It’s time for the 116th edition of Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate. For the first time since 2018, Tech will take on Georgia coming off of a win. It’s been a roller coaster of a season for Georgia Tech fans. A bad start led to the much-needed dismissal of Geoff Collins. Interim Coach Brent Key’s tenure started with two rousing wins over Pittsburgh and Duke before a disheartening stretch that included losses to Virginia, Florida State, and Miami. Last week, without its top two quarterbacks, Tech went to Chapel Hill without much chance for victory and pulled one out anyway.
Now heading to Athens with the debates about its future head coach at a fever pitch and still without its top two quarterbacks, Georgia Tech must find a way to compete with its hated rivals, who are the defending National Champions and widely considered to be this year’s best team as well. Georgia Tech fans are generally more optimistic about the state and trajectory of the program compared to this time last year. Unfortunately, these two teams are not in the same weight class. This isn’t the year to expect a competitive game against Georgia for the first time since 2016.
When GT Has the Ball
Last week’s game plan for the Georgia Tech offense is almost certainly going to be the foundation of what Chip Long tries against the Dawgs. There’s one slight difference that ought to temper expectations, though. North Carolina has the 100th best defense nationally, per SP+, and UGA is once again leading the country in Bill Connelly’s ratings (nearly five points better than last year’s monster of a defense). The weak point for Georgia’s defense is that it continues to not produce a lot of havoc plays. They do, however, produce a lot of plays that go for no again, and Georgia Tech really struggles in that same way.
Last year against Georgia, Tech came out with a plan of running and throwing short. Jordan Yates had an average depth of target of 3.4 yards, which is almost identical to what Zach Gibson did last week. Those plays don’t work against this defense though. Before garbage time started, Tech had a 28% success rate, averaged 1.3 yards per play, and posted -0.29 EPA/play. GT’s offense is worse than last year, and Georgia’s defense is even better in most metrics. The most realistic outcome here looks much like last year: conservative play that avoids turnovers but produces lots and lots of three and outs.
When Georgia Has the Ball
If anything in this game can be different than last year, it would be on this side of the ball. Last year entering COFH, Georgia was #4 on offensive SP+, while GT was 94th on defense. This year, that gap is not quite as wide, as UGA has fallen to #26 on offense, and GT is up to 73rd on defense. A gap of 47 spots is considerably different than a gap of 90 spots. Last year, it seemed as if Todd Monken devised the most vanilla game plan possible, and there was still nothing GT could do to stop it. This year, I don’t expect Georgia to score on explosive plays as easily as the Bulldogs did last year. Tech’s pass rush is not going to have near the success it has against ACC offensive lines recently, but 1 or 2 sacks on Bennett are possible and could stop a Georgia drive or two.
I would expect UGA to put up a very high opportunity rate running the ball, but this GT defense is much more likely to make Georgia earn their touchdowns with sustained success. Last year, Georgia had 45 points by the middle of the third quarter and played nearly everyone on its roster. A good result for Tech’s defense this year would be keeping Georgia to 21 or fewer first half points and perhaps 14 or fewer in the second half.
Only the delusions of fandom could make one see this game as being remotely competitive. The roster talent and infrastructure gaps between these two programs is astounding and demoralizing for those on the GT side of the fence. Last year, the coaching staff didn’t even try to compete against the rival Bulldogs, it seemed, and that game helped set in motion much of the momentum to oust Geoff Collins. Brent Key has to be able to show something different, some spark of fire that even an overmatched team will compete. Those plays might end in disaster, but a failed effort on a risky attempt of a trick play or special teams surprise or defensive pressure package is more fun than not trying anything at all.
Looking at the numbers shows how stark the gap is. Georgia holds the advantage in 21 of 22 categories in the match up, and the teams have posted these numbers against very similar caliber schedules. Vegas likes UGA as a five touchdown favorite, the Binion Index has UGA by 46, and Bill Connelly’s SP+ has it as more than a 48 point lean for Georgia. With a game total of 48.5, the expected score in Vegas is something like Georgia 42-7. It’s hard to argue with that, but what Georgia Tech fans can hope for are the seeds of effort and dignity, even if not the ability to compete for 60 minutes against this team.
Vegas: UGA by 35.5
My Pick: 38-0
The Binion Index: UGA by 46
Year to Date Against the Spread: 50.0%, Goal: >=52.3%
Year to Date in GT Games: 6-4
Average Absolute Error: 13.3 points per game (Goal <= 12.5 points per game)