The Georgia Bulldogs may be battered and bruised as the regular season comes to a close, but that will certainly not affect the team’s play on Saturday when the 7-4 Dawgs travel to Bobby Dodd Stadium to take on the 7-4 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at 3:30 p.m. in a matchup that will be televised on ABC.
Known by fans on both sides as “Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate”, the Yellow Jackets and Bulldogs have met every year since 1925, creating memorable matchups year in and year out. Unfortunately for the Yellow Jackets, the last few years of this rivalry has not been kind to the boys from North Avenue, as Georgia Tech has lost the last four games in this series and has managed only one win against Georgia in the last twelve showdowns, 2009’s 45-42 win in Athens.
The Bulldogs come into this game a bit disappointed in this season’s campaign, and while the team is fresh off of a 59-17 beatdown of the Kentucky Wildcats, they will also be playing with a huge question mark behind center. Stepping up in the absence of star quarterback Aaron Murray (torn ACL, out for the season) is junior Hutson Mason, who has limited playing experience but performed well once Murray left the game last week, completing 13 passes for 189 yards and one touchdown (Mason also had a rushing touchdown in the victory).
Although it will be hard for Mason to match Murray’s play-making ability, the coaching staff has praised Mason over the course of the last two seasons for his potential and swore to give him more playing time, although Georgia’s lack of blowouts have limited those chances. Mason will truly have to earn the praise from Georgia fans on Saturday when he goes up against a Yellow Jackets defense that has seen a great deal of improvement in Ted Roof’s first season back as defensive coordinator, allowing exactly twenty-one points per contest.
Georgia is at times viewed as being in a class higher than Georgia Tech, but that may be very far from the case on Saturday when the Bulldogs’ defense is positioned against the Yellow Jackets’ dangerous triple-option offense. Although finding an effective way to throw the ball is often absent for Georgia Tech, there has never been any doubt of the team’s ability to run the ball under head coach Paul Johnson, which is the case again this year. The Yellow Jackets find themselves fifth in all of the FBS with 316 yards per game, something that a Georgia defense that ranks 30th in the nation should be very wary about.
In charge of making it all happen for Georgia Tech will be quarterback Vad Lee, who has rushed for 426 yards and 6 touchdowns through eleven games. Lee has had an up-and-down season thanks to some mistimed pitches (GT has 10 fumbles lost in 2013) and some poor throwing decisions, clearly displayed in is TD:INT ratio of 8:7. Lee’s play will make or break Georgia Tech’s chances in this game: if Lee reads the Dawgs’ defense well and acts accordingly, the Yellow Jackets will prevail; if Lee makes mistakes early and forces the home team to play from behind, the Bulldogs will return to Athens with another victory.
As important as the Bulldogs’ defense is in keeping the team competitive in this matchup, the sole player who may be the most important to Georgia’s chances is running back Todd Gurley. Gurley was pivotal for Georgia back when Murray was still leading the Bulldogs, which means that it will only be more so now that an inexperienced quarterback has been forced into action. Currently sitting at 781 rushing yards (6.3 yards/game) with 11 total touchdowns, Gurley will have his work cut out for him against Georgia Tech on Saturday, as the Yellow Jackets are tenth in the country when facing the rush, giving up just 104 yards per contest.
Game Prediction: Despite the chilly weather in Atlanta, Bobby Dodd Stadium will be electric as the fans watch these two Peach State rivals take on each other for the 108th time in history. The Bulldogs will be stung early on in this contest thanks to an ill-advised pass by Mason, which ends up in the arms of a Georgia Tech defender. The Yellow Jackets jump out to a two-touchdown lead midway through the first quarter, which Georgia erases in the second period of play. This game is ultimately decided in the third quarter, when the Bulldogs force Lee to fumble the football, which Georgia recovers and soon scores on. Georgia jumps out to a 34-21 lead early in the fourth quarter, and although Georgia Tech eventually responds with a six-yard rushing touchdown by Robert Godhigh, the drive takes a considerable amount of time off the gameclock. The Yellow Jackets hold Mason and Co. and have another shot to score and win the game, but Lee’s pass on third down gets tipped by Josh Harvey-Clemons, the goat in the Auburn game who becomes the hero by successfully intercepting this attempt. Georgia wins and extends its winning streak over Georgia Tech to five games. Final Score Georgia Bulldogs 34, Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets 28