GT-UGA: An Early Look (Published Nov. 14 in Score Atlanta)

A lot can change in three weeks, but it is never too early to take a look at the increasing importance of Georgia Tech-Georgia. A series that has been dominated by the Dawgs this decade may hold bigger circumstances than usual. The dream of Georgia making a final four playoff spot is all but extinguished, but a SEC title is still in reach as far-fetched as it may sound. Surprisingly, the same can be said about Georgia Tech. After a slow start to the season, the Jackets have quietly built an 8-2 record. Back to back losses to Duke and North Carolina in the middle of the season have seemed to humble them. In their three games since the losses Georgia Tech has averaged 49 points per game and has routed the likes of Pittsburgh, Virginia, and North Carolina State.

Some fans say that in order for a rivalry to be a rivalry the other team has to win a few times. Georgia has dominated the series in the 21st century going 12-2 including five straight wins. Tech’s last win came in 2008 when the Jackets were able to outscore the Dawgs 45-42 in a quagmire. There will definitely be some Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate when the two schools meet on Nov. 29th, but will there be a good game? Last season the Bulldogs were able to win in Atlanta 41-34 after Tech raced out to a 20-7 first half lead, but what will happen this year between the hedges?

Georgia Tech’s offense has been clicking on all cylinders since their losses in the middle of the season. Starting B-back Zach Laskey went down with a shoulder injury in the fourth quarter in the loss to North Carolina. Former quarterback and seldom used senior Synjyn Days was asked to step in, and boy did he. Days has rushed for 414 yards in his three starts making him the first Tech running back to rush for over 100 yards in three straight games since Jonathan Dwyer. Quarterback Justin Thomas has amassed 2,075 yards of total offense in his first season as starting quarterback and looks to be one of Coach Paul Johnson’s finest pitch men.

The Dawgs also rely on a strong running game to bludgeon opponents to death. Todd Gurley was a front runner for the Heisman Trophy before his suspension, but the Georgia running game much like Tech’s has not skipped a beat with the absence of their leading rusher. Freshman Nick Chubb has run for 671 yards in his four starts and has emerged as one of the nation’s top young backs. Hutson Mason has struggled at times, but for the most part has done his job in managing the game and not turning the ball over.

The main weakness for both teams is their suspect defenses. Both teams were exposed in their two losses. Georgia got gashed by one of the nation’s weaker offenses in Florida who rammed the ball down their throat for 418 yards. The Jackets have struggled to stop opposing quarterbacks, allowing the 29th most passing yards in the nation. Another key factor in who will win this game will be the quarterback play. Both QBs have looked good at times and both have looked overwhelmed. They are polar opposites of each other. Thomas runs the triple option and is a threat to break a game changing run while Mason likes to sit in the pocket and struggles with his mobility at times getting away from rushers.

If I had to pick a winner of this game, I would have to give the slight edge to Georgia Tech. This very well may be Paul Johnson’s last season with the team, and a win over Georgia might tip the scale one way or the other. Tech will need to load the box and dare Mason to beat them down the field. Georgia’s defense has shown it is susceptible to the rushing attack and that is exactly what Tech will try to do. Georgia Tech will have a nice measuring stick test before the big game when they host Clemson. As fans, all we can ask for is for both teams to come in healthy and give us another great game.