Wednesday, September 5

A Bulldog Tempts the Wrath of a Vengeful God, Part XII: Georgia Tech.

Note: Obviously I had hoped to get this last one up before the actual start of the season, but I lost track of what day it was and ended up throwing it away; I'm sure you Techies can sympathize. But anyway, here it is. The lion's share of this was written before Tech's opener against Notre Dame, though while I did make some alterations based on that game, it didn't end up amounting to all that much.

On that note, I'll be revisiting each one of these preseason predictions week by week as Georgia prepares to face the team in question, updating them as necessary based on the games that have already been played and, hopefully, coming up with some more specific and relevant information as a result. South Carolina goes up on Friday, assuming that circumstances don't intervene between now and then.

And now: the dorks.

No, you're right -- I'm sure showing that level of devotion to your team is far more satisfying than ever getting to touch a woman's breasts, ever.

Hometown: Atlanta, Georgia.
Last season: The Jackets were 9-2 and cruising, with big wins over Virginia Tech and Miami, before Chan Gailey Equilibrium kicked in and they lost a heartbreaker to Georgia, an avert-your-eyes ACC title game to Wake Forest, and the Gator Bowl to West Virginia. Five losses -- now that's the Georgia Tech I've come to know and love!
Hate index, 1 being a Tahiti sunset with a beautiful woman, 10 being gonorrhea: Thirty-nine. Ever since the outrage of Jasper Sanks's 1999 non-fumble, I've relegated Tech to wouldn't-piss-on-'em-if-they-were-on-fire-less'n-I-could-piss-gasoline status, and with their annual litanies of "OK, this is the year we're going to put you rednecks in your place" douchecockery, I don't see that situation changing much. They are quite simply one of the most undeservingly annoying fan bases in all of sports. If they were playing Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaeda All-Stars, I'd honestly have to think long and hard about whom I'd root for.
Associated hottie: You were expecting me to make some “not applicable” joke, weren’t you? Oh, it was tempting -- but here’s a cheerleader, at least.

If anyone knows this young lady's name, pass it along to me so I can try and schedule an interview with her to find out a) how she's liking Tech and b) whether one of her hobbies is wrapping herself in bacon and walking into the lion cage at the Atlanta Zoo.

What excites me: Calvin Johnson, he of the 2006 Biletnikoff Award and all-time leading receiver in Georgia Tech history status, is gone. That means less to Georgia fans than the uninitiated observer might think it does, given that CJ's production against the Dawgs amounted to just nine catches for 71 yards and a single TD in three games, but he was still the best Tech had, and his departure singlehandedly turns the Jackets' receiving corps from one of its greatest strengths into a major liability. At the moment, their best weapon at WR appears to be James Johnson, who caught one entire pass against Georgia last year and was last seen flinching like an abused puppy at the mere mention of Tra Battle's name. Add to that a first-year starter at QB and a new scheme to learn under new offensive coordinator John Bond, and it's anyone's guess as to what the passing game's going to do this year.

And then, of course, there’s Chan “Beige Alert” Gailey, who gives the Jackets something that few teams in the country have: their very own momentum-killer. Ironically, despite Gailey's soul-extinguishingly vanilla playcalling, his five Georgia Tech seasons have still managed to be wild roller-coaster rides of inconsistency -- how many other teams have ever knocked off a ranked Auburn team and gotten obliterated by Duke in the same season? -- but there is one consistent aspect of Gailey’s leadership, and that is that he’ll always find a way to wilt against Georgia. Yeah, a lot of that has been Reggie Ball’s doing, but let the record show that Game Ball hadn’t even committed to Tech when the Dawgs welcomed Gailey to the rivalry with the infamous 51-7 beatdown in Athens. As long as Chan is on the opposite sideline, Bulldog fans will feel very good about their team’s chances.

