers lost, mainly owing to 18 lost fumbles (tied for third most in D-IA); if we play disciplined and snatch the ball away a couple times, then we'll be in great shape, even if Tech does manage to bust a few big runs.
But will we play disciplined? I'll be honest: I got no fuckin' idea. The bye week, as I've said, should be a plus for us; I don't doubt that guys like Richt and Martinez recognize the need for us to get re-focused on the fundamentals of tackling and sound assignment football. For any of that to actually translate into a winning defensive performance, though, a leader's going to have to emerge on that side of the ball to get the players to buy into it. Rennie Curran could be that guy, Ellerbe could be, but . . . well, I guess we won't know for sure until Tech takes the ball for the first time. I'll be honest, I don't feel nearly as good about that as I'd like to.
Fortunately, one of our most glaring weaknesses on defense -- our utter lack of a pass rush -- will be mitigated to some extent by the fact that Josh Nesbitt has only attempted more than 20 passes once this season (against North Carolina, also the only time he had completions in double digits). And again, as good as Tech's defense has frequently looked this season, they have yet to face a balanced offensive attack anything like what Georgia brings to the table. So what does it all mean? Well, I'm girding my loins for something that looks a lot like the Kentucky game: Another solid performance from the Georgia offense, a lot of rushing yards given up to the opposing defense, and both teams managing to match each other punch for punch (and score for score, more or less) until some combination of critical Tech turnover/heroic Georgia drive in the final minutes of the game ices it for the Dawgs.
And you know what that means: CLEAR!
How confident am I about that? Eh . . . no comment. Either way, Dawg Nation, it's time to strap the fuck in and keep the nitro tabs at the ready. But I've got faith that if we play smart, cover the Nesbitt/Dwyer combo and produce on offense the way we should be able to, we've got a shot at Eight In A Row, Bitches. And that's all the early Christmas gift I could possibly ask for.
If you're trash-talking: "Seven in a row, bitches" should be all that you need. But Paul Westerdawg points out that that's only the beginning. The Techies haven't beaten us without Ralph Friedgen on their coaching staff since 1984 -- guess he's kind of like their David Cutcliffe -- and haven't beaten us without at last 10 ineligible players on their roster since their shared national title in 1990.
Fine, you say. Anyone can rattle off a bunch of boring statistics. But a picture really is worth a thousand words, and it's pictures that neatly sum up everything about the difference between Georgia and Georgia Tech. Here's the first result that pops up when you do a Google image search for "university of georgia student":
And here's the first result for "georgia tech student":
I could say more, but any explanation I could offer here would only be belaboring the point.
Why you should root for Georgia even if you don't care about this game: Georgia is 59-36-5 in this rivalry. Georgia Tech hasn't had a winning decade in the series since the 1950s, when Bobby Dodd was their head coach; since their record-setting eight-year win streak under Dodd, they're 14-37 against the Dawgs. So it's only fair that Georgia, being as dominant as they've been in this rivalry, should hold at least a tie for the longest series winning streak, which they would earn with an eighth straight win this Saturday. Plus if Tech wins this Saturday for the first time this century, they're going to act like they just won the national title and start telling everyone they "own" us now, and I can't even begin to tell you how annoying that would be.
I will run up and down Highland Avenue in front of my apartment building wearing nothing but a Georgia flag if: Georgia wins, period. I don't care whether we cover the spread or not, whether we win 13-10 or 52-48; if we take an eighth straight over the nerds, that'll be worth some public semi-nudity on my part, no matter how cold it is outside. But a blowout win would send a message to Paul Johnson similar to the one we sent to Chan Gailey in his first game against the Dawgs, so I'm uppin' the ante here: If Georgia somehow beats Georgia Tech by three TDs or more, I'll do the flag run without the flag. Yep, you heard me. And such a thing will all but assuredly destroy any chance I had of getting a job with the Obama administration -- yes, I filled out my app at change.gov last week -- but what can I say? Obama's on the bumper of my car, but the red and black is in my blood, son. And don't any of y'all ever forget it.