Athens – The most intriguing part of what isn’t a very intriguing game — how riveting does it get when the teams have an aggregate record of 11-11? — is how few people are giving Georgia Tech a chance. And by people, I don’t just mean Georgia fans or Vegas neutrals. I mean Tech fans, too.
I haven’t yet met anybody who thinks the Jackets can keep this close, let alone win. Indeed, the consensus seems to be that the betting line — it’s at 14 points as I type — may actually flatter the visitors. And I wouldn’t disagree. I think this is at least a two-touchdown game.
Having said that, we must also note a couple of things. First, the Jackets enter as the team already bowl-eligible. Georgia, as we know, has to win tonight for the privilege, such as it is, of gracing a postseason game in either Memphis or (shudder) Birmingham. Which leads us to our second notation:
Georgia is, on the record, eminently beatable. Six teams have already done the deed. Every time Georgia has played a team that finished above .500, it has lost. (Kentucky lost to Tennessee on Saturday to fall to 6-6, and Kentucky represents Georgia’s best win.) That’s a pretty staggering statistic. But Tech, as we know, has been only slightly better in a demonstrably worse league.
Ergo, the team with the better record enters as a two-touchdown ‘dog. (Not to be confused with Dawg.)
The striking part of Tech’s season to date has been how almost nothing about it has struck you. There had been no rousing victory, unless you count winning in Chapel Hill over a North Carolina team missing 12 players due to investigations of some sort. There had been no blowout loss, unless you count the 34-10 defeat suffered against Miami in the Jackets’ first game without Joshua Nesbitt. The only real drama came in rallying against Wake Forest, and there should be no drama ascribed to any game involving Wake Forest.
Paul Johnson believed his stylized offense would keep on truckin’ without Jonathan Dwyer and Demaryius Thomas, and it has and hasn’t. Tech ranks first in the nation in rushing, next-to-last in passing. Anthony Allen hasn’t been quite as proficient as Dwyer, and all the Jackets’ receivers combined haven’t begun to match the departed Bay-Bay.
The defense was supposed to be better because of Al Groh and his 3-4, but it hasn’t been. It hasn’t gotten worse; it just hasn’t improved to any significant degree. Derrick Morgan, also gone to the NFL, had 12 1/2 sacks last season; through 11 games, Tech as a team has 16.
And here we pause to recall: This time a year ago, Tech was bound for the ACC championship game, which it would win, and then the Orange Bowl, where it would lose. If we cast our glance back 52 weeks, we see that the Jackets are 7-7 over their past 14 games. The upset loss to Georgia has sent the Jackets back to mediocrity.
Only that’s not quite true. It has been a long time since the Jackets had a six-loss regular season, which is what they’re facing if/when they lose tonight. The last time was in 2003, Chan Gailey’s second year. (Tech was also 7-6 in Gailey’s first and last season, but those involved bowl losses, and in 2007 Gailey had nothing to do with the sixth loss. He’d been fired.)
The promise inherent in Paul Johnson was that he, by force of both stylized offense and outsize personality, would prevent the Jackets from ever backsliding this far. But here Tech is, a middling 6-5 and facing a game in which it’s expected to get drubbed by a opponent carrying a losing record. Two years ago, when Johnson’s team stunned Georgia here, that wouldn’t have seemed possible. A year ago, when Tech entered this game ranked No. 7 in the land, it wouldn’t have seemed possible. But here the Jackets are, on a slippery slope that could get a lot more slippery before the night is through.
And with that, the floor is open for questions, comments and observations about the Jackets. (I’m not supposed to be discussing the Bulldogs, which I’m sure will make UGA backers shout, “Hallelujah!”) I welcome your figurative presence. And if you’d care to come up to the press box and sit beside me, please bring a space heater. Apparently the Sanford Stadium folks are conserving electrical energy. Brrr.