Georgia is a bigger, stronger, and more athletic team than Georgia Tech. It’s always been that way during the modern era, and probably always will be so long as UGA remains a powerhouse from an elite conference.
Georgia Tech’s academic restrictions force its scouts and coaches to focus on 3-star talent, while Georgia has no such qualms about recruiting marginal students who are 5-star athletes.
Not that 5-star recruits always work out better than 3-star recruits. Ramblin’ Wreck teams have excelled on a New Year’s Six level as recently as 2014, while Georgia has suffered seasons in the doldrums. But it’s important to remember that UGA has a different set of expectations.
If Georgia does not win the SEC Championship Game or at least win its division and play in the title scrum, it’s a disappointment. GT fans would kill to see the Yellow Jackets in the ACC Championship Game every other year.
The schools’ disparate rungs on the gridiron ladder play out in the annual late-November rivalry game, known as “Clean Old Fashioned Hate.” The blue-collar alumni from Athens despise the millionaires and engineering majors from Atlanta, and the faithful cheer against each other’s squads throughout the season. But all things being equal, the “Dawgs” usually win the final showdown.
Perhaps that’s what CFB bookies have in mind with this year’s point spread. It certainly seems to disregard GT’s recent winning streak in the ACC.
Who: Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at Georgia Bulldogs
When: Saturday, November 24th, 12:30 PM EST
Where: Sanford Stadium, Athens, GA
Lines: GT (+17.5) at UGA (-17.5) / O/U Total: (59.5)
Georgia Tech has won 6 of its last 7 outings in 2018, led by senior QB TaQuon Marshall and a defense that looks a little quicker and more physical than usual.
Ramblin’ Wreck head coach Paul Johnson’s “Flexbone” system is the great equalizer on offense, grinding down the clock against bigger and stronger opponents. In the overtime win over UGA in ’14, Georgia went 90+ minutes of real time without its QB touching the football once. But Johnson’s obsession with option-play X’s and O’s has often left his special teams neglected and shaky. That wasn’t the case last Saturday as frosh PK Wesley Walls made 4 field goals (and GT scored on a free-kick return) during a 30-27 OT win over resurgent Virginia.
On 11/10, Johnson’s squad took revenge on Miami for last season’s rainy last-second loss, holding the Hurricanes to less than 300 yards of total offense. 2 weeks prior, with young backup QB Tobias Oliver taking snaps, GT rushed for an amazing 465 yards in a 3-touchdown win over Virginia Tech in Blacksburg.
But a week prior, GT had all kinds of issues in a 28-14 loss to David Cutcliffe’s Duke Blue Devils. And in November, the pitiful North Carolina Tar Heels led the Yellow Jackets before falling 38-28.
You can make the argument that Johnson is crafting a team that nobody will want to be matched against in a bowl game. But it’s hard to say that Georgia hasn’t been the more consistent team in 2018.
Georgia visited Baton Rouge full of confidence in mid-October, with an unbeaten record and microscopically short odds to win the SEC East. But signal-caller Jake Fromm had a bad day, intercepted twice while not reaching a 50% completion mark. With tailback D’Andre Swift contained and lacking the ability to control the egg, UGA’s powerful defense succumbed to an LSU rushing attack that racked up 5.4 yards per carry in a 36-16 upset.
But since then, Georgia has arguably looked even better than it did before the LSU contest. The offense responded to the let-down with 2 tremendous performances against strong defenses. Fromm passed for 3 touchdowns and 0 picks as UGA beat visiting Florida 36-17 the following week, and Elijah Holyfield combined with the aptly-named Swift to rush for almost 300 yards as the Dawgs whipped host Kentucky by 17 points on November 3rd.
There’s no point analyzing the Georgia run defense headed into a scrum with Georgia Tech. The Flexbone playbook is so different than what SEC schools face on a weekly basis that a team could give up 500 yards rushing to a previous opponent and still shut them down, or give up 500 to GT and then shut down a run-heavy Read-Option offense the following week.
But the Georgia pass rush will come in handy if the Yellow Jackets fall behind. Ramblin’ Wreck linemen spend most of their time learning how to cut-block for the option game, and as a result, are not expert pass-blockers. Upperclassmen like DE Jonathan Ledbetter may prove impossible for Saturday’s visitors to block on the edge.
Oh, and Georgia has still easily won the SEC East. It’s just a non-factor when it comes to an OOC game like this one.
Vegas appears to be looking at this scrum as just another match-up and not a storied rivalry. That could be a mistake.
While it’s unclear as to whether there’s value on Georgia-to-cover 2 touchdowns, a field goal and change, the emotional aspect of this game – and the underdog’s confidence after a string of Power-5 victories – will make it feel a little different than an ordinary meeting between powerhouse and upstart.
I’m leaning toward a live bet at halftime. If Georgia Tech manages an early lead, playing on emotion and deceiving the Dawgs with triple-option counters and gadget runs, then you can expect Georgia to roar back in the 2nd half.
If Georgia waltzes to a 28-0 halftime advantage, a live bet on Georgia Tech to cover (+30) or (+35) will have a lot of value, since it will be to UGA’s advantage to contain the outside run and allow the Ramblin’ Wreck to get 1st downs up the middle. A 10-minute drive for a TD or a FG is a pyrrhic victory when you’re down 4 scores, but a point spread bet isn’t dependent on a SU upset.
Let the bookies overreact to what happens early in the game. Then wager with the knowledge that no matter what, the contest will be hotly-contested by 2 passionate teams for 60 minutes.