Thursday, November 22

. . . And this nerd you cannot change: Revisiting the Yellow Jackets.

Above, students from UGA and GT demonstrate some of the dramatic differences between their respective student, uh, bodies.

What I said at the time: The loss of Reggie Ball, Georgia's MVP for four straight Clean Old-Fashioned Hate games, was lamented . . .

Even as [Georgia fans] 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 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.

. . . but "addition by subtraction" ended up taking a back seat to "6-0, bitches":

. . . [I]n 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. . . . Georgia wins yet another heart-stopper. Why? Because it's what we do.

Like it was our job, lawya.

What's happened since then: For the Bulldogs, a light went on during the Vanderbilt game, and a season that was on the brink after a humiliating loss to Tennessee now stands at 9-2 (6-2 SEC), with the Dawgs ranked 7/8 in the polls, assured of no worse than second place in the SEC East, and still harboring hope of an SEC title-game berth if the Vols falter against Kentucky. If any such light went on for the Jackets, it didn't stay on long -- their 2-0 start was negated by a 1-3 run to start conference play, and they're now 7-4 (4-4) and destined for third in the ACC Coastal.

Care to amend your initial statement, sir?: Actually, yes: Mainly, I appear to have vastly overestimated the greater stability that Taylor Bennett would bring to the Tech offense. I'm sure he's got more upstairs than Ball did, and he certainly hasn't been beaten down by four straight years of failure against the Dawgs like Ball was, but there's no getting around it -- compared to anyone other than Reggie, Bennett just isn't that good. He's completing just a tick over 50 percent of his passes -- better than any of Reggie's last three years on the Flats -- but he's only averaging 173.5 yards per game, and his TD/INT ratio is 5/8. No, I didn't reduce that fraction down any; kid's only thrown five touchdown passes this year (and two of those came against Duke). Just for comparison's sake, Tim Tebow has scored that many touchdowns in four separate games this season.

It might occur to you, however, that any team that's still managed to go 7-4 with that kind of production (or lack of same) at the QB spot must have either a killer running game or a pretty good defense. I think it's safe to say that Georgia Tech has both. Despite nagging injuries that have limited him (or kept him out entirely) in four games this season, running back Tashard Choice has rolled up 1,176 yards (first in the ACC) and 17 TDs (tied for sixth). Meanwhile, the Tech defense is currently ranked seventh in the nation; they are particularly disruptive against the run, allowing an average of only 89.5 rushing yards per game. It is entirely likely that Knowshon Moreno's streak of five straight hundred-yard games will be halted on the Flats this Saturday.

I know, I know, it's hard to imagine, but still . . .

Or will it? As usual, Senator Blutarsky has compiled some veddy eeenteresting statistics, and as a whole they tend to indicate that a lot of Tech's gaudier numbers have been fattened up on competition low in nutrition and high in empty calories. Against teams with losing records, Tech's defense has clamped down to the tune of 243 yards allowed per game, but that average shoots up 150 more yards per game when you start talking about opponents with winning records. Similar case with Tashard Choice: Of his seven 100-yard rushing performances this season, only one of them came against a team that currently possesses a winning record (32 carries for 145 yards against Clemson). Granted, Choice is probably the healthiest he's been since going to Miami six weeks ago, but he's also facing the toughest rush defense he's seen since that Clemson game (at 118 yards per game, Georgia's run D is ranked 25th in the nation).

Overall, this is an on-paper situation that screams "Georgia ass-whipping," or at least sexily purrs it into your ear whilst pouring you a drink. And I'd be a lot more turned on by that if this series hadn't developed a marked distaste for blowouts over the last four years. In 2004, eighth-ranked Georgia had a 16-0 halftime lead on the Jackets but needed a Favre-ish final drive from David Greene and an epic brain fart from Reggie Ball on fourth down to seal a 19-13 win; in 2005, the Dawgs were ranked #13 and headed for an SEC title but were unable to breathe easily until the final 90 seconds of their 14-7 win over 20th-ranked Tech; in 2006, it was Tech who was nationally ranked (16th) and Georgia who had stumbled through a rocky four-loss season, but the game still came down to a Georgia TD pass with 1:45 remaining and a subsequent Ball interception. Yeah, 51-7 was a hoot, but let's face it, that was a statistical outlier as far as this series is concerned.

Why has this game turned into such an annual nailbiter regardless of records, rankings, or anything else? We could debate any number of possible answers to that question, but I think it all comes down to basically one thing: Tech's desire to win this one only burns hotter and brighter with each passing year (and each Georgia win). The longer the streak gets, the more single-minded Tech becomes in their need to break it; each successive year's senior class becomes that much more determined to not go oh-fer their careers against the Dawgs. I don't imagine that this comes as a surprise to anybody.

Tech fans like to brag about their "smarts"; Georgia fans like making them use that word as a verb.

But I think that fact becomes a little more critical given how much experience Tech brings to the table on both the offensive and defensive lines -- two seniors and a junior on the O-line, and an all-upperclassman defensive front (with two more seniors starting at linebacker). None of this is to say that the underclassmen don't care all that much about beating Georgia, but let's be real here -- having endured multiple losses to Georgia and staring at the prospect of going 0-3 or 0-4 lifetime against the Dawgs is an incredibly powerful motivator. Whatever struggles the Jackets have endured this season, they're still very stout up front on both sides of the ball, and Georgia is going to be taking their absolute best shot at the line of scrimmage every single down on Saturday.

