Georgia Tech’s Collins wants rivalry with Georgia ‘back on national stage’

Georgia Tech head coach Geoff Collins talks about the importance of the cross-state rivalry with the Bulldogs. (Video courtesy of Georgia Tech Athletics)

Georgia Tech football coach Geoff Collins’ answer about what success looks like long-term against Georgia lasted for nearly 2-1/2 minutes. He talked about his current players getting bigger, faster and stronger. Collins said he’s recruiting players who have the “right mental makeup” in addition to talent. He said the Yellow Jackets are developing a culture in which new players will learn from the holdovers.

At no point did Collins say anything about beating Georgia. He did not utter a word about competing with the Bulldogs. Collins has a consistent public message, and setting expectations for how Tech should measure up against Georgia isn’t part of it.

However, Collins earlier had provided a clue about that that means. He said the Georgia-Georgia Tech game was a big deal to him while growing up in Conyers. He later got to participate in the rivalry as a Tech assistant on George O’Leary’s staff from 1999-2001, a period in which the Jackets won twice.

“The thing we’ve talked about is getting it back on the national stage that it deserves,” Collins said.

To do that, the Jackets are going to have to beat the Bulldogs more than once every so often. It’s not going to happen this year. The Jackets are 28-1/2-point underdogs against Georgia. They’ve improved in fits and starts while winning two ACC games, including a stirring victory over N.C. State last week, but the Bulldogs are on another level.

Collins is doing what he can to close the gap. Realistically, he'll never get there. Tech spent $91 million on athletics in fiscal year 2019, including an unexpected cost of $6 million for Collins and his staff. Georgia is spending $80 million on one football building. Clearly, the schools have differing football ambitions.

In recent years the Jackets beat the Bulldogs by crossing them up with coach Paul Johnson’s triple-option. The Jackets have moved on from trying to use a throwback offense to bring more talented foes down to their level. The on-field transition has been rough, but Collins has made progress in attracting quality recruits.

Tech's 2020 class of committed players is ranked 25th nationally by 247Sports, the highest since 2007. It takes a higher level of talent to beat Georgia consistently. But, eventually, Tech under Collins can compete in the ACC while sometimes winning Clean Old-Fashioned Hate without the benefit of an old-fashioned offense.

Collins could one-up Johnson by beating the Bulldogs at Bobby Dodd Stadium. None of Johnson’s three victories over Georgia in 11 tries happened there. Johnson’s Jackets won in Athens in 2014, lost by six in Atlanta the next year, won there again in 2016 and then got pummeled the past two seasons.

For Johnson, the standard was beating Georgia about a quarter of the time, losing close games about one out of three times and getting overwhelmed the rest of the time. Tech rallied late to win at Georgia in Kirby Smart’s first year as Bulldogs coach. But the player talent Smart has stockpiled had become too much for Johnson’s Jackets.

Johnson’s predecessor, Chan Gailey, lost all six meetings against Georgia. Three of those defeats were by seven points or less, but the Jackets had gotten used to beating the Bulldogs. O’Leary’s teams did it three times in a row from 1998-2000. That’s the only win streak of more than two games for Tech against Georgia since 1961-63.

Tech more than held up its end of the rivalry during the O’Leary era.

“It had implications every single year I was here with him,” Collins said. “He had built a really good team, a really good roster.”

Collins is going to have a tough start against the Bulldogs. It’s not just the transition from the triple-option to a modernized spread, which has been especially hard on the offensive line. It’s also Tech’s overall lack of experience (just eight seniors).

Tech’s defensive line figures to have an especially hard time against Georgia. That group plays hard, but just doesn’t have much size or depth. The Jackets have struggled to stop the run all season. The Bulldogs can, and likely will, run it until they wear Tech down.

“We are what we are in terms of size, body-type,” Tech defensive coordinator Andrew Thacker said.

That’s one of thing that will have to change for Collins to have a real shot against Georgia. Collins is working on it. He’s the latest Tech coach trying to figure out a way to compete against the Bulldogs.

Collins said one of them, Bill Curry, was at Tech practice Tuesday morning. Curry’s Jackets beat Georgia twice in seven tries. Bill Lewis was 0-2 against UGA. Bobby Ross was 2-3 (and Tech was co-national champion in 1990). O’Leary went 3-4 against the Bulldogs, not counting one loss as the interim coach after Lewis was fired.

A 40 percent winning percentage against Georgia has been the upper limit for Tech coaches in modern times. Even with his specialized offense, Johnson won only three of 11 games. Collins would do well to win once in every three tries against Georgia. This isn’t Tech’s year to do it, but given time, Collins can get there.

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