Game day: Georgia vs. Georgia Tech

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Game day: Georgia vs. Georgia Tech

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Georgia’s Kirby Smart will face Georgia Tech as a head coach for the first time Saturday. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)

While Georgia and Georgia Tech are also-rans in their conferences this season — third in the SEC East and fifth in the ACC Coastal, respectively — the stakes will be high when the teams meet at noon Saturday in Athens. The Governor’s Cup trophy and a year’s worth of intra-state bragging rights will be on the line in their annual showdown. Here’s a primer.

THREE STORYLINES

1. Clean Old-Fashioned Hate: Each game seems to add some fuel to the rivalry. Tech players didn’t like it when Georgia players planted a “G” flag in the field after last year’s win in Atlanta. Georgia players didn’t like it when Tech players broke off pieces of the famed hedges as keepsakes after their 2014 win in Athens.

2. Continuing or countering a trend: Georgia will try to win the Governor’s Cup for the 14th time in 16 years, while Tech will try to counter by winning in Sanford Stadium for the second consecutive visit.

3. Senior QB vs. freshman QB: Tech senior quarterback Justin Thomas is a three-year starter whose 21-yard run into field-goal range helped force overtime against the Bulldogs two years ago. Georgia freshman quarterback Jacob Eason, who has started 10 games this season, will experience the intra-state rivalry for the first time.

MUTUAL OPPONENTS

The comparative results are contradictory in the games the teams have played this season against two mutual opponents.

Georgia won by nine points over North Carolina, which defeated Tech by 28.

But Tech won by 31 points over Vanderbilt, which defeated Georgia by one point.

Vs. North Carolina: Georgia defeated the Tar Heels 33-24 in the season-opening Chick-fil-A Kickoff game at the Georgia Dome. Nick Chubb ran for 222 yards on 32 carries. Two months later, Tech lost to North Carolina 48-20 in Chapel Hill. The Tar Heels piled up 636 yards of offense.

Vs. Vanderbilt: Tech routed the Commodores 38-7 on Sept. 17 at Bobby Dodd Stadium. Quarterback Justin Thomas set the tone by throwing an 81-yard touchdown pass on the first play of the game. Four weeks later, the Commodores stunned Georgia 17-16 in Sanford Stadium on Khari Blasingame’s 2-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter and a key late-game fourth-down stop.

COMPUTER RANKINGS

Neither team is ranked in the Top 25 by the Associated Press media poll, the coaches’ poll or the College Football Playoff selection committee. So let’s consult the six computer models that used to be part of the now-defunct BCS matrix for insight on Bulldogs vs. Yellow Jackets.

Four of the computers rank Georgia higher, while two rank Tech higher. Georgia is ranked as high as No. 28 and as low as No. 53. Tech is ranked as high as No. 38 and as low as No. 47. Two of the computers have the teams within three spots of one another.

The Billingsley Report has Georgia No. 28 and Tech No. 43. The Anderson & Hester rankings has Georgia No. 32 and Tech No. 38. The Wolfe ratings has Georgia No. 36 and Tech No. 43.

The Colley Matrix has Georgia No. 38 and Tech No. 41. The Massey ratings has Tech No. 42 and Georgia No. 45. And the Sagarin ratings has Tech No. 47 and Georgia No. 53.

BOWL IMPLICATIONS

Both teams are bowl-bound, but neither team is bound for an upper-echelon bowl. Still, the outcome should have an incremental impact on where each team falls in the middle to lower rungs of its conference’s postseason pecking order.

Entering the game, both teams’ bowl scenarios are muddled.

Media projections this week of Georgia’s postseason destination include the Music City Bowl in Nashville, the Liberty Bowl in Memphis and the Belk Bowl in Charlotte. The Bulldogs haven’t played in the Music City Bowl since 2001, Mark Richt’s first season as their coach.

Both ESPN and NBC Sports project the Bulldogs to go to the Music City to face Iowa, Indiana or Minnesota. SB Nation projects the Bulldogs against Kansas State in the Liberty. CBS Sports projects Georgia vs. Mark Richt-coached Miami in the Belk, although an argument against the Bulldogs landing in the Belk is that they played there just two years ago.

This week’s projections of Tech’s postseason destination include the Military Bowl in Annapolis, Md., the TaxSlayer Bowl in Jacksonville, the Pinstripe Bowl in New York and the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, La.

ESPN projects the Yellow Jackets will face Temple in the Military or LSU in the TaxSlayer. NBC Sports also has Tech vs. Temple in the Military. SB Nation projects the Yellow Jackets vs. Maryland in the Pinstripe. And CBS Sports forecasts Tech vs. Kentucky in the Independence.

SERIES HISTORY

The rivalry dates to 1893. Saturday’s game will be the 111th between the teams. The series is the 13th oldest and 19th most-played in major-college football.

