Michael Elkon mentioned in yesterday’s comments that if there’s a reason to question Georgia covering Saturday’s 17-point line, it’s the triple-option and its goal of dominating time of possession. It may be obvious to state, but fewer possessions for Georgia’s offense mean fewer chances to score.
Georgia Tech will enter Saturday’s showdown in Sanford Stadium with a 7-4 record and the nation’s top rushing offense, averaging 353.7 yards a game. The Yellow Jackets also rank among the top five in time of possession, maintaining the ball for 34 minutes and 12 seconds per game.
The Bulldogs led Georgia Tech 27-14 entering the fourth quarter of their 2016 meeting but lost 28-27. In those final 15 minutes, the Yellow Jackets ran 24 plays for 166 yards and consumed nine minutes and 34 seconds, leaving Georgia essentially a third of the final quarter to produce just 15 plays for 29 yards.
“With the offense they run, they hold the ball and chew up clock,” Georgia junior tight end Isaac Nauta said. “That’s what they want to do, because it takes away possessions from us. Offensively, when we get the ball we’ve got to go score, because our possessions will be limited based off what they do.
“Our defense will have to stop them or take the ball from them to give us the ball back, so that aspect of the game is definitely a challenge, and it’s different from what we see every other week.”
Making things more extreme is that Georgia wants to run the ball, too.
Georgia has a top-10 rushing offense nationally that averages 257.5 yards a game, and Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart believes that could be just as advantageous as a stout performance by his defense.
“I think our number of opportunities or series or drives may be less in this game,” Smart said, “but we probably have less than most people because we’ve been a ball-controlled, time-of-possession offense. Maybe not to the extent that Tech is, but we understand these kind of games. Every offensive possession is critical, but when is it not? It’s always that way.
“I don’t think you ever panic. You take advantage of your opportunities. You just may have less opportunities.”
Ironically, as Pete Fiutak notes, “… over the last three games, Georgia has rushed for more yards than the No. 1 rushing team in college football.” Just as ironically, despite all the chest beating at Stingtalk about the Jackets being able to run on Georgia’s 55th-ranked run defense, Tech’s 64th-ranked run defense actually sports a higher yards per rush average.
So, yeah, there will be plenty of running on the menu come Saturday noon.
All of that is reflected in the teams’ time of possession numbers — in FBS play, Tech ranks fifth and Georgia is currently 22nd. What that really means is both teams’ opportunities are going to be limited. In turn, that should make two things that are generally crucial to winning, explosive plays and turnovers, even more significant.
Explosive plays happens to be one area where Georgia can claim a clear advantage over the visitors. In offensive plays of 20+ yards, Georgia ranks 13th nationally; Georgia Tech is 44th. Just as telling, when it comes to defensive plays of 20+ yards, the Dawgs are the nation’s best, while Tech is 16th. Everything else being equal, more big plays should lead to more possessions.
As for turnover margin, Tech is +8 and Georgia is +4 in FBS play. In all games, the won/loss splits for both teams are most revealing. The Jackets are +10 in their seven wins and minus-2 in their four losses. Georgia was minus-4 in Baton Rouge and +8 everywhere else. Quite simply, with possessions being limited, giving any up via turnover is a killer.
Can Georgia hang on to the ball and make its share of big plays? If it can, it should have a good day.