5 things to know as No. 1 Georgia hosts Georgia Tech

ATHENS – Welcome to the 114th renewal of Clean Old Fashioned Hate. Or the 116th, depending on which side of it one chooses to stand.

Georgia and Georgia Tech can’t even agree on the series record. The teams most definitely played in 1943 and ‘44, but the Bulldogs don’t count those results – two Tech wins by the combined score of 92-0 – because they contend the Yellow Jackets were utilizing military personnel who were training as officers in World War II’s V-12 program.

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Years after the fact, Dan Magill, Georgia’s legendary sports information director of the day, expunged them from the Bulldogs’ records. But the two wins remain a part of Tech’s historical record.

What’s indisputable is that Georgia has won the past four in this series by an average margin of 36.3 points per game. Perhaps it’s no coincidence, then, that many sports books have the No. 1-ranked Bulldogs (11-0) posted as a 36-point favorite over the Jackets (5-6) for Saturday’s game (noon, ESPN).

Here are five things to know about Saturday’s matchup:

1. Key relationship

Saturday’s game will be the first in the Tech-Georgia rivalry in almost a century that both teams are led by alumni of the respective schools. Kirby Smart played safety at Georgia from 1995-98. Brent Key played right guard for the Jackets from 1997-2000.

The most-recent other instance came in 1925-27, when the Bulldogs were coached by George Cecil “Kid” Woodruff and Tech was guided by William Alexander. The Jackets won two of those three as Tech dominated the rivalry in the 1920s.

Key took over as Tech’s interim head coach after Geoff Collins was fired Sept. 26. Since then, the Jackets are 4-3, including 2-0 in games against ranked opponents. The latest came Saturday when Tech erased a 17-0 deficit for a 21-17 win over then-No. 13 North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

He doesn’t have a say-so, but if he did, it sounds like Smart would endorse Key for the full-time job.

“He’s got great leadership qualities,” Smart said. “He played there under what I thought was one of the best staffs around with George O’Leary. The job that (O’Leary) did there goes under-recognized. … He had some of the best Georgia Tech teams there were. They were so physical, so competitive. I think Brent playing under him shaped him into who he is and who he’s become as a coach.”

Key reunited with O’Leary at Central Florida, where he held a number of different positions, including offensive line coach, recruiting coordinator, offensive coordinator and assistant head coach.

Key went to Alabama to coach offensive line in 2016, the same year Smart left to become Georgia’s head coach. They’ve gotten to know each other well on the road recruiting over the years.

“What a tremendous job he is doing,” Smart of Key. “Brent’s done a tremendous job in recruiting for a long time. … I don’t know if he will end up there, or somewhere else, but he is going to be a good football coach regardless of where he is.”

Said Key: “It goes back a long way. He’s a good football coach, and he’s done a heck of a job at his alma mater. Looking forward to going out there and going against him on Saturday.”

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2. Rain in forecast

If you plan to attend Saturday’s final home game at Sanford Stadium, you may want to include a poncho.

It’s supposed to be a relatively warm day for late November -- with a high of 63 degrees – but the National Weather Service is forecasting a 60% chance of rain in Athens. Should that come to pass, it will make the fourth game in a row that Georgia has played in less-than-ideal conditions.

The Bulldogs were exposed to freezing temperatures and blustery conditions at Mississippi State on Nov. 12 and Saturday against Kentucky in Lexington, Ky. Georgia won those games 45-19 and 16-6, respectively, but the environment contributed to less-than-stellar play by the Bulldogs.

Likewise, Georgia led then-No. 1 Tennessee 24-6 at halftime in Athens on Nov. 5 when a second-half deluge put a damper on the Bulldogs’ domination. After the teams traded fumbles in the third quarter, Smart reined in his offense, and Georgia traded a field goal for a Tennessee touchdown on the way to a 27-13 win.

No doubt, the Bulldogs need to play better in imperfect conditions. The good news is the following three outings that Georgia will or could play are expected to be played indoors.

3. Need a yard?

There’s some irony involved with Georgia’s running game at the moment. Last week, the Bulldogs were able to rush for 247 yards against Kentucky – their second highest total in a game this season. The also got a career-best 143 yards from running back Kenny McIntosh. Yet, they struggled mightily in short-yardage situations.

The Bulldogs infamously were stuffed on third-and-goal from the 1 on the last play of the third quarter and again on fourth-and-1 on the first play of the fourth as they sought to add to what at the time was 16-0 lead. Instead, the Wildcats took over on downs and drove 99 yards for a touchdown that put the game’s outcome in jeopardy.

Likewise, Georgia was stuffed on another third-and-1 play late in the fourth quarter that would have put the game away. This time Stetson Bennett was stopped short on a quarterback sneak, and the Bulldogs had to punt the ball back to Kentucky.

So while Georgia was a respectable 6-of-12 on third downs in the game, it was 0-for-2 on its last two third-down attempts and 0-for-1 on fourth down.

The Bulldogs struggled similarly against Mississippi State in short-yardage situations.

“We’ve just got to be more physical,” left tackle Broderick Jones said. “You know, like, when they know we have to run the ball, and we know we have to run the ball, we just have to dominate. That’s the end of it. We just have to be able to out-physical them and out-muscle them and be able to get we need. We have a great offensive line, and we’re capable of doing it.”

Georgia might find more success against Tech. The Jackets’ defensive line consists of a senior and three sophomores, and they average 275.8 pounds, with none of them topping the 300-pound mark. The Kentucky and State defensive lines both were massive.

4. Senior Day

It will be an extra-special day for Stetson Bennett and Robert Beal. As sixth-year seniors, they will participate in Senior Day pregame ceremonies for a second time, and it definitely will be their last season at Georgia.

For others, though, the COVID-19 year of 2020 gives other seniors the option of using another season of eligibility. That’s something fifth-years, such as defensive lineman Tramel Walthour, and fourth-years, such as kicker Jack Podlesny and safety Christopher Smith, are considering.

Add the inclusion of numerous walk-on players as well as student-trainers and managers, and Smart said he had “no idea” as of midweek how many seniors will participate in Saturday’s ceremony. He guessed 20 to 25.

5. To play or not

Smart wasn’t very encouraging when it came questions about the availability of wide receiver A.D. Mitchell for Saturday. A sophomore split end, Mitchell has played six snaps in the Bulldogs’ past 10 games since suffering a high-ankle sprain against Samford on Georgia’s first offensive play in Week 2. Mitchell has five catches for 69 yards and a touchdown a year after emerging as the Bulldogs’ receiving threat as a freshman.

Smart said Mitchell was not a candidate for the new “tight-rope” surgery that is bringing back athletes from similar high-ankle sprains. Mitchell believes he aggravated his injury when he tried to come back against Auburn on Oct. 8.

“You have to have a certain kind of injury,” Smart said. “… He does not have that. It wouldn’t have helped him. It was a different deal.”

Starting guard Tate Ratledge, who missed the Kentucky game because of a shoulder dislocation, was cleared to play.