The gap between Georgia Tech and Georgia has never seemed so vast

Georgia players James Cook ( left), Isaiah Wilson (top) and Solomon Kindley (right)  celebrate a 52-7 victory over Georgia Tech with head coach Kirby Smart's son Andrew in a NCAA college football game on Saturday, November 30, 2019, in Atlanta.  Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

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Georgia players James Cook ( left), Isaiah Wilson (top) and Solomon Kindley (right) celebrate a 52-7 victory over Georgia Tech with head coach Kirby Smart's son Andrew in a NCAA college football game on Saturday, November 30, 2019, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

For the first time in two years, toe will meet leather in a Georgia-Georgia Tech game. Of all the rivalries lost to COVID-19 in 2020, did anybody miss this one?

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There was a time when Tech-Georgia was the biggest game on both schedules. That hasn’t been true since Johnny Griffith was coaching Georgia. Vince Dooley arrived in Athens – he took occupancy of the house on Milledge Circle that Griffith vacated – and went 19-6 against the Yellow Jackets. In the years since, the Bulldogs under Ray Goff/Jim Donnan/Mark Richt/Kirby Smart are 23-8 against Tech. That’s 42-14 since 1963. That’s a winning percentage of .750.

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The Jackets haven’t beaten Georgia at Bobby Dodd Stadium this century. Tech fans recall the 1999 victory as the Jasper Sanks Game. Bulldog backers call it the Al Ford Game.

As much as the current Tech coach might claim he inherited the worst program in the history of football, we note that his predecessor – who in truth did several things well, winning an Orange Bowl among them – succeeded in making the Mutts, to borrow Tech’s characterization of Georgia, sweat. In its first nine games against the Bulldogs, Paul Johnson’s team won three and lost in single digits four times.

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The “high-school offense,” as Johnson, sarcasm dripping, described his creation after stunning the Bulldogs of Smart in 2016, could do that. It could wrong-foot a superior opponent. Still, each of Johnson’s victories over Georgia required a remarkable series of events: In 2008, Tech went from trailing 28-13 at halftime to leading 35-28 with 7:55 left in the third quarter; in 2014, the Bulldogs took the lead with 18 seconds remaining but – after a silly short kickoff and Harrison Butker’s 53-yard field goal – won in overtime; in 2016, Tech trailed 27-14 with 6:29 to go but won on Qua Searcy’s run/leap, which was designed as a throwback to quarterback Justin Thomas.

Said Johnson after his third win in Sanford Stadium: “Not bad for a bunch of 80th-ranked recruiting classes – huh, Mark?” (As in yours truly, who LOL’ed.) The post-Johnson question always has been: Can Tech hope to beat Georgia in straight-up football? As we speak, the Jackets’ 2022 recruiting class is ranked No. 22 by 247Sports, which is splendid by Tech standards; Georgia’s class is ranked No. 1.

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Geoff Collins’ first Tech team lost to Georgia 52-7. His third Tech team is a 35-point underdog. That game will be staged here, although Georgia fans might comprise the majority of attendees. Athletic director Todd Stansbury’s vote of confidence notwithstanding, this is as dark an hour as Tech has known. Only two previous Tech coaches started with three consecutive losing seasons. Bud Carson, who succeeded Dodd, was 12-18 after Year 3. Bill Lewis, who succeeded Bobby Ross, was 11-19 when he resigned under pressure. Collins is 9-24.

His first team lost to Virginia Tech by 45 points. His second lost to Clemson by 66. His latest lost to Notre Dame by 55. Tech’s last victory came Oct. 9 against Duke, which is winless in ACC play. The season began with a home loss to Northern Illinois, which was winless in 2020. (To be fair, these Huskies are 8-4 and will play for the MAC championship.)

This correspondent joined the AJC in 1984. Tech beat Georgia in Athens that year, in Atlanta the next. From ‘84 through 2000, the Jackets won seven of 17 against the Bulldogs. That met the definition of a rivalry. Tech has since won three of 19, which for a school that includes “to hell with Georgia” in its fight song is both doggone amusing and downright sad.

How deep is the divide? The Bulldogs rank first in ESPN’s football power index; Tech is 79th. They’re first in Bill Connelly’s SP+ ratings; Tech is 85th. They’re first in Brian Fremeau’s efficiency ratings for Football Outsiders; Tech is 89th. Yow.

For Collins’ #404Takeover to have any hope of occurring, the gap must narrow. It’s hard to imagine it narrowing enough for Tech to stand a chance in this game anytime soon.

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