What worries me: Georgia has had a hell of a time moving the ball against Jon Tenuta’s defenses the past three years, and they could have trouble once again this year, as eight guys return from a defense that only allowed 301 yards per game (a mere 105 rushing) in 2006. The one trouble spot I could possibly see on their defense is at cornerback, which was a virtual revolving door last season, but then again they were having to replace three starters in the secondary, so it’s safe to say things should be a lot more settled this time around. No matter what happens in the defensive backfield, the Tech run defense will be brutal; they only lose two starters from a front seven that held 10 of 14 opponents under 100 total rushing yards last year.

Another guaranteed strength is at tailback, where the ACC’s leading rusher in 2006, Tashard Choice, returns behind a strong and experienced offensive line that should be one of the best in the country. If Gailey and Patrick Nix had just used the gray wrinkly things growing out the top of their spinal cords last year against Georgia, they would’ve put the ball in Choice’s hands and not Reggie Ball’s at the game’s most critical junctures and perhaps won the thing.

And then there’s Reggie Ball -- or, rather, the lack of him. Even as they were chanting “Reg-gie” and joking about having a ceremony to retire Ball’s jersey after last year’s game, they were wondering what life would be like without Game Ball to hand them gift-wrapped Ws year after year. Starting QB Taylor Bennett is the mother of all variables: He had a stellar performance against West Virginia, but the Mountaineers’ pass defense was nothing special, not that you can really draw overarching conclusions from bowl games in the first place; he almost has to be better than Reggie Ball by default, and yet he never managed to knock Reggie off the top of the depth chart. The opener against Notre Dame didn't clear up the picture any -- Bennett's stats were pretty mediocre overall (11-of-23, 121 yards, no TDs), but he also managed not to make any of the game-changing, momentum-vaporizing, even-the-kid-in-the-third-deck-could-see-you-were-throwing-into-quadruple-coverage boners that characterized the Ball era.

The kid is a puzzle, but if I had to make a decision, I’d say he worries me, for one simple reason: Whatever mental block Reggie had with respect to the Dawgs, Bennett isn’t necessarily going to have it. In a pinch, the Dawgs could sit back and count on Ball to find a way to blow the game, but whether Taylor Bennett is the next Joe Hamilton or the next Tommy Luginbill, the Bulldogs can’t automatically count on him to do the same.

Player who needs to step up: DT Jeff Owens. It’s no secret that the Georgia defensive line hasn’t exactly been blessed with a lot of stability this past off-season, and as the only returning starter, Owens's leadership is going to be vital from the word "go" this season. But it will also be vital in stuffing a rushing attack that will be the main strength of Tech's offense. Owens is also one of the few D-linemen we've got with the sheer size to match up properly with Tech's offensive line; whether or not you think the rest of the unit's speed will be enough to compensate, Owens is still going to have a lot of responsibility on his shoulders.

What I think will happen: It's safe to say that I've never been more worried about a Tech game going into the season than I am about this one. Unshackled from Reggie Ball and his treacherous brain flatulence, this offense could turn out to be quite good, though I'm not prepared to just assume that based on one big-time bowl outing by Taylor Bennett. Given the fact that this is the last game of the season, too, any number of things could happen between now and then that could dramatically change the outcome. Maybe some important people get injured. Maybe Georgia's front seven comes together in a big way; maybe James Johnson turns out to be an OMG AW3SOM3 receiver now that Reggie Ball's no longer there to habitually overthrow him.

But in 29 years on this planet, there are a few lessons I've learned that are major enough to stick with me forever: Good coffee is worth paying extra for, girls never actually want to be "friends," and you don't mess with a streak. Georgia's dominance over the Jackets has stretched to six games in a row now, a stranglehold that Georgia Tech would really have to prove profound superiority in some area to break -- and so far I haven't seen any unmistakable evidence that they've done that. Like last year, Clean Old-Fashioned Hate will be a close-fought affair, and Tashard Choice will almost certainly add some padding to stats that may be considered Heisman-worthy by that point, but with a shrewd coaching staff, a rapidly progressing quarterback, and a talented defense that doesn't particularly care whether you know their names or not, Georgia wins yet another heart-stopper. Why? Because it's what we do.

