The (thin) history of Georgia Tech upsets of UGA

Be aware of this much as Clean, Old-fashioned Hate week begins: Georgia Tech has a history of knocking off Georgia teams with a shot at the national championship.

The trouble for Yellow Jackets fans hoping for a most unlikely upset is that they’d have to go back to 1927 to find it.

The Tech-UGA series dates back to 1893 and is 113 games old (Georgia’s accounting is 111 games, as it doesn’t count the 1943-44 games due to a dispute about players enrolled at Tech as part of training for World War II). For all of its rich, bitter history, though, there isn’t much in the way of stunning upsets pulled by the Jackets.

Were Tech to somehow topple No. 4 UGA on Saturday to conclude coach Geoff Collins' first season, it could be reasonably described as the Jackets' biggest upset in the history of the rivalry, and it's difficult to pick out which game it would displace, as none would seem to approach it.

For one thing, it’s rare that there’s been such a disparity between the two teams.

At 10-1, Georgia has seven more wins than Tech at 3-8. In the series, only twice have the Bulldogs owned a greater margin in wins going into the game. That was in 1980 and 1981, when UGA was at its peak behind Herschel Walker and the Jackets were in coach Bill Curry’s first two seasons.

The Bulldogs won both, going on to win the national championship in 1980 at 12-0 and finish sixth nationally in 1981 at 10-2.

Also, it’s invariably required an accomplished Tech team to beat Georgia, which controls the series at 67-41-5.

Tech has only twice beaten Georgia when it had a losing record going into the game, 1935 and 1969, when the Jackets were 4-5 and 3-6 before facing UGA, respectively. They beat Bulldogs teams that finished 6-4 and 5-5-1, respectively. The 1969 team, coach Bud Carson’s third, was probably the poorest team to beat the Bulldogs. Those Jackets had lost six of their previous seven before upending the Bulldogs 6-0.

This will be the 39th time since the advent of the weekly Associated Press poll in 1936 that Georgia will enter the game ranked. In the first 38, Tech is 7-31. In five of the seven wins, the Jackets were also ranked — 1998-2000, 2008, 2014. In the other two, 1984 and 1985, Tech was fortified by the “Black Watch” defense of Pat Swilling and Ted Roof and quarterbacked by John Dewberry. The 1984 team was led by Robert Lavette, Tech’s all-time leading rusher, and also beat Alabama and Clemson as ranked teams. The 1985 team was Curry’s best, at 9-2-1.

Sunday, oddsmakers set Tech as a 29-point underdog, which may be a high for the series. Tech was a 23-point underdog in 1981, when the Jackets were 1-9 going into the game and the Bulldogs were 9-1 and No. 2 in the country.

The gambling website has a database of point spreads dating back to 1985, and Tech's biggest upset from a point-spread perspective in that span was 2014, when the then-No. 17 Jackets beat the No. 9 Bulldogs in the "Kick and the Pick" overtime win at Sanford Stadium as 10.5-point underdogs. Given that that team was probably coach Paul Johnson's finest and went on to win the Orange Bowl, the game was hardly an upset at all.

Probably the most historic upset for Tech was its 12-0 win over the Bulldogs in 1927 at Grant Field, which dashed the perfect-season hopes of Georgia’s “Dream and Wonder” team.

With four games remaining, coach William Alexander set aside his first string to practice against a scout team running Georgia’s plays while backups won the next three games. When the two met on a rain-soaked field, the Golden Tornado, as the team was known then, took down a team that had won six games by shutout and had beaten mighty Yale on the road. The loss dropped the Bulldogs to 9-1 and deprived them of the chance to play in the Rose Bowl and be declared national champions.

“(Alexander) spent an entire season preparing for one afternoon and neither the mud nor a great Georgia football team could deprive him of the game he wanted above all others in his career,” wrote “Dress Her in White and Gold,” a history of the institute published in 1963.

That victorious Tech team, though, was no slouch — it finished 8-1-1 and won the Southern Conference championship. It won the national championship the next season and both Alexander and center Peter Pund are College Football Hall of Fame inductees.

Placing a potential upset into historical context doesn’t even address the mismatch on paper of Saturday’s game.

The Jackets will rely on, among other things, walk-ons at center and defensive tackle, a beaten-up defense that has allowed 400-plus yards in its past three games and an offense that has yet to crack 30 points.

They’ll face a team bidding for a spot in the College Football Playoff and is ranked fifth nationally in total defense, second in scoring defense and will endeavor to punish Tech with the largest offensive line in school history.

ESPN’s metrics give the Jackets a 2.1% chance of winning on Saturday.

Undoubtedly, though, the Jackets will be unbowed. And, the most hopeful of Tech fans will trust, there’s a first time for everything.

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