(Update below with point spread)
We can debate the significance of Georgia’s slide in the last two years. We can debate how accountable Mark Richt should be held for the losses on the field or the issues off of it.
But there’s one thing that’s not up for debate: The man owns Georgia Tech. Don’t discount the important of rivalry games. They shape 12 months of debate, which feed into perceptions, which feed into job security.
Consider these numbers, as the Dogs and Jackets prepare to meet next Saturday night in Athens:
♦ Richt is 8-1 against Georgia Tech, including last year’s 30-24 win on Grant Field. That dominance basically helped run off Chan Gailey, who went to bowl games six straight seasons but couldn’t beat the big brother to the east. Richt’s record against the Dogs’ other major rivals: 2-8 against against Florida, 6-4 against Auburn, 6-4 against Tennessee.
♦ Gailey was 0-6 against the Bulldogs. He followed the immensely unpopular Bill Lewis (0-2) and the immensely popular George O’Leary (3-5). O’Leary had a losing record. But it’s important to note one of those defeats came as an interim following Lewis’s firing late in the 1994 season, and he actually defeated Georgia three straight seasons (1998-2000).
♦ Tech’s Paul Johnson is 1-1 against the Dogs. His team’s win in Athens two years ago reverberates through the fan base more than any other victory during his three seasons, probably even including last year’s win over Virginia Tech when students tore down a goal post and paraded it through campus. Remember when the Jackets won in 2008? Players tore off pieces of the Sanford Stadium hedges. (Somehow, I get the feeling that might come up in a pep talk this week in Athens.)
♦ Compare Richt’s 8-1 record vs. Tech to his predecessors: Jim Donnan was 2-3 (losing his last three); Ray Goff was 5-2 against Tech but had lopsided losing records against Florida, Auburn and Tennessee (3-15-1 combined).
Regardless of how one grades Richt’s job security, it would be infinitely worse if he didn’t dominate the Tech rivalry.
(UPDATE: I’ve checked two online sportsbooks and I’ve seen two lines for this game so far — both big. One has Georgia favored by 13½ points and the other by 15.)
Here are the records of the last three Georgia coaches in rivalry games:
♦Mark Richt: 8-1 vs. Georgia Tech, 6-4 vs. Auburn, 2-8 vs. Florida, 6-4 vs. Tennessee. Total: 22-17 (.564).
♦ Jim Donnan: 2-3 vs. Georgia Tech, 2-3 vs. Auburn, 1-4 vs. Florida, 1-4 vs. Tennessee. Total: 6-14 (.300)
♦ Ray Goff: 5-2 vs. Georgia Tech, 2-4-1 vs. Auburn, 1-6 vs. Florida, 0-5 vs. Tennessee. Total: 8-17-1 (.327).