I've never seen two programs who rivaled each other at further ends of the spectrum in every category as the football programs of Georgia Tech and the University of Georgia. The 2015 edition of ‘Clean, Old Fashion Hate' pits two football programs heading in completely different directions, with two completely different approaches, led by completely different personalities as their head coach.
An 8-3 Bulldog team that has Georgia fans in flux over their long-tenured head coach. A team that has won three straight, but was taken the distance by a Georgia Southern squad who made mistakes late to help the Bulldogs with their victory. Deja vu anyone?
For Tech, it has been a season of what if's. What if Justin Thomas' touchdown run at Notre Dame had not been called back for holding? What if that Fuller kid been flagged for the two push-offs against Tech defenders... What if the Yellow Jackets punted out of bounds against Duke... What if Adam Gotsis had not been thrown out of the North Carolina game, being up by two scores... What if the team did not have multiple turnovers in the last three games?
Being completely objective, (as objective as a columnist for FTRS can be) I will prove that regardless of the outcome this Saturday, Georgia Tech's football program is in much better condition than its 316 counterparts moving forward the next few years.
The last two years, Tech fans have gotten excited when the Bulldogs line up to pass the ball. Mainly because they've had Todd Gurley and Nick Chubb, respectively to hand the ball to in the last two years. Still, Dog fans have gushed over an incoming freshmen since 2013. A freshman who won't take a snap for the Dogs theoretically for another 10 months. That is if he proves to beat out his... ‘competition'. (I know... it was hard to say that with a straight face). So for Georgia, the unknown at such a key position is what they are hanging most of their hopes.
For Tech, Thomas will return for a senior season after gaining some very valuable experience. In 2014, Thomas was thrown into the fire as a sophomore. All he learned in 2014 was put to the test this season. With only Broderick Snoddy returning, defenses focused in on the 5-11, 185 lbs. redshirt junior. Unfortunately... so did the majority of his inexperienced teammates. Still, the Jackets will bring talent and experience at the position for 2016. The Jackets will also have talent behind Thomas in Matthew Jordan and Christian Campbell being groomed for the future.
Depth moving forward
Georgia Tech's lack of depth was exposed in 2015. I think it bodes well to say that while Paul Johnson does a good job getting players on The Flats, the type of talent he gets performs best when they have a year or two to redshirt and develop.
2015 and its rash of injuries may be beneficial for Johnson in 2016 and beyond. Injuries and defections decimated Georgia Tech's defensive line, A-Back and receiver positions. While many freshman had to play, many more still took a redshirt and will provide significant depth next season. Tech returns their four starters on the defensive line and will add Trent Sellers, Scott Morgan and Brent Glanton at the defensive tackle. A-Back will be a luxury. Tech loses Snoddy, but brings 10 scholarship slot backs who will compete for 2 spots, including Georgia transfer J.J. Green. This position could quickly move from a weakness in 2015 to a significant strength next year.
For Georgia, depth also remains an issue and it could continue in 2016. The Bulldogs lose starters John Theus, Hunter Long and Colton Houston to graduation from a depleted offensive line. Malcolm Mitchell, (who reminds me of former Georgia Tech receiver Derrick Steagall... seriously, it feels like they both had 10-year careers in college), Mitchell will move on from an underwhelming receiver group. Georgia will bring back four at the position with experience. The biggest loses will be on defense. Jordan Jenkins and James DeLoach will move on because of graduation, but the Bulldogs potentially will lose Leonard Floyd to the NFL Draft. Mark Richt will also lose Josh Dawson, Chris Mayes and Sterling Bailey from the defensive line rotation. The Bulldogs have options at their front seven and will certainly bring in a new crop of freshmen recruits.
Coach and Culture
There is a very good chance both schools bring back their respective coaches, meaning the philosophy and culture that has been establish will continue. For Coach Richt, it feels like status quo may not be enough and they may move on from one, if not both coordinators at the end of this season. No one expects much movement from Coach Johnson's staff. Nonetheless, defense will still be the biggest question for the Yellow Jackets.
It's funny to see that the often ornery Johnson has been as calm as ever in these last few weeks of turnovers and loses, while Richt has been under more scrutiny after winning his last three games and has become more vocal and aggressive. Unlike his Georgia Tech counterpart, Georgia and Coach Richt can't put a finger on what exactly is not working in Athens. Is it the scheme..., the players..., the offense..., Is it not having an indoor facility?
Both teams will have many questions to answer in 2016. The biggest question is who do you believe is in a better position to address his issues moving forward... And given the circumstances, I believe Coach Johnson has an edge moving forward over Coach Richt.