Instead of displaying a time-consuming film study this week, I'm going to put many of the tendencies and keys I've seen from Georgia and Georgia Tech this season into words.
Georgia may have the best offensive line in the country.
This is going to be a huge challenge for the Georgia Tech defensive line. Per usual, the UGA offensive line is massive. The smallest guy would likely be considered David Andrews - He's 6'2", 295 lbs. The difference between this line and Georgia lines of the past is the athleticism. It's a fairly mobile line that can get to the second tier and block as well. While most of the attention has gone to Todd Gurley and Nick Chubb, the offensive line may deserve even more of the credit. UGA is tied for seventh in the nation with Tech in yards per carry at 6.1. That total is up from just 4.6 last season. Shawn Green and Adam Gotsis will certainly have their hands full to create any push up front. P.J. Davis may be the biggest x-factor in the game. I'd expect him to be blitzing more than he has all season to create any sort of havoc possible in the backfield. The O-Line won't be beaten with strength. It's going to have to be blitzes and speed to beat them. A potential player that could help the defense against a line like this is defensive end Antonio Simmons. Simmons has seen limited playing time, but he has blazing speed (4.6 40) for a lineman. If we aren't getting any pursuit from the outside, he could be a guy to step up.
Don't fear the Georgia wide receiver core.
If there's a position at UGA that scares me least going into the game, it's wide receiver. In terms of size, their main three receivers are all under 6'2" 210 lbs. 6'5" receiver Jonathon Rumph has seen the field occasionally but has rarely become a vital part of the offense. Michael Bennett seems to be the most trusted guy for Hutson Mason. He has good hands and route running, but he doesn't possess any tool that should overmatch the defense. The same can be said for Chris Conley and Malcolm Mitchell. Conley was very good against Tech last year with over 120 yards. The one guy in the core that can be game changing is Justin Scott-Wesley. Scott-Wesley made his first appearance for the Bulldogs last week against Charleston Southern and was able to find the end zone. He's extremely quick with a 4.3 40 time, and he's the one guy who could make a real difference as a deep threat. He didn't see the field too much last week, so it'll be interesting to see how many snaps he gets in a big game for UGA.
More Charles Perkins
The injury to Broderick Snoddy makes it even more important to have a healthy Charles Perkins in the game as much as possible. Perkins is the best true runner in the Tech backfield in my opinion. He has a great mixture of speed, strength, and vision. He's also easily the best perimeter blocker for the Jackets. Charles has touched the ball 30 times this year for a total of 356 yards. We've seen in years past that UGA is susceptible to giving up big plays on the pitch, and Perk could be the guy on Saturday. Paul Johnson obviously loves to rotate his A-Backs but having as much of Perkins' blocking and running skills on the outside as possible will be crucial to Tech having success on the ground.
Damian Swann on DeAndre Smelter
This will be an interesting matchup between two guys who should be drafted this spring. Last year Sheldon Dawson was the player repeatedly attacked in the UGA secondary while Swann had very little impact on the game - good or bad. Swann has had a bounce back season for Georgia after a terrible campaign in 2013. It still remains that he is an aggressive corner who likes to attack the run and will bite on routes. Smelter is as good of a route runner that we've seen at Tech in a long time, and I expect the matchup to be an interesting one that could have a huge impact on the game.
As well all know, this game typically comes down to the wire. Georgia has had the huge upper hand in these close games in the past. This season, UGA has played in very few close games. The only two were the second and fourth games of the season - a loss vs. South Carolina and a win vs. Tennessee. Since those games, it's been decisive outcomes for the Bulldogs - including a loss against Florida. It will be interesting to see how Hutson Mason and a younger Georgia offense would react to a close game between the hedges on Saturday. Mason's effort under pressure against South Carolina and Tennessee earlier in the year left a lot to be desired for. On the other hand, Georgia Tech started the year with quite a few close contests, but they have also been a part of more decisive outcomes lately. The Clemson game wasn't exactly decisive until later on, but it still wasn't a nail biter in the end. Despite that, this Tech offense has shown they can come from behind and build a game-winning drive unlike in the past. We've seen plenty of Tech offenses fail on the last drive against Georgia. This season, I would actually feel confident about our guys being able to pull out a close win.
Turnovers, Turnovers, Turnovers
I hate how cliche it may sound, but I have little doubt that this game will come down to turnovers. We know the numbers. The opportunistic Georgia Tech defense is forcing turnovers at an incredible rate, while the Georgia offense is protecting the ball at an impressive rate. If the defense can force an early turnover like it did last season against UGA, I am confident in this team's ability to preserve a lead and take care of the ball the rest of the way. An early stop and score would go a long way in forcing Georgia to some passing situations and letting the offense death march down the field in Athens. Despite what Georgia fans may say, Hutson Mason will make some mistakes. Part of the reason he has been so efficient this year has been Georgia's ability to run the ball and build early leads that allow Mason to be very conservative. I expect Ted Roof to bring some unique blitzes to force Mason into situations he probably hasn't been in often this season. We saw Mason make mistakes against South Carolina and Tennessee when he was under some pressure, and that's what Tech has to do on Saturday. This is all hypothetical though. If Georgia establishes the run early and builds a lead, Mason will continue to do what he's asked and protect the ball. That will not be a recipe for success for Tech, and things could get ugly in Athens.
As you can see, I've tried to point out some reasons for optimism looking ahead to the showdown on Saturday. From everything I've watched between the two teams, it's a very even matchup for the most part. The biggest problem for Tech is the matchup against Georgia's offense. The defensive line has struggled to get a push up front and stop the run this season. An effective running game for Georgia will almost kill the Jackets' ability to force opportunistic turnovers - thus limiting possession time and stops. Ted Roof will need to call a near flawless game on Saturday to create some havoc in the backfield and allow the Tech offense to control time of possession and ultimately come out on top.