Georgia Tech vs. Georgia: Complete Game Preview

Andrew Hall@DudeYouCrazyCorrespondent IIINovember 24, 2014

Georgia Tech vs. Georgia: Complete Game Preview

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    Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

    Despite an uneven recent history, Georgia Tech and Georgia have more in common this year than many recognize.  

    Both the Yellow Jackets and the Bulldogs boast identical records at 9-2 overall and 6-2 in conference play.  Georgia Tech clinched the ACC's Coastal Division with a Duke loss last week; Georgia is hoping to win the SEC East with a Missouri loss this weekend.  Both teams lead their respective conferences in points per game and rely heavily on potent rushing attacks.

    Oh, and both schools hail from the Peach State, and this rivalry, dubbed "Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate," has been played 109 times.

    Here's what you need to know about this weekend's rivalry game:

    • Date: Saturday, November 29
    • Time: Noon ET
    • Place: Sanford Stadium, Athens, Georgia
    • TV: SEC Network
    • Radio: Georgia Tech IMG Sports Network, Georgia Bulldogs Radio Network
    • Spread: Georgia (-14.5), per Odds Shark

Georgia Tech's Keys to Victory

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    Georgia Tech's Justin Thomas makes a pitch.
    Georgia Tech's Justin Thomas makes a pitch.David Goldman/Associated Press

    Establish the Run

    Truthfully, Tech's fortunes rise and fall with its ability to run the football.  Granted, both of the Yellow Jackets' losses this season came when giving up 31 or more points, but if the option ground attack does not pick up momentum, this team never stands a chance.

    Against Georgia, there is cause for optimism.  After all, the lowly Florida Gators burned the Bulldogs for more than 400 rushing yards earlier this month.  Even Kentucky found a way to splice the Dawgs for more than 200 yards.

    It may sound laughable given the size of the number, but if Georgia Tech runs for 400 or more yards (the way Florida did) against Georgia, the Yellow Jackets will come out victorious.  That's a lofty calling but also a feasible one for a team averaging nearly 328 rushing yards per contest.

    Force Turnovers

    Georgia has protected the ball about as well as anyone in the country this year, particularly in the passing game.  Quarterback Hutson Mason has gone six games without an interception.  Depending on how one views the situation, he's either due for a costly mistake, or he's evolved into one of the most efficient passers in the country.

    Georgia Tech must ensure the former is true and make him pay for untimely throws.  Georgia is heavily favored and playing at home.  Accordingly, the onus is on the Yellow Jackets to make something happen in the turnover department.

Georgia's Keys to Victory

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    A host of Georgia defenders swarm a Vanderbilt runner.
    A host of Georgia defenders swarm a Vanderbilt runner.John Bazemore/Associated Press

    Watch the Pass

    Last year, several deep passes by Georgia Tech caught Georgia off guard early.  This year, Tech's Justin Thomas is a legitimately competent passer, not merely one who takes advantage of a crowded box up front.  Accordingly, Georgia must be prepared to defend the pass—even in single coverage.

    Obviously, Georgia Tech will focus on establishing the run early and often.  But it should be noted that Thomas has more 200-yard passing games than Georgia's Hutson Mason this season, and he's thrown three or more touchdown passes in three different games.

    Rely on Defensive Depth

    Georgia has more depth up front defensively than any opponent Georgia Tech has faced this year.  That's the one great advantage Georgia has in this game.

    Saturday's game will be just the second contest in which the Yellow Jackets have competed against a ranked opponent (at the time of kickoff), and the first came just last week against Clemson.  Obviously, Georgia is a better team (both in ranking and in head-to-head play) than Clemson, and the talent advantage Georgia holds relative to other Tech opposition will be most obvious along the defensive line and linebacking unit.

    Quality reserves like Tim Kimbrough and Reggie Carter will be of particular value at the middle linebacker spots.  But as a whole, Georgia must keep fresh legs on the field.

Georgia Tech Players to Watch

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    DeAndre Smelter
    DeAndre SmelterDavid Goldman/Associated Press

    Justin Thomas

    An athletic sophomore, Thomas leads the team in passing yards and rushing yards and has accounted for 20 total touchdowns to go along with his 2,223 yards of total offense.

    Thomas runs the option offense with mastery one would expect from the man under center in Paul Johnson's attack, but what sets him apart is his accuracy as a passer.  He's tossed 15 touchdowns to just four interceptions and averages over 18.6 yards per completion.

    With a big, physical target like DeAndre Smelter (6'3, 225 lbs) streaking down the field, Thomas must be respected at all times as a passer.

    DeAndre Smelter

    Smelter leads the team in receptions (32), yards (671) and touchdowns (seven), and he tends to get his production in bunches. 

