Georgia Tech's past two wins against Georgia have come in Athens.
All of Johnson’s victories in Athens have required the extraordinary. His 2008 team trailed 28-12 at halftime; with 7:55 left in the third quarter, it led 35-28. The 2014 game saw Tech surrender the go-ahead touchdown with 18 seconds remaining and miss a PAT in overtime, and still it won. (Mark Richt. Squib kick.) Two years later, the Jackets trailed 27-14 with 6:28 remaining but seized on a bobble – Jacob Eason’s pass deflected off Terry Godwin to Lance Austin – and won on a Qua Searcy improvisation. Meant to throw a pass to quarterback Justin Thomas, the A-back reassessed and plunged into the end zone.
PJ after the latter game: “Not bad for a bunch of 80th-ranked recruiting classes – huh, Mark?” I laughed. What else could I do? The man had a point. And yet …
The talent differential in this series, always pronounced, has grown more severe with the arrival of Kirby Smart. Tech has faced one team that possesses anything close to the Bulldogs’ manpower: It trailed Clemson 28-7 at the half, 42-7 late in the third quarter. I doubt this will be that bad. The Jackets are better now than in September, and Clemson is likely a hair better than Georgia.
Crazy fun with numbers: Georgia ranks 13th nationally in both total offense and defense; Tech ranks 42nd in both categories. Under Nate Woody, the Jackets’ defense has gotten better at inducing turnovers (tied for ninth with 24 takeaways). Georgia, however, isn’t loose with the ball. It averages one turnover a game. The Jackets will require many more than that.
Something would have to happen to level this playing field. (Rain is forecast for Saturday morning, FYI.) The noon kickoff two days after Thanksgiving should have a dulling effect on the Sanford audience, but we note that Georgia hasn’t come close to losing at home since Searcy’s leap. The best-case scenario for Tech is that the Bulldogs will realize that, in the macro sense, this game doesn’t much matter. Win or lose Saturday, they’ll have to beat Alabama to make the playoff.
If you’re Tech, you’re hoping that Georgia’s date with Bama renders this a trap game. Ask yourself this, though: Do you see the Bulldogs getting trapped? The six previous times they’ve faced Tech knowing they’d play for the SEC championship, they’ve won. The margins of victory – 44, 17, 7, 14, 32 and 31 points.
Enough hedging. When Georgia is good enough to win the SEC East, it’s also good enough to beat Georgia Tech. Vegas, which doesn’t traffic in the fanciful, has set the opening line at 17 points. The Jackets will do well to cover. As far as actually winning ... I can’t see even Que Searcy making that leap.