Georgia has been looking forward to this game all season.
Putting in the time, too.
Every Monday, the No. 7 Bulldogs would take a break from their upcoming opponent to spend a few minutes going over Georgia Tech’s unique triple-option offense.
It was acknowledgement of both the challenges that the Yellow Jackets present with their run-oriented attack, as well as how much Saturday’s game means to Georgia after a gut-wrenching 28-27 loss last season .
“We’ve been working on it pretty much once a week for a long time,” senior linebacker Lorenzo Carter said. “It just helps build confidence for not only the younger players, because they haven’t seen it before, but also for the older players because we stay up on it.”
Georgia (10-1) has a lot more than redemption riding on the regular-season finale.
The Bulldogs have already earned a return visit to Atlanta for the Dec. 2 Southeastern Conference championship game, where they will face either top-ranked Alabama or the only team to beat Georgia, No. 6 Auburn .
The SEC champion is expected to claim a spot in the College Football Playoff. But in Georgia’s case, there’s one big caveat: the Bulldogs can’t afford a loss to their state rival.
Then again, that’s pretty much how these teams feel every year, no matter what else is riding on the outcome.
“The rivalry runs deep,” Carter said. “The winner’s going to brag for 365 days. They’ve been bragging.”
Actually, Georgia Tech (5-5) hasn’t had a whole lot to brag about this season. The Yellow Jackets are coming off a dismal 43-20 defeat at Duke and have dropped three games by a total of six points , leaving them on the cusp of a losing record for the second time in three years.
A huge upset of Georgia would make everyone on the Flats feel a whole lot better.
“If you win this one, the other ones don’t matter,” quarterback TaQuon Marshall said. “You’re state champions. Nobody else would really care about the other games we lost.”
Georgia coach Kirby Smart has shown how much he cares about this game with all the extra practice time devoted to the Yellow Jackets, who rank fourth nationally with a rushing average of 319.4 yards per game.
“They’re not the norm anymore,” Smart said. “It’s almost like a dinosaur. People don’t do it anymore, so people don’t know how to defend it. It’s challenging.”
Some other things to watch for in the latest edition of the “Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate” rivalry:
BOWL ELIGIBILITY: While Georgia Tech is still trying to put together a 12th game to make up hurricane-relate cancellation against Central Florida, the Yellow Jackets must approach this as a much-win to get to a bowl . There’s a chance of receiving an invitation with a 5-6 record based on their academic record, but only if there aren’t enough .500 teams to fill all the slots. “I feel like the pressure is on us,” running back Qua Searcy said. “No matter who we’re playing, we’ve still got to get that sixth win.”
RUN, DOG, RUN: Georgia is also one of the nation’s top rushing teams, ranking second in the SEC and ranking 10th nationally (267.4 yards per game) behind the dynamic duo of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. Chubb joined Herschel Walker as the only players in Georgia history to eclipse 1,000 yards rushing three times in their career, while Michel also has a shot at a 1,000-yard season. In last week’s 42-13 rout of Kentucky , they combined for 238 yards and five touchdowns.
HOME-FIELD DISADVANTAGE: While Georgia Tech is riding an eight-game winning streak at home, don’t expect Georgia to be the least bit intimidated about playing at Bobby Dodd Stadium. The Bulldogs have defeated the Yellow Jackets eight straight times in Atlanta, with Georgia’s last loss coming way back in 1999 (and even then, it took a blown call for Georgia Tech to escape with an overtime victory). There figures to be plenty of red and black in the 55,000-seat stadium, so it will seem more like a neutral-site contest than a Georgia Tech home game.
AIR GAME: Considering how strong both teams are on the ground, this game may come down to which quarterback can hit some big passing plays. Georgia would certainly seem better equipped to capitalize in this area with freshman Jake Fromm, who hasn’t been asked to carry a big load in the passing game but has turned in some solid numbers. He has completed just under 61 percent of his throws for 1,766 yards, with 17 touchdowns and only five interceptions. Marshall hasn’t been nearly as effective, completing just 38 percent of his attempts for 889 yards, but he showed the danger of neglecting the passing game in an upset victory over Virginia Tech. Marshall completed only two passes in that game — for touchdowns of 60 and 80 yards .
PJ’S STATUS: Another losing season could turn up the heat on Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson, who is winding down his 10th season in Atlanta. Since winning 11 games including an Orange Bowl victory during the 2014 season, the Yellow Jackets are just 17-18.