    Against Wofford, he hauled in five passes for 132 yards and two touchdowns.  Against Georgia Southern, he caught four balls for 106 yards and one score.  He torched Virginia Tech for 101 yards and a touchdown on five catches.  Most recently, he went over 100 yards on four catches against Virginia.

    This season, he has four catches in excess of 45 yards, and if he gets behind Georgia's secondary, he could play spoiler.

Georgia Players to Watch

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    Damian Swann celebrates.
    Damian Swann celebrates.John Bazemore/Associated Press

    Nick Chubb

    How could one not watch Nick Chubb?  After all, he's one of the best running backs in the nation—regardless of his youth and the extenuating circumstances which led to his emergence.

    Chubb, a true freshman and a starter of just six football games, ranks second in the SEC and among the nation's top 25 in rushing yards with 1,152.  He's carried the ball just 161 times but ranks fourth in the nation in rushing yards among running backs with fewer than 200 rush attempts.

    All he does is dismantle expectations, and he'll surely do the same on Saturday.

    Damian Swann

    The veteran leader of the secondary, Swann will play all over the field this week (as he has all season long).  For Swann, a senior, going undefeated against Georgia Tech would be a crowning achievement given the tumultuous nature of the defense during his tenure.

    Look for Swann to shed blocks on the outside and assist in stopping outside runs.  He'll be counted upon doubly to limit the deep pass.  As the most seasoned member of the defensive backfield, however, Swann will be up for the calling, and his fantastic regular season will go out on a high note.

    Leonard Floyd

    A superbly athletic outside linebacker, Floyd could impact this game to a greater extent than any other player on the field.  Against Auburn, Floyd lined up in Georgia's "star" position as a hybrid defensive back/linebacker.  Knowing that the brunt of Auburn's attack would be on the ground, Floyd's deficiencies in pass coverage were surmountable, and he added tremendous value up front against the run.

    Look for him to line up similarly in a pseudo-spy role with the sole job of spotting one moving piece on Tech's offense on each play.  It could be the quarterback, the A-back or the B-back, but keeping Floyd's role simple and allowing other assets to be deployed elsewhere will help the unit as a whole.

What They're Saying

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    Georgia Tech celebrates
    Georgia Tech celebratesDavid Goldman/Associated Press

    Mark Richt Takes Note of Georgia Rivals, Tech in Particular

    "We do have a lot of rival games," Richt said on Sunday according to GeorgiaDogs.com.  "But I think everyone in the state can agree that Georgia Tech is the most important one."

    Though that opinion may be less popular than Richt recognizes, the importance of this game is not to be overlooked, especially given the way Georgia Tech is playing right now.

    "They're outstanding," Richt said of the Yellow Jackets.  "They're winning.  They're doing the things you need to do to win."

    Georgia Tech Executing Defensively

    After early-season struggles, Georgia Tech's defense is hitting its stride.  After an impressive performance in Tech's last game against Clemson, junior defensive back D.J. White told David Lee of The Augusta Chronicle that it's the players (not the coaches) who have stepped up.

    "The coaching has been the same," he offered.  "It's just a matter of guys getting more experience and getting more confident.  When you see other guys making plays, you want to get in on the fun."

    That defense will need to make some plays on Saturday against Georgia.

Prediction

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    Georgia has won 12 of the past 13 matchups in this rivalry, and as such the passion behind it (at least for many Georgia fans) has diminished.  In that regard, Georgia Tech genuinely seems due for a win.  But shouldn't that have happened last year?

    In 2013, Hutson Mason's first career start came against the Yellow Jackets.  Georgia fell behind 20-0 on the road and did not score until the waning seconds of the second quarter.  On the day, Tech outgained Georgia by nearly 60 yards and held the ball for over 36 minutes while committing fewer penalties.  That was the game for Georgia Tech to win, but Georgia fought back, and Todd Gurley ran the Dawgs to a 41-34 victory in double overtime.

    If the Yellow Jackets struggled to close out that contest—at home, with a huge lead, against a new quarterback, while holding the ball for more than 60 percent of the game—it's hard to predict a scenario in which they win on the road against a Top 10 Georgia team.  To be clear, it's not hard to imagine such a scenario, but assuming such an outcome seems generally off-base.

    Georgia's defense is hitting its stride and has played two straight games against option attacks.  Furthermore, Georgia's passing game is looking better every week, and though Georgia Tech's defense looked stout against Clemson, that performance came mostly against the Tigers' backup quarterback.  

    Prediction: Georgia 45, Georgia Tech 31.

    Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand and all stats courtesy of Sports-Reference.com.

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