Georgia fielded arguably its two worst teams of the Mark Richt era in 2009 and '10 and still managed to beat Georgia Tech, though the margins of victory were much slimmer than they were in the early years of Richt's tenure. Whatever else Georgia fans would like to believe about their superiority over their in-state arch rivals in terms of talent, recruiting, tailgating or whatever else, Tech isn't an automatic win anymore. And after giving up more than 1,000 net rushing yards in three meetings against Paul Johnson's triple-option attack, it's clear that the Dawgs need to get a lot better on defense if they are to enjoy those nice comfy wins once again. In a season with a fairly wide-open SEC East race, it'd be a shame for the Dawgs to bounce back from last year's losing record and win the division, only to stumble on the Flats and end the regular season with a loss.
BETTER KNOW THE YELLOW JACKETS
Coach: Paul Johnson, 26-14 in three seasons at Georgia Tech, 133-52 overall
Last season: 6-7, 4-4 ACC Coastal (3rd); lost to Air Force 14-7 in the Independence Bowl
Returning starters for 2011: 12 (six offense, five defense, one special teams)
Key returners: RB Roddy Jones, OG Omoregie Uzzi, LB Julian Burnett, LB Steven Sylvester
Key losses: QB Josh Nesbitt, RB Anthony Allen, LB Anthony Egbuniwe, CB Dominique Reese
Best-case scenario: With another year of experience in Todd Grantham's system behind them and a lot more beef up front, the Georgia defense stifles the triple-option, while Aaron Murray goes to work on the rebuilding GT secondary and keys the Dawgs' 10th "Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate" victory in their last eleven tries. There's precedent for that -- two years ago, in what would turn out to be Willie Martinez's final game as defensive coordinator, the Dawgs faced a Tech team that later won the ACC title and held them to just 205 rushing yards, their third-lowest total of the season. Granted, that squad was able to run Tech off their own field with huge rushing performances from Washaun Ealey and Caleb King, but while one-half of that tandem may be gone, Aaron Murray is probably the best quarterback the Jackets will face all season, and he'll be throwing against a secondary that's replacing all four of last year's starters. The Jackets have just as much work to do on defense as the Dawgs, if not more, to win convincingly and make a statement in this rivalry.
Worst-case scenario: The Dawgs get outcoached and outhustled in the trenches once again and cough up a loss in another season-ending shootout. Since Paul Johnson came to town, this game has averaged 72 total points, and it's clear the Dawgs have a lot of work to do to keep the Jackets' ground game in check. We've heard a lot of talk about how much bigger, smarter, and better-conditioned the Dawgs' defensive front is this year, but we won't know for sure until they start playing, and Tech's deceptive running attack is specifically designed to grind out clock and wear out opponents. Twice in the last three years the Dawgs have seen a healthy lead crumble in the second half, so let's hope that better training and conditioning has made them more capable of standing firm in the fourth quarter.