Christmas is a loving time of year, but before ringing in the month of December, we’ve got to get some clean, old fashioned hate out of the way.
With the SEC portion of the season behind us and an indefinitely-hopeful postseason still to come, there’s still some unfinished business to take care of on this last Saturday of November and the regular season: beating Georgia Tech.
No football season is complete without a win over the North Avenue Trade School. And when we don’t get one, Christmastime just isn’t the same.
The Dawgs will have an opportunity to make it six straight years of not knowing what that feels like on Saturday, when the Yellow Jackets buzz over from Atlanta in a flexbone formation to take their best shot at a Georgia defense that’s been a figurative bug lantern for half of the last decade.
Tech’s last win over the Dawgs came in 2008, Paul Johnson’s first year as head coach, when Josh Nesbitt, Jonathan Dwyer and Roddy Jones combined for 398 rushing yards against a discouraged Georgia defense on a rainy afternoon in Sanford Stadium.
That 45-42 defeat taught the Dawgs a lesson they still haven’t forgotten. Since that game, they’ve rattled off not one, not two, not three, not four, but five unanswered wins over the Jackets.
The rivalry’s 109th renewal on Saturday at noon will mark Jeremy Pruitt’s first-ever encounter with the triple option as a defensive coordinator, which is both exciting and concerning.
His last experience of a Johnson-style option offense came versus Georgia Southern three years ago when he was defensive secondary coach at Alabama. Though Pruitt has limited ownership of what took place in that ballgame, it still wasn’t a good day for the Tide’s defense. They won 45-21, but gave up three touchdowns and 341 yards, 302 of them on the ground.
He’d do well to call up his predecessor for some advice on how to draw up this week’s gameplan. Todd Grantham, now piloting the defense under Bobby Petrino at Louisville, was unbeaten in four tries against this Tech offense. No member of his defensive staff from any of those four years is still left in Athens, so minus the experience of Mark Richt, this team is essentially starting from square one in its preparation for the Jackets.
That’s not a good thing, seeing that this is probably the most dangerous edition of Tech’s option attack since their last win in the series. They have the third-highest rushing yardage total in the country this season, behind Georgia Southern and Wisconsin, with 3,607.
The Jackets spread their touches around pretty evenly, but they’re leading ball-carriers are Zach Laskey, Synjyn Days and the explosively-fast Justin Thomas. All three are a 25-yard run waiting to happen on every play, but Thomas, probably the fastest human being in the game of football right now, is the one you really want to be scared of.
He was the state of Alabama’s hundred-yard dash champion his senior year. And that speed has translated to the football field incredibly well in his first season starting under center. He’s already proven to be one of the best quarterbacks Johnson’s ever had when it comes to keeping the ball on the outside option play. Bite one notch too hard as a linebacker or safety and he’ll take it to the house on you in a heartbeat. The Georgia defense needs to keep tabs on where he’s at all game long if they expect to keep his scoring threat in check.
The Dawgs also can’t afford to turn the ball over and give him a short field. The Jackets’ execution in those situations this year has been second to none, and a big reason for their nine wins against a seemingly-difficult ACC schedule. They’ve gotten handed possession of the football like no other team in their conference this year, and have taken full advantage.
Both teams protect the football as if their HOPE scholarship eligibility depended on it. Tech’s +10 turnover margin is ninth-best in the nation, seven spots behind Georgia – the No. 2 team in football at +16. Safe to say we may not see a fumble or an interception Saturday, and if we do, it could be hugely-pivotal.
This game will be won on the ground, and lost by the defense that allows one too many rushing touchdowns. Much of the difference in the outcome will be made in the trenches, depending on which offensive and defensive line wins the battle.
Georgia’s defensive front was stout against nearly everything Auburn tried to do between the tackles two Saturdays ago. Part of the reason the defensive backs were able to make tackles on the perimeter was that they didn’t have to worry about much of anything getting past the big fellas on the interior of the D-line.
Just the same this week, sealing off the lanes Tech gets to run the toss and speed option plays outside begins with shutting down dive, trap and midline runs inside. To do that, the Dawgs need another big game from Mike Thornton, Toby Johnson, Jordan Jenkins and Leonard Floyd in that front seven.
But the dominance of Georgia’s defense versus Auburn shouldn’t be taken as any indicator of how it’ll play against the Jackets. Years past should go to show you that containing this offense is never a certainty, and it sure won’t be on Saturday.
Fasten your seatbelts for this one. It oughtta be a wild ride.
The Prediction: Georgia 31, Tech 27
In the spirit of Thanksgiving, we want to express our gratitude this week for the many things God has blessed us with, including freedom, family and football. We’re also thankful for the opportunity he’s given us to attend the greatest university in America, and for one final chance this season to paint up in support of the Dawgs.
Enjoy your Thanksgiving, wherever in the Bulldog Nation that may take you. But be sure to make it back to Athens in time to join us bright and earlySaturday morning as we watch Georgia take care of business versus the Jackets.
(Written by Mr. Clay Reynolds. Clay is a senior at UGA, majoring in Journalism, who has painted with the Paint Line as an alternate in the past. As a passionate Dawg fan and sports enthusiast Clay has graciously stepped up this year as our resident writer! Thank you Clay!)