Don’t ask me why, but for some reason I woke up today feeling strangely optimistic about the game. And, after all the ups and downs of the 2016 season, it does feel strange to feel that way going into a game, especially a rivalry game.
I do see a few keys to the Dawgs preventing the Jackets from assaulting the hedges.
- Make Tech grind. Groo discusses that point in this post. Johnson’s offense is 20th nationally in yards per play because it hits on big plays. That’s been one of the drivers to Tech’s late season run of success. Georgia can’t give up big plays on the perimeter and the secondary has to be aware of Justin Thomas’ threat as a big play passer. Easier said than done, I know.
- Turnover margin. Georgia Tech has won four of its last five games, going +5 in turnover margin during that stretch. The one loss came against Miami, when Tech was minus-2 in TO margin. Perhaps more significantly, the Jackets are +6 in their last two games and probably wouldn’t have won either without that. Georgia needs to work that stat in its favor.
- Don’t give up on the run. Ted Roof’s never seen a run blitz he didn’t like, and I fully expect him to live up to that mantra today. Even if that generates early success, Chaney shouldn’t take that as a sign to abandon the ground game. The funny thing about Tech’s defense is that it hasn’t been that awful against the pass, despite not having much of a pass rush. A look at the pass defense game log shows that they haven’t allowed a passer rating over 150 but three times and haven’t allowed more than two passing touchdowns in any game all season. Meanwhile, you can see that the Jackets’ rushing defense has slowly worn down over the course of the season and in November is giving up almost 200 yards on the ground per game, along with almost three rushing touchdowns a game. If that smells to you like making sure Nick Chubb gets plenty of opportunities to pound the shit out of Tech’s defense, you’re not alone.
- Keep special teams even. A couple of months ago, this would have seemed like a pipe dream, but now, not so much. Blankenship has emerged as a competent place kicker. Coverage teams have improved and over the past two games, it appears that blocking on returns has, too. (No coincidence that McKenzie and Davis turned in their best returns of the season in those two games.) The Dawgs would still appear to be at a disadvantage in the net punting department, but if they can at least play Tech to a draw elsewhere, I’ll take it.
In the end, my reason for optimism lies in large part with Kirby Smart, who, I think wants this game and has given every indication that he’s prepared the team for that. It hasn’t been a great year in many ways, but a solid finish against Georgia Tech lets the season ends on an upward projection and gives Smart a good place from which to grow the program. Plus, there’s no reason to think he feels any differently about Tech than we do. That should be enough to do the trick.