“We put emphasis on it,” Georgia sophomore wide receiver Jeremiah Holloman said. “But we wanted to come out and not let anyone ruin our season and what we worked for, no matter who it was.”
That’s the bigger picture for the Bulldogs, who play Alabama in the SEC Championship game next weekend. Losing this game likely would have wrecked Georgia’s playoffs chances.
Yet this “anyone” wasn’t just anyone. It was Tech, and this was Georgia’s Senior Day. The Bulldogs had to win this game for a lot of reasons but the recent history here against Tech was near the top of the list.
“We go out the right way,” Georgia senior linebacker D’Andre Walker said. “It’s a legacy that should continue.”
It should continue for as long as Kirby Smart coaches the Bulldogs. Johnson’s arrival at Tech in 2008 dropped an unpredictable variable into the rivalry. His option offense is meant to cut bigger foes down to size, and for the Jackets that means bringing down Bulldogs down to their level.
Johnson ambushed Georgia in his first season. The Bulldogs won the next five meetings against Tech, but only once by more than two scores and three times by one.
Tech won here in 2014 with help from Mark Richt’s squib kick. The Bulldogs lost to Tech again at home in 2016, when Jacob Eason was Kirby Smart’s quarterback and Johnson had senior Justin Thomas, a QB built for his system.
That’s all history now.
Smart has compiled more talent than any program outside of Tuscaloosa. He has Richt’s stacked roster without the curious decisions leading to mystifying losses. It’s hard to fault much Smart has done since Eason began the 2017 season as the starter instead of Jake Fromm, and hindsight is required to see that miscalculation.
The Bulldogs haven’t lost a home game since that defeat against Tech in 2016. They’ve played superbly since losing at LSU six weeks ago, especially on offense. The Bulldogs will be underdogs against Bama, but they are ready.
“We’re finally getting molded together,” Fromm said. “It’s awesome to see everything kind of get orchestrated. It’s fun to watch, fun to see and fun to be part of it.”
The party started early for the Bulldogs against Tech. They got the ball first and scored a touchdown. Their next four possessions ended the same way.
The fifth Georgia drive would have resulted in a TD, too, but time ran out on the Bulldogs at the end of the first half. They settled for a field goal and 38-7 lead.
Fromm completed his first seven pass attempts and finished 13-of-16 passing for 175 yards and four TDs. As always, he happily distributed short passes to his wide receivers and let them do their thing. Fromm’s work was done by the end of the third quarter.
Georgia’s top two tailbacks, D’Andre Swift and Elijah Holyfield, combined for 185 yards rushing. They shot through creases created by the offensive line, which also didn’t let Tech’s defenders near Fromm.
All of that was expected on some level. Georgia’s offense has been on a roll since the LSU game and Tech’s defense isn’t built to shut down an opponent like this. It’s supposed to complement Johnson’s offense, which churns out first downs and keeps the ball away from the opposition.
The Bulldogs didn’t let that happen. Tech’s option didn’t work because quarterback TaQuon Marshall could hardly get to the perimeter before he was swarmed by Georgia defenders. Things went even worse for the Jackets when they tried to pass.
Tech netted 128 yards rushing. They had only 66 yards total at halftime.
“It’s just old school, backyard football,” Smart said of Georgia’s defensive effort.
Smart spent much of his postgame news conference praising his scout team for emulating Tech’s offense. More than once he said Georgia’s defense couldn’t carry one thing from this game to Alabama, except for the tackling.
Clearly, Georgia’s coach is one of many who isn’t a fan of facing Johnson’s offense.
“I don’t love it, but it is what it is,” Smart said. “You get the cards you are dealt, and that’s the cards we’re dealt. If you don’t want to play against it, then beat them every year and eventually you won’t have to.”
It could play out that way.
Smart is just getting started at Georgia. Fromm is a sophomore, and there aren’t many seniors among his top skill players. Another top recruiting class is on the way.
The Bulldogs are aiming higher than beating Tech, but first they had to dispatch them. They did it in a way that says those losses in ’14 and ’16 are outliers, and what we saw Saturday is the new normal in this rivalry.