This week’s Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl Game of the Week features the 2011 version of “clean, old-fashioned hate,” as bitter rivals Georgia (9-2, 7-1 SEC) and Georgia Tech (8-3, 5-3 ACC) square off at Bobby Dodd Stadium in Atlanta. The Bulldogs have rattled off nine straight victories to earn a spot in the SEC Championship Game next weekend, while Georgia Tech has exceeded all expectations this season with one of the nation’s youngest rosters.
This game will make for one of the truest tests of strength against strength you will ever see. The high-octane triple option attack that Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson employs has shredded opponents all season, as the Yellow Jackets currently rank second nationally in rushing offense (323.6). Meanwhile, Georgia boasts one of the top rushing defenses in the country, holding opponents to a measly 81.27 yards per game.
Mark Richt may have the most talented defense he has ever had under his tenure at Georgia. The Bulldogs are loaded at almost every position, and their linebacking core is among the nation’s best. Sophomore OLB Jarvis Jones leads the SEC and is tied for second nationally in sacks (12.5). Junior ILB Mike Gilliard leads the team in tackles with 59, and the return of sophomore ILB Alec Ogletree has strengthened the unit even more.
They will have their hands full, however, trying to contain Georgia Tech’s potent attack. All-everything quarterback Tevin Washington leads the show for the Yellow Jackets. He is currently enjoying one of the most productive seasons ever by a Tech QB. Washington has thrown for 1,481 yards and 10 TDs, and also leads the team in rushing (849 yards, 14 TDs). What has made the Georgia Tech offense even more difficult to stop this season -as opposed to years past- has been the balanced attack and big-play ability in the passing game. Thirteen different players have had at least one 20-yard offensive play (rushing or receiving). Junior WR Stephen Hill has been the main recipient of the big plays. He has nine receptions of 40 yards or longer and three catches of 70 yards or longer, and leads the nation in yards per reception (30.7). The Washington-to-Hill connection has developed into one of the top home run passing combinations in Georgia Tech history.
However, Washington will have to pick and choose his spots very carefully against this Georgia secondary. The Bulldogs are tied for 16th nationally in turnover margin (+9), thanks in large part to 15 interceptions. Ball-hawking FS Bacarri Rambo is second in the nation with seven, and Thorpe Award semifinalist Brandon Boykin has three on the year.
Georgia will be looking to take advantage of an improved Georgia Tech defense. The Yellow Jackets have improved their national ranking in every defensive statistical category this season, and rank 23rd in passing defense (193.36) and 43rd in total defense (359.45).
More of the onus may be on standout quarterback Aaron Murray in this one, as the Georgia rushing game is in a state of flux. Freshman phenom Isaiah Crowell (832 yards, 5 TDs) may be unavailable or limited because of an ankle injury sustained last week, and junior Carlton Thomas (327 yards, 2 TDs) has had discipline problems. Murray will no doubt be up to the task. In a short time span, the sophomore has been re-writing the Georgia record books. He now owns the school record for touchdown responsibility by a QB in a season with 30 (28 passing, 2 rushing), and is the SEC’s leading active player in total offensive yardage (5,761), completions (392), TD responsibility (58), TD passes (52), and passing yards (5,495).
Murray likes to spread the ball around (six different players have recorded more than 200 yards receiving), but impressive freshman WR Malcolm Mitchell has emerged as the leader of the receiving corps. Despite missing three games with a hamstring injury, Mitchell has hauled in 32 passes for 549 yards and 4 TDs on the year. Murray will also have to keep tabs on Georgia Tech cornerback Jemea Thomas, who has three interceptions in the last three games.
There will definitely be plenty to watch for in this one, as both teams are equipped with explosive playmakers on both sides of the ball. Georgia Tech still has a chance to reach the 10-win plateau, and Georgia will be looking to carry its momentum into the SEC Championship Game next week. Mark Richt has had the Yellow Jackets’ number under his tenure at Georgia, posting a 9-1 record against them since he took over as head coach in 2001. He will be facing a tougher Georgia Tech offense in this one though, and anything goes in rivalry games like these. Don’t miss any of the action when these in-state rivals take the field at 11:00 AM CST on Saturday!