For insight into Georgia Tech’s opponent on Saturday, we turn to Chip Towers, who is the UGA beat writer for DawgNation and, among other things, a colleague I’m pleased to call a friend and an overall good dude. You can follow him on Twitter here and read his coverage of the Bulldogs here. (My answers for Chip can be read here.)
Q: You wrote that, normally, you'd have concern that Georgia could trip up against Georgia Tech, but not this year. Can you explain why that is?
A: It really has more to do with Georgia than Georgia Tech and its disappointing season. The Bulldogs have 31 seniors on their team and 17 of those are in the two-deep. The "big four," as I like to call them, Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, Lorenzo Carter and Davin Bellamy, all cited the loss to Tech last year as one of their main reasons for wanting to come back rather than test the NFL draft. In a lot of ways, 2017 has been a revenge tour for all these seniors. They've already avenged losses they had in 2016 with wins over Tennessee (41-0), Vanderbilt (45-14) and Florida (42-7). But from the beginning, Tech has been the game they've wanted most. At this point, I don't doubt them anymore.
Q: Broadly speaking, what has happened to this team such that it went from barely beating Nicholls State and losing to Tennessee last year to running roughshod over the SEC East?
A: Mainly it has been the development of the offensive line. More than any other area, that's where Georgia needed to show improvement. And that wasn't going to be easy, with new starters at all five positions. But they've come through with flying colors. The biggest revelation has been Andrew Thomas. The true freshman out of Atlanta's Pace Academy has started every game at right tackle and excelled while doing so. Georgia also needed to get better quarterback play, which it has with freshman Jake Fromm, and improve on special teams, which it has gotten from placekicker Rodrigo Blankenship and punter Cameron Nizalek transferring in from Columbia University, of all places.
Q: If somehow UGA were to lose Saturday, what would have to happen?
A: The same way it always does when it loses to the Jackets. The Bulldogs would find themselves unable to slow down Tech's option, and then get gashed deep when the defensive backs get sucked up into helping against the run. Lather, rinse, repeat. That and turnovers, of course. In my opinion, the key for Georgia against the Jackets is always how effective it can be on offense. Typically, if the Bulldogs can score in the 30s, Tech can't score with them. If the game remains in the 20s, all bets are off.
Q: You wrote that the Bulldogs spent practice time all season devoted to Tech's spread-option offense. I know Kirby Smart isn't an open book, but do you gather that he learned a few things about how to best prepare for the Tech offense since last season?
A: One thing I've learned about Kirby having covered him two seasons now is his reputation for being very detail-oriented is well-deserved. He went to great lengths last year to prepare for Tech, hiring Brian VanGorder as a defensive consultant pretty much for the express purpose of helping the Bulldogs come up with a plan for defending the option.
Obviously that didn't work out too well. Kirby even went as far as trying to contact members of Navy's coaching staff for some pointers about where the vulnerabilities. The Midshipmen, we're told, weren't willing to help out. (More context here in a Jeff Schultz column.) You can be sure he didn't stop there, though. Now we find out that UGA was devoting time every Monday all season to working on Tech's option. Will it make a difference? We'll see Saturday, I guess.
Q: I probably ask this every year, but what's your gauge on how important this game is to UGA players and where it ranks among rivalries?
A: I believe it's very important. And if it wasn't before, it certainly is now. Having a 1-2 record against the Yellow Jackets has been something the UGA seniors have cited that does not sit well with them at all. The last class that left with a losing record to Tech was the one from 2000. The 2017 seniors don't want to be the next.
It's due to the sheer will and determination of Georgia's seniors that I believe the Bulldogs will prevail in this game. That and a pretty good offense that can run the football a little bit itself and throw it better than it gets credit for. The Revenge Tour continues. Georgia wins, 41-23.
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