A Dawg fan’s confession: During that nightmarish first half of Saturday’s game at Grant Field, in which Paul Johnson’s Yellow Jackets jumped out to a 20-0 lead and it seemed nothing could go right for Georgia, I thought we were looking at a potential blowout. I mean, a Tech team that makes its living running the ball in the triple option was just plain embarrassing the Dogs’ suspect defensive secondary through the air!
But as tough as it was to watch the Jackets having their way with the Dogs early on, I wouldn’t take anything for the way it ended, with Georgia and its rookie substitute quarterback storming back to once again break the Jackets’ hearts, this one in double overtime.
Spotting Tech three scores and still winning — it doesn’t get much sweeter than that.
As Hutson Mason noted after the game, the first 28 minutes weren’t pretty. The worst part definitely was the play of the Georgia secondary, with Jackets QB Vad Lee picking on cornerback Sheldon Dawson (starting for an injured Shaq Wiggins), who repeatedly kept letting Tech receivers behind him for big catches and wasn’t receiving any help from safeties Quincy Mauger and Josh Harvey-Clemons, who were selling out against the run.
The 68-yard Tech completion to a wide open Darren Waller on third-and-8 in the first quarter pretty much summed up most of what’s been wrong with the Georgia defense most of this season: poor pass coverage and they couldn’t get off the field on third down.
Tech’s coaches obviously had watched film of the Georgia-Auburn game, where an opponent known primarily for the run had a lot of early success passing against the Dogs. Unbelievably, in the first half Saturday, Tech had more yardage passing (171) than the Dogs had total offense (152).
Speaking of the Georgia offense, Mason, getting his first career start in place of injured Aaron Murray, started out very shaky and admitted he wasn’t trusting his protection — though I’d say that was with pretty good reason, as his offensive line and backs allowed him to be continuously pressured, resulting in sack after sack. Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo wasn’t doing Mason any favors, either, as he had the QB standing back there way too long waiting for receivers to get open. And Tech was keying on Bulldogs tailback Todd Gurley, keeping the Dogs’ running game in check.
But Bobo eventually adjusted, making greater use of the short passing game, and Mason settled down and started looking like the confident quarterback we saw against Kentucky. Finally, the Dogs got back into the game in the last couple of minutes of the opening half, driving 86 yards for a score on which Gurley again did his Superman dive, breaking the plane of the goal line with the ball in one hand.
The Dogs opened the second half with a nice drive that featured a tremendous catch by tight end Artie Lynch for a 31-yard gain but unfortunately saw Georgia have to settle for 3 after a touchdown pass to Gurley was called back on a flag against the Dawgs — ironically for a chop block on a day when the cut-blocking Jackets saw no such penalties.
Georgia’s defense stiffened on a drive that saw Tech miss a field goal try, and then Mason led the Dogs to within 3 points on a scoring throw to Michael Bennett with 2:26 left in the third quarter. But the Jackets went back up by 10 points 4 and a half minutes into the fourth quarter.
On the next UGA drive Richt rolled the dice, converting on fourth-and-6 from the Georgia 39. Another big catch by Bennett set up a Gurley touchdown run and Tech’s lead dwindled to 27-24.
The Jackets finally made a big mistake, with Harvey-Clemons snagging a pick, but a sack of Mason meant the Dogs had to settle for another field goal, tying the game at 27.
With just 4:17 left on the clock and a Tech attack known for gobbling clock, things didn’t look good for Georgia. The Jackets started their next drive well, but bogged down and then pinned the Dogs at their own 2 with a punt with just 46 seconds left in regulation. Georgia ended up running out the clock, playing for overtime.
Oh, what a great decision that was, because, as Richt told Chuck Dowdle after the game, in overtime “we just kind of handed the ball to Big Boy,” meaning Gurley.
Georgia won the toss and decided to start overtime on defense. Tech methodically worked its way into the end zone in the first OT period, only to see Georgia tie it up again 34-34 on three consecutive runs by No. 3. Then, it was the Dogs’ turn to go first, and Gurley ripped off a scoring run on the very first play to take a 41-34 lead, its first of the entire game.
That’s how you play overtime: Gurley, Gurley, Gurley, Gurley.
Getting their second turn in OT, the Jackets again seemed to be working their way to paydirt, but on third-and-2 at the Georgia 3, the Dogs swarmed and buried a pitch. And then, on fourth-and-5 from the 6, Lee tried a slant to Waller but Ramik Wilson tipped the ball up in the air and then Damian Swann batted it out of the end zone. The Bulldog Nation collectively held its breath, with visions of the miracle play at Auburn playing in their heads, but the ball harmlessly hit the dirt and once again Richt’s Bulldogs had wrecked ole Tech.
Gurley definitely was player of the game, running 20 times for 122 yards and catching four passes for another 36 yards as he scored four touchdowns. But Mason solidified his position as Georgia’s starter for next season, making 22 of 36 passes for 122 yards and three scores, with one interception.
In a year of down-to-the-wire close games, Georgia-Georgia Tech stayed true to form. But, in the end, as center David “Boss” Andrews tweeted after the game, “We still run this state.”
You gotta know the way this one ended really hurts for Tech fandom. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Feel free to share your own thoughts on the latest installment of Clean Old Fashioned Hate. …
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg