ATLANTA — Georgia players will enter Saturday’s visit to Georgia Tech with a new appreciation of the state rivalry.
The Yellow Jackets took their first win over the Bulldogs since 2008 last season. That loss, and Georgia Tech’s celebration on Georgia’s home field, reminded the Bulldogs how much the rivalry means.
Georgia senior Kolton Houston said he and his teammates have bitter memories of watching Georgia Tech players “tear up our hedges” after last year’s 30-24 overtime win in Athens.
“It stuck with me a lot,” Houston said.
“Sometimes when you win as many as we were winning you tend to forget the rivalry hatred, but it’s real again. ... We’ve got to go back and take what is ours.”
Georgia (8-3) and Georgia Tech (3-8) have had disappointing seasons. Georgia was picked to win the Southeastern Conference’s Eastern Division. Georgia Tech was expected to repeat as Atlantic Coast Conference Coastal Division champion. The Yellow Jackets fell from first to worst in their division with a 1-7 ACC record, and their streak of 18 consecutive bowl seasons has ended.
Only one year removed from winning 11 games and the Orange Bowl, Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson hasn’t faced as much heat as Georgia coach Mark Richt. Even so, Johnson has been stung by the poor season. He acknowledged he had no answers following last week’s 38-21 loss at Miami. This week he suggested injuries and bad luck were too much to overcome.
Johnson said he has tried to come up with fixes all season.
“It’s kind of been like a dyke,” he said. “You put your finger in one hole and something pops up over here.”
Georgia could finish with its second straight 10-win season by beating the Yellow Jackets and winning a bowl game. Even so, some Georgia fans remain restless as they wait for their first SEC championship since 2005 and first national title since 1980.
Beating Georgia Tech might provide more job security for Richt while also allowing Houston and his teammates to feel they made up for last year’s loss.
Clearly, the emotions are fully restored in the rivalry known for “Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate.”
Georgia Tech quarterback Justin Thomas left the Miami game with what the team said was an upper body injury. He practiced on Wednesday and is expected to play.
Freshman Matthew Jordan struggled while filling in for Thomas as Georgia Tech lost two of nine fumbles. Jordan had six fumbles and threw an interception.
Sony Michel took over as Georgia’s starting tailback following Nick Chubb’s season-ending knee injury against Tennessee. Michel ran for 132 yards, including the game-winning touchdown, in last week’s 23-17 overtime win over Georgia Southern. That left him with 927 yards rushing and a chance to reach 1,000 on Saturday. “It would be great to get 1,000 with a W,” Michel said. “If I get 1,000 with us losing, it really doesn’t mean anything.”
Georgia Southern provided a slightly different twist on Georgia Tech’s spread-option offense. Richt said the offenses “are very different” but still provided his defense a chance to practice “the fundamentals of assignment football.” Georgia held the Eagles to 233 yards rushing, well below their average of 378.9 which led the nation.
Asked if he plans any staff changes, Johnson said he’ll review his assistants following the season. “They didn’t forget how to coach overnight,” Johnson said. “Now, is everybody accountable? Yeah. I’m ultimately accountable and everybody is accountable for their position.”
Under Richt, Georgia is 12-2 against Georgia Tech, including 7-0 at Bobby Dodd Stadium.