Speaking of one rival Saturday night, Georgia’s coach pointed toward another. “Florida’s the fastest team we play every year,” Mark Richt said, “and there’s no way to simulate that in practice. It’s like preparing for the option — your scout team can run it perfectly and it still won’t be the same.”
Let’s see. Anybody we know run the option? Wait, wait … don’t tell me …
Coming Nov. 26 at Bobby Dodd Stadium: The biggest Georgia Tech-Georgia game of the new millennium? Or an appetizer before the entree?
Both teams just won huge games, Tech whipping No. 5 Clemson three hours after Georgia disposed of nemesis Florida. Both teams are included in the BCS rankings (Georgia at No. 18, Tech at No. 23). Both teams stand a chance of playing for conference championships the week after they meet one another. (Georgia still needs South Carolina to lose, which could happen Saturday night at Arkansas; Tech needs Virginia to lose, which it will.)
Both Tech and Georgia have been ranked when they met only once since 2005. That was in 2008, when the Jackets surged from 16 points behind at the half to win 45-42 in Athens. It marks the only time in 10 tries the Jackets have beaten a Georgia team coached by Mark Richt. This game could be similarly epic, though in different ways.
1. The final score won’t be 45-42. It won’t even be the 42-34 of last season. Two programs that fired defensive coordinators the same offseason and hired replacements the same day — Jan. 10, 2010 — are seeing the benefits. Georgia ranks No. 7 nationally in total defense, and Tech ranks third to Florida State and Virginia Tech in that category in ACC play.
Todd Grantham’s 3-4 limited Florida’s offense, coached by Mr. Schematic Advantage himself (i.e., the overblown Charlie Weis), to 32 yards and one first down the second half. Take away the missed tackles on the game’s first snap and the blown assignment on the fourth-and-19 touchdown and the fleet Gators managed a total of 103 yards. On a telling sequence, Florida took possession at the Georgia 13 after Aaron Murray’s pass hit Isaiah Crowell in the back of the head and was intercepted … and the Gators wound up punting.
Very quietly, Tech has developed a D to complement its famous O. Al Groh’s 3-4 kept the losses to Virginia and Miami from getting completely out of hand, and Saturday night it limited a Clemson team that had scored 115 points in its past two games to a first-half field goal. Tech no longer has to score 35 points just to have a chance. Against Clemson, 18 would have sufficed.
2. Then again, the final score COULD be 45-42 — with a half-dozen special teams gaffes on both sides. There’s no way to sugarcoat this: The local schools — which used to have special-teams aces like Gary Lee and Scott Sisson and Kevin Butler and Rex Robinson — are terrible at almost anything that involves kicking.
Tech lost to Miami after a first half in which it failed on a fake punt, hoisted a 13-yard punt, fumbled a punt into the end zone to hand the Hurricanes a touchdown and yielded a 64-yard kickoff return to spawn another touchdown. “Something we’re doing ain’t right,” said Tech coach Paul Johnson after that epic display.
A week later, Georgia traveled to the state of Florida and was, astonishingly, even worse. It missed two point-blank field goals. It yielded a kickoff return to near midfield on the game’s first play that was nullified by penalty. It yielded a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to the Gators’ No. 2 kickoff returner. Said Richt: “Our special teams were mostly average to scary.”
3. For the first time ever, both teams could enter the symbolic state championship game with bigger fish to fry. It would be hard for either side ever to look beyond Thanksgiving weekend — these teams, as you’ve heard, don’t like each other — but what happens if both are playing for real championships a week later? Should Georgia win the SEC East, will its sights be set on Alabama/LSU in the Dome? Will Tech, should it finish atop the ACC Coastal, be scheming for another run at Dabo Swinney in Charlotte?
Maybe it’s me, but I can’t imagine a Tech-Georgia game serving as an undercard. But I am, as we know, often surprised. I wasn’t sure Georgia could beat Florida ever again, and I darn sure didn’t expect Tech to shut down Clemson. But that’s why, I suppose, they persist in playing these games — to make me look silly.
More silliness: On Nov. 26, Georgia will beat Tech 24-20.
By Mark Bradley