The Tech unit that may face the biggest challenge Saturday is the defensive line. (Tech’s offensive line might beg to differ.)
The Bulldogs controlling the line of scrimmage and freeing their talented fleet of running backs has been something of a theme in recent Tech-Georgia games. In the teams’ past three meetings, Georgia has generated 265 rushing yards per game and not allowed a sack against 64 pass attempts.
The Georgia line is the largest in school history, with All-American left tackle Andrew Thomas measuring in at 6-foot-5 and 320 pounds. Thomas is a potential high first-round draft pick. The Bulldogs’ front will contend with a Tech defensive line that has been depleted by injury. Defensive coordinator Andrew Thacker likely will rely on a group of 11 or 12 defensive linemen that includes seven freshmen.
Thacker said that “although we don’t have size, also we don’t have the elite of the elite at that position, they’re playing really hard.”
One of them is redshirt freshman defensive end Jordan Domineck. After getting on the field once in the first six games, he has started the past two games and has 22 tackles in the past three. He was named ACC defensive lineman of the week for his play against N.C. State.
2. Graham picking up steam
Tech quarterback James Graham took another step in his development Nov. 21 against N.C. State. While he completed only seven of 15 passes, three went for touchdowns, including two to freshman wide receiver Ahmarean Brown.
The redshirt freshmen drew the praise of Georgia coach Kirby Smart, who said that “James has been extremely athletic, and he’s gotten better throwing the ball.”
Graham’s 184.9 passing efficiency rating was the highest of his seven starts this season, and he added a career-high 112 rushing yards on top of that. Offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude credited the development to repetition, improved preparation habits and increased confidence in his knowledge of the offense.
“He’s really been a different guy over the last three weeks,” Patenaude said.
The improving play of the offensive line also has contributed. Tech has given up no sacks in two of the past three games, against defenses tied for eighth (Virginia) and 22nd (N.C. State) in sacks.
“That’s a huge piece of our growth over the last three or four weeks, is that the O-line’s growth and understanding of being able to protect the quarterback has gotten much better,” Patenaude said.
3. Facing another top defense
Tech will face one of the top defenses in the country Saturday, as Georgia ranks No. 5 in total defense. That’s old territory for the Jackets. Tech has faced three other defenses ranked in the top 15 nationally in total defense – No. 2 Clemson, No. 9 Pittsburgh and No. 15 Miami.
Beyond those three teams and Georgia, two more Tech opponents are in the top 40 – Virginia at No. 23 and Virginia Tech at No. 35.
In three of the five games against Clemson, Pitt, Miami, Virginia and Virginia Tech, the Jackets exceeded those defenses’ yardage averages (Clemson, Miami and Virginia). In fact, the 294 yards that Tech gained on the Tigers remains the season high for a Clemson opponent.
Moreover, its 4.67 yards-per-play in that season opener is the second highest by a Clemson opponent, and its 14 points is tied for second most.
4. Curry piling up tackles
With eight tackles against Georgia, Tech linebacker David Curry will reach 100 stops for the season. He would be the first Tech defender to hit the century mark since P.J. Davis had 119 in 2014. Before that, it was Julian Burnett in 2011 with 120.
Curry’s junior season, his second as a starter, has included two of the more productive games in recent team history. He accumulated 16 tackles against North Carolina and 14 against The Citadel. Tech great Morgan Burnett is the only other Jackets player with 16 tackles in a game since 2005.
“I think the defense is getting better and better and better, and it’s going to be a huge key to this game this week,” Curry said. “They’re not going to do anything fancy. They’re going to old-school run the ball, and it’s going to be, can we get off blocks and make plays.”
5. UGA tough to beat at BDS
Tech will again attempt to end Georgia’s continuing run of success at Bobby Dodd Stadium. The Jackets have lost nine consecutive games to the Bulldogs at home, starting in 2001.
Before the last home win, a 51-48 overtime thriller in 1999, Tech had lost four consecutive home games in the series, a stretch of 13 losses in 14 games. In that same span, Tech is 5-9 at Sanford Stadium.
Among the nine consecutive losses, the Jackets lost by one possession four times, perhaps most agonizingly in a double-overtime defeat in 2013 (41-34) in a game in which they led 20-0.