Georgia-Georgia Tech Lacks Luster in 2015

It is safe to say both Georgia and Georgia Tech want to win the annual Clean, Old Fashioned Hate rivalry game this weekend, but regardless of the result, this game will not erase the disappointment felt by both fan bases heading into the final week of the regular season. Georgia-Georgia Tech was supposed to be a battle of two highly-ranked teams with potential playoff implications. Instead, it’s just a lackluster installment in a mostly one-sided rivalry.

Georgia-Georgia Tech Lacks Luster in 2015

Georgia, which was ranked ninth in the 2015 preseason AP poll – a bit high, I’ll admit – had high hopes this season’s offense could be centered around star running back Nick Chubb, and a mediocre quarterback could manage games effectively enough to open up the running game. The Bulldogs struggled early this season, but managed to mask its offensive issues under new offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer in the first four games. Sitting at 4-0 with a chance to make a huge statement, the Dawgs were completely outclassed by an obviously better and stronger Alabama Crimson Tide team that now sits on the precipice of another shot at a national championship. Following two more losses – and the season-ending injury to Chubb against Tennessee – the fan base quickly turned on head coach Mark Richt. Now, sitting at 8-3 (5-3 SEC) after unconvincing wins against Kentucky, Auburn and Georgia Southern, Georgia has a chance to win 10 games again this year – and the fans couldn’t be any less pleased.

Georgia Tech, which was ranked 16th in the preseason poll, was coming off a successful 11-3 season that included a trip to the ACC Championship Game and an Orange Bowl win over an SEC foe in the Mississippi State Bulldogs. Though they lost their trio of star running backs, the Yellow Jackets were supposed to be a contender in the ACC once more – perhaps even a College Football Playoff contender – but after a 2-0 start, the season has been a complete disaster. Georgia Tech has lost eight of their last nine games and sit at 3-8 (1-7 ACC), ending the school’s 18 consecutive seasons with a bowl appearance. It has been dismal for Georgia Tech fans with heightened expectations. Would a win over Georgia help ease the pain? Maybe a little, but even the most vehement Georgia-hating Yellow Jackets fan should feel the brutal sting of a lost season at the end of play Saturday, win or lose.

This year’s Georgia-Georgia Tech game is just the third time in the past 19 meetings where neither team is ranked. Georgia should be the more motivated team Saturday, as they are still playing for bowl positioning and looking to avenge a painful overtime loss in Athens in last year’s Georgia-Georgia Tech game (please, no squib kicks this year). Georgia is 12-2 in the last 14 meetings and lead the overall series 64-40-5. Here are the major storylines to watch for in Georgia-Georgia Tech:

1. Can Georgia’s defense keep rolling?

Rumors were swirling several weeks ago Georgia defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt was not a team player and would be fired. Richt was quick to dispel those rumors, and Georgia’s defense has continued to impress. Without their star-studded defense, UGA would probably be .500, at best. Ranked ninth in the country in total defense, Georgia is giving up just 4.7 yards per play, and a total of 300 yards per game – 148.1 on the ground (46th) and 151.9 through the air (second). Though Georgia was gashed for 233 rushing yards against Georgia Southern this past weekend, they held the top-ranked rushing offense nearly 150 yards below their season average. The Georgia Southern game was a great warm-up for the Georgia-Georgia Tech matchup, as Georgia Tech runs a similar style of offense. If Georgia’s defense can continue to dominate, the Bulldogs will win Saturday.

2. Will Georgia Tech quarterback Justin Thomas start?

Georgia Tech’s star quarterback Justin Thomas was injured early in the Yellow Jackets’ loss to Miami last weekend, and did not return. The nature of his injury has been largely kept under wraps, and Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson has not confirmed whether Thomas can play. Thomas is an integral part of the Georgia Tech triple-option offense, and has accounted for 1,754 total yards and 18 touchdowns. Though his numbers have regressed from last season, his absence would be a big deal. Backup quarterback Matthew Jordan put the ball on the ground six (!) times and threw an interception against the Miami Hurricanes, and averaged just 2.1 yards per carry on 28 rushing attempts. With Jordan under center, Georgia will have a definite edge.

3. Could Mark Richt be coaching his last regular season game at Georgia?

This is the question on everyone’s mind: is this Richt’s final regular season game at the helm for Georgia? After three straight losses in October, it’s fair to assume Richt would have been under serious heat had Georgia not rebounded to win three straight heading into the Georgia-Georgia Tech finale. Regardless of the result, it is unlikely Georgia makes a change at the top, but there could be some discussion about Schottenheimer, especially if the Georgia offense continues to struggle against a middle of the pack Georgia Tech defense. After seeing a staggering decline in offensive productivity this season following the departure of former Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo, Georgia would be wise to thoroughly evaluate if Schottenheimer is the right man for the job. Either way, I think Richt is safe.

PREDICTION:

Without knowing the status of Thomas heading into this weekend, it is a little difficult to predict the Georgia-Georgia Tech game, but even with Thomas, Georgia Tech is simply over-matched. Georgia’s defense will be the difference in a game in which Georgia Tech will try valiantly to control time of possession and limit the number of offensive plays for Georgia. Like they did against Georgia Southern, the Bulldogs will likely give up more yards on the ground than their season average, but with a limited passing threat, the defense will get better at stopping the run as the game goes on. Georgia will play the revenge card Saturday and finish 9-3, sending Georgia Tech to a 3-9 finish.

Georgia wins 27-17.

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