Having had a night to try and make sense of a game that didn’t make much, we look back on Georgia Tech’s 30-24 victory over Georgia and what it means for both.
1. In the cold light of hindsight, Tech was easy to underrate. The Jackets had gone 29-27 since Thanksgiving 2009. They'd beaten Georgia, Virginia Tech, Clemson and Miami only twice in that span. (Clemson was the victim both times.) They were picked fifth in the Coastal Division, which seemed low if you considered Tech's history — even Chan Gailey never had a losing ACC record — but not if you viewed that four-year arc. The season began with halting victories over Wofford, Tulane and Georgia Southern. Even after the Jackets won at Virginia Tech and beat Miami, the suspicion lingered that neither opponent was very good. (Both would finish 6-6.) Then they lost to Duke and North Carolina, and we all thought, "Nothing new here."
2. But we were wrong. For the first time since 2009, Tech was operating Paul Johnson's offense to specifications. Justin Thomas was a better runner than Tevin Washington and a better distributor than Vad Lee. The late-season emergence of Synjyn Days as a complement to Zach Laskey yielded the best B-back production since Anthony Allen in 2010. These Jackets didn't beat Georgia the way they had at Sanford Stadium in 2008 — with A-back Roddy Jones flashing down the sideline — but with brute force. SEC teams are supposed to be big and tough; Tech played bigger and tougher.
3. On a similar note, it was easy to overrate Georgia. On Aug. 30, Georgia outscored Clemson 21-0 in the fourth quarter and was hailed by national media types as the nation's best team. When the Bulldogs looked good, they looked very good. They beat Missouri 34-0. They led Arkansas 38-6 at the half. They scored 63 points in Lexington. When forced to buckle down and execute, they weren't the same. They were 1-2 in games decided by 12 or fewer points, and the 38-20 loss to Florida stands as the most egregious loss under Mark Richt. But even after Florida, even as late as last week, Georgia was No. 9 in the College Football Playoff rankings.
4. So what, in a season with a new quarterback and a new defensive coordinator and without Todd Gurley for six games, should we have expected? Something close to what was delivered — soaring highs alongside inexplicable lows — but ultimately something better. The third-best team in the SEC East finished with six wins. Once the Bulldogs beat Missouri, the division should have been theirs. But Mizzou played as close to peak capacity as any team ever does, and Georgia lost to Florida.
5. What got overlooked Saturday? With three fumbles on the 1-yard line, two blocked field goals, a blocked PAT in OT, a fake field goal, an unfielded bloop kickoff and a squib kick with 18 seconds left, much was pushed to the periphery. This shouldn't have been: Georgia had 17 snaps (plus one Tech penalty) with goal-to-go; it scored two touchdowns (both on fourth down), kicked a field goal and turned it over twice. Nick Chubb carried 10 times on goal-to-go; he gained six yards, scored a touchdown and lost a fumble. A good back running behind a good offensive line could barely budge Tech's defense, ranked 60th in the nation.
6. Richt admitted the squib was a whiff. But didn't Georgia err much earlier? With the Bulldogs leading 7-0 late in the first quarter, Chubb ran 65 yards to the Tech 1. (Chris Milton saved a touchdown.) The program famous — and sometimes infamous — for rotating backs chose not just to leave a winded Chubb on the field but to run hurry-up plays and hand it to him twice. He got nothing on first down. He fumbled after Isaiah Johnson's hit on second.
7. What coaching move changed the game? Johnson's halftime decision to stop throwing. Thomas was 6-for-14 passing in the first half; he threw only twice thereafter. Of Tech's 399 yards rushing, 280 came after halftime. The effect was to wear Georgia's defense to a frazzle. Over the final 33:03 of regulation, Tech had drives of 80, 91, 63 and 80 yards. (There was one three-and-out, after which Adam Gotsis blocked the field goal that would have given Georgia a 10-point lead. Another key moment.) Those four drives spanned 19 minutes, 51 seconds.
8. Tech's ball-hogging the ball even affected Mike Bobo. Midway through the third quarter, Georgia took the ball at the Tech 36 after a short punt. It marked the Bulldogs' first real play — they'd had a half-ending kneeldown — in an hour. Perhaps for that reason, Bobo's calls were tentative. Chubb ran twice, Hutson Mason threw an incompletion and Gotsis blocked the kick. After the first quarter, nothing came easy for Georgia. Long before it actually won, Tech looked as if it was going to win.
9. Can we say that Tech was the more poised team? We can. Even after two stunning turnovers that other officials might have adjuged otherwise, the Jackets held their nerve. The Bulldogs were visibly frustrated by the plucky visitors. You could almost hear them saying, as Butch said to Sundance of their dogged pursuers, "Who are those guys?"
10. What's next? For Georgia, a lesser bowl and an offseason to stew over missed opportunities. Even with a new quarterback again next season and surely no Gurley and probably no Leonard Floyd, Georgia still figures to be tabbed near the top the East. South Carolina is fading; Florida is rebuilding; Tennessee is coming but isn't there yet. (There's still pesky Mizzou, though.) With Thomas having two seasons remaining, Tech will be picked first, not fifth, in the Coastal. But first there's Florida State in Charlotte. Tomorrow I'll tell you why the Jackets will win.
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