ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia fans are busy working out their team’s BCS title chances, but the third-ranked Bulldogs (10-1) still have a game to play before an SEC championship game victory could potentially allow them to play for a national title.
Standing in their way is a Georgia Tech team (6-5) that recovered from a 2-4 start to claim a spot in next week’s ACC championship game against Florida State. The Yellow Jackets’ option offense will create headaches for the Bulldogs, but if Georgia beats its in-state rival for the 11th time in 12 tries under coach Mark Richt, the following week’s SEC title game will have major national implications for Richt’s team.
Record: 6-5 (5-3 ACC)
Coach: Paul Johnson, fifth season (39-24)
Series record: Georgia leads 62-37-5
Top players: QB Tevin Washington (62-105 passing, 1,042 yards, 7 TDs, 3 INTs, 142 carries, 598 yards, 18 TDs), RB Orwin Smith (75 carries, 673 yards, 5 TDs), S Isaiah Johnson (75 tackles, 4.5 tackles for a loss), LB Jeremiah Attaochu (53 tackles, seven sacks, nine TFLs)
Scouting the offense: This is a typical Johnson offense in that the Yellow Jackets present major problems with their flexbone rushing attack that produces 38.5 points per game and ranks third nationally with 324.91 rushing yards per game.
Tech has six players with at least 337 rushing yards, led by A-back Smith and quarterback Washington. Much like last week against Georgia Southern -- which used its similar flexbone to rush for 302 yards -- if Georgia can do an effective job defending Tech’s option game, it should win comfortably.
Scouting the defense: When a coordinator gets fired at midseason, something has obviously gone horribly wrong. That was the case at Tech when Johnson fired defensive coordinator Al Groh on Oct. 8 after the Yellow Jackets allowed an average of 46 points and 573 yards per game in a three-game stretch against Miami, Middle Tennessee and Clemson (all losses).
The Yellow Jackets are 4-1 since then and their defense has performed better, but they are still not a particularly intimidating bunch. Tech ranks 61>st nationally in total defense, allowing 393.09 yards per game, and 76th in scoring defense at 29.64 points per game. The Jackets have been vulnerable against the pass, ranking 86th with 251 yards allowed per game, and on third down, ranking 89th with opponents converting 43.79 percent of the time.
Three keys to victory
• Get some stops: As with Georgia Southern, Tech’s offense will pick up yardage on the ground and eat clock. But if the Bulldogs manage to get stops here and there and build an early lead, the Jackets will have difficulty mounting a comeback. See last season’s game in Atlanta as a blueprint, when Georgia used timely third-quarter defensive stops to turn a 17-10 halftime lead to 31-10 by the end of the period.
• Put it on Murray: Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray has been masterful against Tech in two previous starts, going 34-for-48 for 523 yards, seven touchdowns and one interception. The Yellow Jackets have not defended the pass well this season, so look for Murray to regularly look downfield for Tavarres King, Chris Conley and Malcolm Mitchell on Saturday.
&38226; No major mistakes: A key factor in Georgia’s three-game winning streak against Tech is that it has won the turnover battle in each game and holds a combined 6-1 advantage in takeaways. If Murray and company can avoid any major blunders and Georgia’s defense can pick up one or two of the loose balls that are inevitabilities from an option offense, the Bulldogs’ chances of victory will increase exponentially.