For the first time this fall, the Associated Press rankings include both Georgia Tech and Georgia. The Jackets are No. 20, down eight spots after their thudding loss in Charlottesville. The Bulldogs are tied for 24th after their jittery victory over Vanderbilt. (Rule of thumb: Jittery victories over Vandy don’t often propel a team back into the Top 25, but apparently a waiver was granted.)
The regular season is more than half gone, but for these two locals it’s really just beginning. Tech’s schedule was always going to get tougher toward the end, and there’s a chance the Jackets will be favored in only one of their remaining games. (And that one’s at Duke, which really shouldn’t count.) Just last week, Tech seemed in Position A to win the ACC Coastal Division, and now it faces another difficult road test before it gets around to playing Clemson and Virginia Tech here.
As for Georgia: The Bulldogs have won five in a row and, by process of elimination, the best team in the SEC East. But the Vandy game was so bizarre it made us wonder if this gifted team can seize on a series of gifts and find its way back to the Dome. Which is another way of saying … let’s get to the talking points!
Tech: The Jackets have been installed as a three-point underdog against Miami, which is 3-3 and was outgained by Bethune-Cookman earlier this month. Tech’s loss to Virginia showed it can be beaten by just about anybody. But that’s not to say the Jackets will be beaten by everybody from here on.
Tech isn’t like a lot of Top 25 teams: It doesn’t win on talent; it wins on precision. When it’s imprecise, it loses. The offense that managed nine touchdowns against Kansas could muster only two against Virginia, and somehow the Jackets flubbed three second-half chances to take a lead against an opponent that would have collapsed had it fallen behind. In sum: Bad loss.
Paul Johnson isn’t about to junk the spread option for the single wing, but he’s adept at tweaking. With a bye week to prepare, the Cavs took away the pitches to the A-backs – plays largely responsible for those nine touchdowns against Kansas — and forced quarterback Tevin Washington to keep. He gained 115 yards; nobody else had even 40. And the passing game withered: Two completions, 24 yards.
Miami won’t have an extra week to cram, and Miami plays lousy D. (It’s 81st nationally in total defense, 94th in rushing defense.) The Hurricanes have better skill players than Virginia, but they don’t have the linemen. And I’m fairly certain Tech won’t get caught on the back foot again.
This is a winnable game, and if Tech wins Saturday it will have what it wants: A chance to all but clinch its division by winning twice at home. As to whether the Jackets are good enough to close the sale … well, that’s another matter.
Georgia: The season couldn’t have started worse for the Bulldogs, but all else has broken their way. Florida and Tennessee have lost starting quarterbacks. South Carolina has lost its quarterback, which might not have been a bad thing, and also the great Marcus Lattimore, whose absence cannot be overstated.
The way to the division title has been cleared: Georgia needs to win three more league games and the Gamecocks must lose one. (And they’ll play Arkansas in Fayetteville on Nov. 5.) And Georgia has won five in a row, which would suggest the Bulldogs are, at long last, rolling. But then you parse the strange doings in Nashville and, not for the first time, you wonder.
The only way the Bulldogs could have put themselves in position to lose at the end was to have a punt blocked, which they did. The only way to let Vanderbilt linger was to yield a touchdown on a kickoff return, which happened, and to limit Isaiah Crowell to 10 carries, which Mark Richt, for reasons unclear, did.
The Bulldogs get a week off before heading to Jacksonville, which is where Georgia seasons go to disintegrate. It’s tempting to suggest this year will be different — yeah, this year for sure! — but I’ve suggested as much and been wrong so many times that my default position is this: I’ll believe Georgia will beat Florida only after Georgia beats Florida.
Georgia looks to be the better team, but Georgia has been the better team and lost this game a half-dozen times the past 20 years. There’s a chance Gators quarterback John Brantley could return, and even if he doesn’t, is a crew as flighty as this — say hello, Todd Grantham — capable of seizing a game of such magnitude? The East is there to be won, but I’m not yet convinced Georgia can win it.
By Mark Bradley