If you're trash-talking: Oh, there's so very much: the barren social lives of Tech's student body; the sea of red that manages to infiltrate Bobby Dodd Stadium every other year for UGA-GT; the Reuben Houston, George O'Leary, and academic-ineligibility scandals; or the fact that Chan Gailey has managed to lose to every single member of the ACC -- yes, including Duke and UNC -- during his tenure on the Flats.

But in the end, nothing quite compares to: Six in a row, bitches.

A Tech fan responds: Comes now Jeff from Ramblin' Racket,

It's very hard to make calls and judgements about a week 13 game when the college football season is still a month out, but I'll try here to communicate some realistic thoughts before jumping into the gold-tinged "predictions."

For the past four years, the Tech-Georgia game and its result hinged on QB play. (Five years ago was 51-7, in which the game didn't really "hinge on" anything.) Quick rundown of what I mean:

2003, UGA 34 - GT 17 David Greene sets up the first UGA touchdown with a great 46-yard play-action pass to Fred Gibson. Despite a 17-point deficit at halftime, Tech seems to have a chance with A.J. Suggs throwing two touchdowns . . . but also two picks. Doubtless, the senior's utter lack of game minutes since 2002 contributed to his poor play.

2004, UGA 19 - GT 13 Although he started in the '03 game (and left with a "concussion" after basically attacking a Georgia trainer on the sidelines), 2004 is when Reggie Ball's career hallmark of losing winnable games to the Bulldogs began. As Dawg fans will doubtless remind Tech Nation if we try to forget, Reggie ended the game by throwing the ball away on fourth down. (To be fair, the scoreboard's down ticker said 2nd on 3rd, when Patrick Nix called for a spike. Still pretty damn poor, though.)

As much as Reggie DIDN'T win it for the Jackets, though, David Greene DID win it for the Dawgs. Greene fractured the thumb on his throwin' hand during the first series, leaving D.J. Shockley to lead the offense. Georgia led 16-0 at the half, but Tech scored 13 unanswered in the third quarter, and momentum was wholely with the Jackets. David Greene showed a lot of heart when he re-entered the game in the fourth quarter and you could tell his presence truly inspired his teammates, as well as the home crowd in Athens. He set up the field goal which meant Tech would have to go for a TD, not a field goal, on their final drive.

2005, UGA 14 - GT 7 Based on the Dawgs' performance under Shockley in the 2004 game, it looked like with DJ at the helm in '05, "the Ramblin' Wreck would beat the Red and Black for sure." (Scope the last two comments on that post.) Well it didn't work out that way. In the Tech game, Shock didn't straight up win it for UGA the way Greene did, but DJ kept Georgia where they needed to be in order to win the game. Reggie, on the other hand, found a way to not win for GT, with a major major assist from Tim Jennings.

In the fourth quarter, the Dawgs were up 14-7, but Tech rambled down the field to the Georgia 11. Reggie was then rushed to pass by the Georgia pass rush, and Tim Jennings snagged the ball with just over a minute left. Game.

Up until that last interception, DJ's and Reggie's stat-lines were very similar. Shock 15/34, 198 yds, 1TD/1INT. Reggie 18/35, 155 yds, 1TD/2INT. So QB play was a vital factor. The player with that one extra INT didn't get the win.

2006, UGA 15 - GT 12 The most frustrating Georgia loss I've witnessed, since the Tech defense allowed only one TD, with less than two minutes remaining, yet the Jackets lost the game. Much like in 2005, neither QB won the game in a big way, it was the quarterback with fewer mistakes who got the win.

Matt Stafford threw that game-winning TD, but he also threw no interceptions, whereas Reggie Ball threw two INTs. Also, Ball lost the fumble which Tony Taylor recovered for a defensive TD. (Now, I still have issues with that play, as I have literally never seen a pile of players like that which lasted so long without being blown dead. But oh well.) And unfortunately, Reggie wasn'e able to keep his composure, saying in the post-game press conference, "C'mon dog, it's a game. Georgia is Georgia. They're a good football team, but they ain't no speed bump or anything like that. It's just a game. Unfortunately for us, they've come out the last couple of years and won the game." But, as UGA tackle Ray Gant said, Reggie "was definitely rattled at the end of the game. He was kicking and shoving people. He's 0-4 against Georgia, so you can't really blame him. I might be kicking and shoving guys too if that was my record against them."

