ATLANTA — Georgia and Georgia Tech renew their football rivalry for the 112th time on Saturday in Atlanta. Well, the 114th time as far as the Yellow Jackets are concerned.
They count the two games that were played in 1943 and '44, which Tech won by the combined score of 92-0. UGA doesn't count them because it claims the Yellow Jackets utilized ineligible players from a naval officer's training program that was being conducted on campus during World War II.
The teams also didn't play from 1917-24 over a dispute over a parade float.
That tells you all you need to know about a rivalry that has earned the nickname "Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate." These two institutions can't agree on anything and they genuinely don't like each other.
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Home field disadvantage
The Yellow Jackets haven't beaten Georgia on their home field – Grant Field at Bobby Dodd Stadium -- since 1999, and there are a lot of Bulldogs who swear they didn't win that day either.
Officially, Tech won in overtime 51-48. But Georgia disputes the resulte because of a fumble on the goal line by running back Jasper Sanks that Tech recovered with the game tied in the final seconds. Television replays show that Sanks clearly was down before the ball was pried loose, but that was before video reviews were utilized. The SEC office later admitted that their officiating crew got the call wrong, and referee Al Ford and the rest of the officials were reprimanded and sidelined.
Otherwise, one has to go back to 1989 to find the last time Georgia lost to Tech in Atlanta. Most of the games since then have been similarly close, with the Bulldogs winning one in overtime, three others by a touchdown or less and only one by more than two scores.
As coach Kirby Smart said of the rivalry: "You don't think it's important, then lose it."
Smart's first Georgia team lost to Tech 28-27 in Athens in 2016.
To play or not to play
The Bulldogs have several players who are dealing with injuries of various severity. Many of them probably could play on Saturday but, between UGA being four-touchdown favorites and No. 2 LSU awaiting in the SEC Championship game the following Saturday, expect the Bulldogs to be especially cautious.
Three players about whose health Georgia will be particularly guarded are wide receiver Lawrence Cager, offensive lineman Cade Mays and cornerback Eric Stokes.
Cager, Georgia's leading receiver, has played no more than one half of the last five games and sat out two of those completely due to a chronic shoulder injury. It's doubtful the Bulldogs would risk his availability for the LSU game.
Mays is trying to get over an ankle injury that has bothered him since Notre Dame in Week 4 and also has shoulder issues that sent him to the sideline in two of the last three games. Mays played only special teams against Texas A&M.
Stokes, a sophomore who has started every game but one this season, practiced this week, but has been held out of contact due to concussion symptoms.
Offense hopes to get well
Having averaged only 22 points a game in its last six games and failing to gain even 300 yards in three of those, the Bulldogs seek to get well on offense against Georgia Tech.
The Yellow Jackets appear to field the sort of defense that might provide some remedies. They enter Saturday's game with a national rank of 82nd in yards allowed (415.9 per game), 87th in scoring (30.6 ppg) and 119th in rush defense (214.9 ypg).
The one area in which Georgia needs to show the most improvement – passing -- is the one in which Tech performs best. The Jackets are 32nd nationally against the pass, giving up 201 yards per game.
Jake Fromm, the Bulldogs' career leader in pass efficiency (.648), has failed to complete 50 percent of his throws in any of the last three games.
Not helping Tech's defensive cause this week is a couple snubs of two key offensive players for Georgia. Tackle Andrew Thomas and running back D'Andre Swift found out that they didn't make the cut as finalists for the Outland Trophy and Doak Walker Award, respectively. Both players – along with their teammates – firmly believe they are the best at their respective positions.
And while these players say they get their rewards in team success, there was a hint of aggravation emanating from the Bulldogs' camp.
"Yeah, I was upset about it," said the 6-foot-5, 330-pound Thomas, a junior who is projected as an NFL first rounder next year. "But it's just motivation to keep working. I've still got things to improve on and that's what I'm going to do."
Said Smart of Swift: "It baffles me. I don't think the guy gets enough credit."
Ruthless vs. run
Georgia Tech has scored 12 rushing touchdowns this season. Georgia has given up one all season. It's the Bulldogs fullest intention that both numbers remain the same at the conclusion of Saturday's game.
For all of Georgia's defensive success this season, it comes down to its ability to stuff the run, first and foremost. They're giving up just 68.5 yards a game, second only to Utah (55.9) nationally, and the Utes haven't played the competition the Bulldogs have.
Case in point: Texas A&M. The Aggies had minus-1 yard vs. Georgia. They had 319 the week before against South Carolina.
"That negative one caught my eye," senior linebacker Tae Crowder said. "I was like, ‘dang,' when I saw it. ‘Cause you really don't know; you're just out there playing. We don't really get into stats, but that one caught my eye."
© 2020 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution