The improving play and confidence that Georgia Tech has built over the past two months will get its most stringent challenge on Saturday in Athens. Following the Yellow Jackets’ 30-27 overtime win over Virginia on Saturday, Tech coaches began preparing for No. 5 Georgia Sunday morning and were duly impressed.
“They’re really good,” coach Paul Johnson said on his Sunday evening teleconference. “They’ve got a lot of really good players and they’re playing really well.”
Johnson hesitated to compare the Bulldogs to the outfit that defeated Tech 38-7 last year to end the Jackets’ season at 5-6.
“Record-wise, they’ve only lost one game, so they’re pretty good,” Johnson said. “Nobody’s really played them close. They’ve kind of dominated everybody they’ve played.”
The Jackets have won six of their past seven, but Johnson was not thrilled with his team’s play against Virginia. The defense gave up six points in the second half after surrendering 21 in the first half, and yards-per-play average dropped from 8.2 to 5.2, but Johnson wasn’t impressed.
Johnson said he wasn’t sure if the defense’s play actually improved after halftime, saying that the defensive stops in the second half were the product of Virginia’s penalties.
“They kind of stopped themselves,” he said. “Both series (in the second half) that they had to punt, they had penalties.”
The offense averaged 5.1 yards per play, well under its season average of 6.4 yards per play.
“Not what we need to be successful,” Johnson said. “We definitely need the offense to play better.”
Johnson said that Virginia didn’t miss many tackles and that the Jackets didn’t do a good job of blocking Virginia’s defenders at the linebacker level.
“We struggled with guys at the second level and when we did get there, we didn’t block very well,” he said. “We just weren’t consistent.”
Quarterback TaQuon Marshall also missed opportunities for plays in the passing game.
Tech won at Sanford Stadium in 2014 and 2016. In 46 visits to Athens, the Jackets have put together a win streak just three times – 1950-52-54-56, 1998-2000 and 2014-16. The chance to join Boddy Dodd’s greatest teams as the only Jackets teams to win three in a row at Sanford is an immense opportunity.
“I think that we realize we’ll have to play close to perfect,” Johnson said. “We’ve just got to go up there, get a plan and wing it, see what we can do.”
Tech at least should be healthy. Johnson said that “we’ve got some guys banged up, but I think we’re O.K.”
Wide receiver Brad Stewart had a career-high 87 receiving yards in the Jackets’ 28-27 win in 2016.
“All I’m saying, I’ve played there one time, I’m 1-0,” Stewart said. “It was a good feeling tearing those hedges at the end, so I want to do that again.”
Linebacker Jalen Johnson’s thoughts were more succinct.
Said Johnson, “To hell with Georgia.”