Depending on who’s counting, Georgia leads the all-time series 65-40-5 or 65-38-5. UGA uses the latter figure, saying it doesn’t recognize two Tech wins during World War II — the 1943 and 1944 games — “when the Yellow Jackets utilized players from a naval officer’s training program hosted on campus.”

The Bulldogs have won six of the past seven and 13 of the past 15 in the series, but Tech won on its most recent trip to Athens — a 30-24 overtime victory in 2014. In that game, Georgia took a 24-21 lead with 18 seconds left in regulation, Tech forced overtime with a 53-yard field goal by Harrison Butker as time expired, and the Jackets sealed the overtime victory with an interception.

The past three games in the series have been decided by seven points or fewer, with two of the three going to overtime. Since 2004, nine of 12 games in the series have been decided by eight points or fewer.

Paul Johnson is 2-6 versus Georgia as Tech’s coach, but is 2-2 against the Bulldogs in Athens. Kirby Smart will be making his debut against the Jackets as Georgia’s coach.

In last year’s game — a 13-7 Georgia win in Atlanta in what proved to be Richt’s final game with the Bulldogs — Sony Michel ran for 149 yards and scored UGA’s only touchdown on the opening possession. The Bulldogs led 13-0 before a late Tech touchdown.

UGA has won the Governor’s Cup trophy 16 times in the 21 seasons since its inception in 1995.

HOW THEY GOT HERE

Tech and Georgia have had similarly erratic seasons to this point.

The Bulldogs opened with three consecutive wins, then lost four of their next five games and now have won three in a row.

The Jackets opened with three consecutive wins, then lost three in a row and now have won four of their past five.

In both cases, the streaks and slumps have added up to 7-4 overall records and 4-4 conference records.

How the rivals got to this point:

Georgia (7-4, 4-4 SEC)

Date / Opponent / Result

Sept. 3 / North Carolina* / W, 33-24

Sept. 10 / Nicholls State / W, 26-24

Sept. 17 / at Missouri / W, 28-27

Sept. 24 / at Ole Miss / L, 45-14

Oct. 1 / Tennessee / L, 34-31

Oct. 9 / at South Carolina / W, 28-14

Oct. 15 / Vanderbilt / L, 17-16

Oct. 29 / Florida* / L, 24-10

Nov. 5 / at Kentucky / W, 27-24

Nov. 12 / Auburn / W, 13-7

Nov. 19 / UL Lafayette / W, 35-21

* - Game vs. North Carolina was played in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. Game vs. Florida was played in Jacksonville.

Georgia Tech (7-4, 4-4 ACC)

Date / Opponent / Result

Sept. 3 / at Boston College* / W, 17-14

Sept. 10 / Mercer / W, 35-10

Sept. 17 / Vanderbilt / W, 38-7

Sept. 22 / Clemson / L, 26-7

Oct. 1 / Miami / L, 35-21

Oct. 8 / at Pittsburgh / L, 37-34

Oct. 15 / Georgia Southern / W, 35-24

Oct. 29 / Duke / W, 38-35

Nov. 5 / at North Carolina / L, 48-20

Nov. 12 / at Virginia Tech / W, 30-20

Nov. 19 / Virginia / W, 31-17

* Boston College “home” game was played in Dublin, Ireland

THE NUMBERS GAME

How the teams compare this season in some key statistical categories:

Category / UGA / Tech

Points scored per game / 23.7 / 27.8

Points allowed per game / 23.7 / 24.8

Rushing yards per game / 179.5 / 260.3

Rushing yards allowed per game / 133.4 / 166.1

Passing yards per game / 201.1 / 128.2

Passing yards allowed per game / 189 / 242.5

Total yards per game/ 380.6 / 388.5

Total yards allowed per game / 322.4 / 408.6

Turnover margin / +7 / +3

Time of possession per game / 33:40 / 30:32

STAFF PREDICTIONS

Mark Bradley, columnist: Georgia still has better talent, but the gap has narrowed enough that Tech can and will win. Tech 24-20.

Jeff Schultz, columnist: Neither team has inspired much in the area of offensive efficiency but the Bulldogs will have potentially the biggest gamebreakers (Nick Chubb and Isaiah McKenzie) and their defense is improving just enough. Georgia 27-24.

Ken Sugiura, Tech beat writer: Improving on defense and spurred by Justin Thomas, the Jackets look like they can become the first Tech team to win back-to-back in Sanford Stadium since the 1998 and 2000 teams. Tech 24-21.

Seth Emerson, UGA beat writer: Tech’s offense will get it yards on the outside. Georgia’s offense, especially its passing game, should allow it to squeak by. Georgia 20-17.

Doug Roberson, Tech beat writer: Paul Johnson’s offense will pull out the win with a big play in the fourth quarter. Tech 27-24.

Chip Towers, UGA beat writer: Georgia may have dominated this series (13-2 in past 15), but that doesn’t mean it has dominated games. Nine of the past 12 were decided by eight or fewer points. This one will be, too. Georgia 24-21.

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