For a game nicknamed “Clean Old Fashioned Hate,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart was in a very flattering mood as he discussed the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, who visit Athens on Saturday to wrap up a regular season that decided both teams went differently.
While leaders Georgia (11-0, 8-0 SEC) are one win away from winning straight undefeated regular seasons for the first time in school history, the Yellow Jackets (5-6, 4-4 ACC) may have to pull through her biggest surprise in school history, being eligible for the Bowl for the first time since 2018.
“(Georgia Tech’s) are playing really well now. They’re playing really hard now,” Smart said. “They always have – you know, Tech has good staff. And the guys there know football and you can see that the kids play with a lot more passion and energy.”
While what Smart said may be true, the fact is that the rivalry between the schools, which are about 60 miles apart, has become as one-sided as any in the nation.
Georgia have won their last four meetings by an average of 36.3 points after a 45-0 win last year. The Bulldogs have beaten the Yellow Jackets in 17 of their last 20 games.
Georgia clinched a 16-6 win in Kentucky on Saturday and will play in the SEC title game for the fifth time in six years when it defeats No. 5 LSU on Dec. 27 (9-2, 6-1 SEC ) starts. 3. Georgia Tech rebounded from a 0-17 deficit in the second quarter to pull out a 21-17 excitement against the then-No. 13 North Carolina (9-2, 6-1 ACC) on Saturday in Chapel Hill, NC
Georgia Tech has gone 4-3 under interim coach Brent Key, who was promoted to assistant head coach and running game coordinator, after the school fired Geoff Collins following a Sept. 24 loss to Central Florida that dropped them to 1-3.
However, Key could be coaching his final game with the Yellow Jackets. Georgia Tech also fired athletic director Rick Stansbury and hired J Batt, the former assistant athletic director, chief operating officer and chief revenue officer for Alabama.
“I worry about Georgia, it’s the No. 1 team in the country,” Key said. “It’s the biggest challenge of my life right now to bring this group there to Athens on Saturday at 12 o’clock.”
Georgia is favored by a whopping 35.5 points against the Yellow Jackets, who haven’t been nearly as dominant as the Bulldogs this season.
Georgia is nationally first in scoring defense (11.09 points per game), third in rushing defense (83.1 yards per game), fifth in total defense (272.1 ypg), and 11th in scoring offense (38 .4 points).
Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett has completed 67.8 percent of his passes for 3,011 yards, 14 touchdowns and six interceptions, and leads an offense that ranks seventh in the country in yards per game (496.3).
Tight end Brock Bowers has 41 receptions for 625 yards with four touchdowns, while Ladd McConkey has 46 catches for 606 yards and four touchdowns. Kenny McIntosh was a threat from the backfield with 33 receptions for 341 yards and one score, in addition to his rushing for 568 yards and seven scores on 111 carries.
The Bulldogs’ Daijun Edwards has an average of 5.1 yards per carry, having lapped for 547 yards and seven touchdowns with 107 carries.
Bennett went 14-to-20 passing for 255 yards and four touchdowns against Georgia Tech, while Bowers finished with three catches for 100 yards and two touchdowns, including a 77-yard scoring reception.
Against North Carolina, the Yellow Jackets’ two-quarterback system of Zach Gibson, who went 13-for-18 for 174 yards, and Taisun Phommachanh, who went 2-for-5 for 13 yards and 44 yards, rushing a score to 10 carries led an offense that amassed 373 yards.
Hassan Hall has rushed for 520 yards and 115 carries while Dontae Smith has rushed for 386 yards and five touchdowns with 77 carries this season. Nate McCollum has 54 receptions — at least 32 more than any other Yellow Jacket — for 590 yards and three touchdowns.
The defense pinned North Carolina quarterback Drake Maye, a Heisman Trophy nominee, with a 16-for-30 pass for 202 yards and an interception.
Georgia Tech has averaged 27.6 points per game but gave up just 17 to leading ACC Coastal Division tar heels, who averaged more than 40 points per game.
“We’ve been challenging our team for the past two months to become a more physical football team, and not just at the line of scrimmage,” Key said. “But also the way we play football. and the way we stop the run; the way we cover kicks, how we block at the perimeter, how we take blocks in the high school, how we finish with the quarterbacks and ball carriers — all of those things.