Okay, that was kinda painful reliving the past four years of Clean Old Fashioned Hate. Well, now the Reggie Ball era is over, and it truly does feel like a whole new ballgame. But as I said, I believe quarterback play will still be the deciding factor between the Jackets and Dogs. Willie Martinez and Jon Tenuta are both top-notch defensive coordinators who can scheme to fit their personnel and to exploit the other team's weaknesses. Both the Jackets and Dogs should be very strong at the tailback position, with the Dawgs returning Danny Ware and Kregg Lumpkin, and the Jackets bringing back 2006's ACC leader, Tashard Choice. UGA returns only 12 starters to Tech's 17, and will have less experience on the O-line, but by season's end that won't mean too much. Also, Georgia's recruiting is always quite solid.

So like I said, quarterback is the big question and likely deciding factor. Matt Stafford grew up a lot towards the end of last season, and even showed his ability to be a rushing QB in the Auburn game. (Who knew?!) In Georgia's final three games, Stafford threw three TDs and only one pick.

Taylor Bennett looked stellar in the Gator Bowl, starting out eight-for-eight passing and going 19/29 overall for 326 yards, three TDs and one pick. His play for this season is a huge question mark, though, simply because you can't judge a player based on (basically) one game only. Also we've got to wonder, if he is truly this good, why didn't Coach Gailey ever supplant Reggie with Taylor, specifically in the Georgia and Wake Forest games last year? Here's hoping that Coach was just stubborn, and that Taylor really is that good. And here's hoping for the un-bloody-likely scenario that we see that perfect storm that OSU/Michigan had last year, that Tech and Georgia are both undefeated coming into the rivalry game.

Go Jackets!

Hey, pal, nobody said you could throw in a "Go Jackets" at the end! Oh well.

Up next: Good question. If the season goes as I've predicted, Georgia will be 10-2 at this point, 6-2 in the SEC; that should be good enough for second place in the SEC East. Maybe even first place, but if Florida beats Georgia in the Cocktail Party this year, the Gators would have to lose three other SEC games to cede the division title to UGA. Unfortunately, I don't see that happening.

Even so, depending on the outcome of the SEC championship game -- which, if I had to pick right now, looks like an LSU victory over Florida -- Georgia looks like an attractive option for the Outback Bowl, maybe even the Capital One if Florida gets a BCS bid. The Cotton Bowl is less likely, given that they usually pick a team from the SEC West, but Georgia's devoted fan base would make them an attractive option if Arkansas stumbles and the Cotton people decide they don't want Auburn two years in a row.

As far as that's concerned, the wild card might be Texas -- once a Cotton Bowl regular, they've played in that game only once since 2000, and the bowl's organizers might be interested in having them back if they get edged by Oklahoma for the Big 12 South title. And if that happens, the Cotton might very well be interested in a rematch of the 1984 game -- in which 7th-ranked Georgia beat an undefeated Texas squad, killed the 'Horns' shot at a national title, and secured a final ranking of #4 in the nation.

Could be interesting, no? We'll see how it goes.


Ludakit said...

I've seen that cheerleader before. She was in Athens last weekend. Overheard her saying something about "fishing with better bait."

Anonymous said...

You could bounce a quarter off the abs of that GT cheerleader.

Unfortunately, you could also bounce a quarter off the breasts of that GT cheerleader...

Anonymous said...

It's not GT, Doug.

It's GTU.

Nothing gets the gnats in a tizzy like throwing university into their name.

Universal Remonster said...

Did that guy just say Danny Ware was coming back? OMG!! Now we have another great rusher in the backfield! It must have been a mirage when I saw him as the New York Jets leading pre-season rusher.........