That doesn't mean the Dawgs are going to be totally outgunned, however. It's been said many times over by Dawg bloggers far more insightful than I, but it bears repeating: first-year OL coach Stacy Searels is a fucking magician, coaching a cobbled-together offensive line containing two freshmen to only 14 sacks allowed all season long, same as Tech's far more experienced unit, and 4.27 tackles for loss per game (an astounding fifth in the nation). Our defensive line, meanwhile, has come on like gangbusters over the past month -- over their last four games, they've notched 17 sacks and allowed an average of 83.5 yards rushing.

You might also be surprised to find out that Georgia's defense has allowed only one 100-yard rushing performance all season long (to BenJarvus Green-Ellis of Ole Miss) -- which is of critical importance when you consider that Tech is 5-0 this season when Tashard Choice rushes for 140 or more. Of course, Georgia has yet to face a running back as talented or as dominant in his offense as Choice is. If Gailey has learned his lesson from last year's soul-crushing loss, then he knows Choice, not the passing game, will be what powers Tech to a win on Saturday; because of that, I have a hard time envisioning Choice not getting his hundred yards one way or the other. So the best strategy for containing him may be to put together sustained drives on offense and simply try to keep him on the sidelines for as much time as possible.

You must be tired after all that running. Here, have a seat and we'll bring you some Gatorade.

With our offense averaging 39 points and an even 200 rushing yards (4.6 ypc) over their last four games, that's actually not a half bad idea. I think, though, that the one who has to really take control of this game is not Knowshon Moreno but rather Matt Stafford. Jon Tenuta is as blitz-happy as any defensive coordinator out there, but as Nathan, our semi-faithful GT correspondent, points out, Tenuta's blitzes are a lot more run-oriented than people realize, and Tech's front seven is almost certainly going to be gunning for Moreno come Saturday. In a weird way, though, Tenuta's blitz obsession could end up working to Staff's advantage, and one need only look back to the Georgia Tech-Virginia Tech game a few Thursday nights ago to figure out why. Perhaps buying into the conventional wisdom at the time that the Hokie offensive line was shaky, Tenuta blitzed Sean Glennon like the fate of the free world depended on it, but with the GT secondary thus left with man coverage, Glennon suddenly morphed into Joe Montana. The Jackets did end up sacking him six times, but when he wasn't flat on his back, Glennon was cruise-missling the GT secondary for 296 yards and a pair of TDs, the second-best performance of his career.

. . . And doing so in a Georgia Tech jersey, the hilariousness of which is impossible to overstate.

If Sean Glennon can do that, Matt Stafford should be able to, assuming that the coaching staff lets him loose to throw the kinds of bombs he was completing against Florida and Auburn the last few weeks. Yeah, he ended up with only 99 yards against Kentucky, but the law of averages says that's not gonna happen two weeks in a row (assuming that the receiving corps steps up a little more than they did against the Wildcats).

One last intangible -- the Tennessee-Kentucky game, which will probably have been decided by the time Georgia and Georgia Tech retake the field for the second half at Bobby Dodd. Obviously it's possible to overestimate the importance of such things, but if the Wildcats do somehow knock off the Vols on Saturday, there's a real danger of the Dawgs getting distracted by their shiny new SEC East title, and Richt is going to have to account for that and make sure his guys take care of the business at hand. (Of course, an announcement of a Kentucky win would probably raise such a lusty cheer amongst the thousands of Dawg fans who will no doubt be packing Bobby Dodd Stadium that the PA announcer might just ignore it entirely.)

Regardless, this one's gonna be a dogfight; as we found out in humiliating fashion against Tennessee, a coach's job being on the line tends to make a team play with just a wee bit more intensity, and I see no reason why Tech should be any different, given that a loss Saturday would tie Georgia's longest winning streak in the series. I can see Georgia putting together a couple nice early drives at BDS this weekend, but I can also see those drives alternating with a few three-and-outs against the Jacket defense, meaning that Tashard Choice's running may be able to singlehandedly keep the Jackets within striking distance on the scoreboard. In the end, though, this is a very balanced offense vs. an entirely one-dimensional one, and that balance will make the difference as the Dawgs drive for a late score that the Yellow Jackets are unable to answer. Final score, Georgia by a touchdown, but no more -- there are any number of other predictions I could make subsequent to that (Tennessee-Kentucky, Georgia's bowl destination, Chan Gailey's employment status), but I'm sticking to the task at hand. Here's hoping the Dawgs do the same.

No, it sure doesn't.

I will run up and down Highland Avenue in front of my apartment building wearing nothing but a Georgia flag if: Georgia wins, period. As I've explained on numerous occasions, Tech remains the team I hate the most out of all of Georgia's hated rivals, and while I know we have to lose to them eventually, I'd rather we not do it on a day when a potential BCS berth hangs in the balance. And I will not deny that I've really developed a taste for drinking the Yellow Jackets' tears of unfathomable sadness year after year after year. Yeah, I know, I'm a horrible person! But I've been that way for going on 30 years -- what the hell do you expect me to do about it now?


blackertai said...

You're not a horrible person. Own it. We all love to taste their sweet, sweet tears.

Going Number Two said...