Against No. 1 Georgia, Georgia Tech aiming ‘to go shoot our shot’

The extra season that Georgia Tech safety Tariq Carpenter came back for has not gone as planned.

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The Yellow Jackets, who in the preseason were primed for a winning season and a bowl appearance in coach Geoff Collins’ third season, are 3-8 and have lost their past five games. In the win over Duke on Oct. 9, Carpenter suffered a finger injury so gruesome that the digit nearly was amputated, he said.

“It’s not even just ups and downs on the field,” Carpenter said. “I lost some people back at home, and just going through stuff like that. And, of course, the L’s, but it definitely has been tough. But God has a strange way of teaching us things, putting us through adversity and stuff, and I’ve been staying strong, just steady going.”

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For Carpenter, Tech and all who follow the Jackets, it is a different sort of setting as the Clean Old-Fashioned Hate rivalry game with Georgia resumes after a hiatus in 2020 because of the SEC following a conference-only schedule as a COVID-19 precaution. Not only are the Jackets facing the prospect of a third consecutive three-win season, but the Bulldogs are at the absolute pinnacle of college football. Georgia (11-0) is a 35-point favorite, a measurement that would seem to accurately reflect the distance between the two teams’ places in the sport’s realm.

The two teams arguably have not been farther apart since the early 1980s, when the Jackets posted back-to-back one-win seasons at the start of coach Bill Curry’s tenure and the Herschel Walker-led Bulldogs won the national title in 1980, finished sixth in 1981 and fourth in 1982. A win Saturday for Georgia likely secures a spot in the College Football Playoff.

All that said, the power of the rivalry remains.

“I’m sure all of us are definitely going to come in with a little more firepower this game, knowing it’s a rivalry,” Carpenter said. “And then they’re coming up in our own stadium, knowing that the whole stadium is probably going to be red. So we’ve been kind of wearing that up on our shoulders all week.”

Indeed, with multitudes of Tech fans unloading their tickets to eager UGA fans, the Jackets’ rallying cry (pardons to English teachers everywhere) – “We all we got, we all we need” – may never have been more appropriate.

“It’s hate week,” defensive tackle Djimon Brooks said. “We don’t like Georgia, so you go out there and try to play your hardest, regardless of circumstances.”

Brooks expressed a sentiment that perhaps all who support the Jackets, particularly within state borders, can relate to. He was asked how he was explaining the spirit of the rivalry to freshmen and transfers who’ve yet to play in the game.

“I think a lot of those guys, just being around Georgia Tech and in Atlanta, you see a lot of UGA (gear) and you kind of get tired of it,” he said. “So a lot of those guys already have that mentality set where it’s Georgia, it’s hate week.”

Up against the long odds, the Jackets aim to stand undaunted against an opponent with a defense widely regarded as the best in the country and an offense that efficiently converts third downs, has averaged 5.5 offensive plays of 20 yards or more per game and has dynamic weapons in tight end Brock Bowers and running back Zamir White.

“We’re going to go out there and attack, and we’re going to go shoot our shot,” defensive coordinator Andrew Thacker said.

Offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude framed it as “a super opportunity” for his unit to face such a superior defense, anchored by nose guard and likely first-round draft pick Jordan Davis. Tech players, Patenaude said, could fight and compete or “hide in the corner.” The Jackets are a flawed team, but effort and confidence have not been among their weaknesses.

“That’s not who we are, that’s not what we’re about,” Patenaude said of the “hide in the corner” option. “We’re going to have a great mind-set, we’re going to go out and attack and come out and be excited to play and excited to take on the challenge.”

Running back Jordan Mason, who may be playing the final game of his Tech career, aspires to his first win over Georgia in his career. The Bulldogs have won the past three, including a 52-7 win in 2019.

“We’ve got a great game plan, and we’re just going to go in and give it all we’ve got,” Mason said.

Is it possible? It’s obviously not likely. According to the betting website Action Network, as of Nov. 13, only seven teams since 1980 had won against a bigger point spread than the 35-point spread assigned to Tech. Georgia has won its 11 games by an average of 32.7 points and has not given up more than 17 points in a game this season.

Tech, meanwhile, has not given up less than 14 points in a game this season and in its five-game losing streak has surrendered 40.6 points per game, including the 55-0 loss at Notre Dame on Saturday. In that stretch, opponents have outgained the Jackets by an average of 541-366.4. Tech running back Jahmyr Gibbs has shined brightly, but injuries on the offensive line and elsewhere and defensive shortcomings have contributed to Tech’s spiral.

But the Jackets will run out from the northeast tunnel of Bobby Dodd Stadium one final time, including Carpenter, damaged finger and all. Staying steady and strong, he will seek to “make sure I end it up the right way with my performance,” he said.

Patenaude reminded that no one expected Kansas to beat Texas as a 31-point underdog two weeks ago.

“We work the whole year to play 12 games,” he said. “So let’s just go out and compete, lay it on the line and have fun doing it and see where the chips fall.”

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