One more game stand between the Georgia Bulldogs and a date with destiny in the SEC Championship Game, but it's a doozy: the 104th installment of the Georgia-Georgia Tech rivalry, or as we call it around here, Clean Old-Fashioned Hate. The Dawgs have taken the last three in a row, each margin of victory bigger than the one before, and Mark Richt is aiming for his 11th victory in 12 tries against the Jackets, but he's also aiming to keep his players' focus off the SEC title bout and on the task at hand. Traditionally, in years when the Dawgs win the SEC East, this has been a struggle for the Manic-Depressive Preview as well, with Depressive Doug trying to reel in Manic Doug and keep him focused. Will either Coach Richt or Depressive Doug be successful in their efforts? Over the next couple days, we'll find out . . .
Manic Doug: Man, of all the football weekends I look forward to each year, this is one of the biggest — the weekend after Thanksgiving, where we crush the dreams of those social outcasts from North Avenue and remind them once again who runs this state.
Depressive Doug: Wow. I have to say, I'm impressed that you're actually focusing on this game and not the SEC title game in a couple weeks. That shows an impressive degree of growth and maturity for you.
MD: Yeah. And if any of those dweebs tries to talk any smack, then they just redeemed themselves a coupon for one toilet swirlie, courtesy of yours truly.
DD: Welp. Forget everything I said about "growth" and "maturity" . . .
MD: So we beat the nerds' asses by five or six touchdowns, and then it's on to the Dome. COME GET SOME, ALABAMA!
DD: . . . and everything I said about "focus" while you're at it. You really think this is going to be some walkover?
MD: Why wouldn't it be? We're the third-ranked team in the nation, armed with the most efficient quarterback in Division I-A and a defense that's been mowing people down right and left ever since the Florida game. Tech, on the other hand, is wheezing along at 6-5 and has a defense so inept they couldn't even wait 'til the end of the season to fire their coordinator. And oh, yeah, there's the little matter of Mark Richt having won 10 out of 11 games against Tech, which basically causes them to wet their pants at the mere thought of us. They've basically had one good game — no, one good quarter — since Richt got here. Why would they suddenly reverse all that embarrassing history against a team that's 11-1 and in control of its own destiny for a national title?
DD: I think you answered your own question with the second half of that sentence. Tech may not be a great team this year, but if we've already got our sights set on Alabama and whoever comes after that, they're good enough to take advantage of our distraction and make life very difficult for us in Athens this weekend.
MD: I see what you're saying, except that that's almost never been the case. Four times under Richt we've played the Jackets with an SEC title game on deck, and we're 4-0 with an average margin of victory of three TDs. The only time we got played remotely close was in 2005, when we only won by a touchdown. Maybe it's time for you to admit Richt has his players prepared for this game better than you give him credit for.
DD: Maybe. But none of those four years involved Georgia having a serious shot at a national championship. This year they do. And it's easy to say "Oh, don't worry, Georgia Tech's a bad team this year," but I'm sure Kansas State thought the same thing right before they got blown up by Baylor last Saturday night. Baylor! Who, even after that beatdown, still has the worst statistical defense in the country!
MD: But that was Kansas State and Baylor. This is Clean Old-Fashioned Hate. This is a long-standing rivalry, and our guys are geeked up about the prospect of sending the seniors out with an undefeated record against Tech.
DD: You don't think some of Tech's seniors are just as geeked up about blowing up Georgia's dreams, though? Look, we may have won the last three in a row, but last year was the first time since Paul Johnson arrived on the Flats that Georgia's had a comfortable win in this series. Johnson always gets his guys up for this game, and whatever else you think about it, his triple-option attack is a major pain in the ass to defend.
MD: Except we had a taste of it last week and did OK.
DD: Oh, so you're satisfied with allowing 302 rushing yards in a single game?!
MD: When it's 150 yards below their per-game average on the season? Trust me, I slept just fine after that game. Look, we've had a full game's worth of practice against the triple-option; we know how physical the game is going to be; we know what kind of cut-blocking to expect from their line. Heck, Georgia Southern's head coach served for 13 years under Paul Johnson as his running backs coach at Southern, Navy and then Georgia Tech itself, so the scheme we saw last week is virtually identical to what the Jackets are going to throw at us this weekend. So I'd say we're prepared.
DD: "Prepared" and "motivated" are not necessarily the same thing, though. You know we've had problems waking up on defense this season, giving up big first halves even to teams like Buffalo and FAU, and, to some extent, Georgia Southern last week. It's one thing to mess around in the first half in a bodybag game, but in a rivalry game like this, against a dangerous offense like Tech's and a bunch of players who are out to prove themselves, it could spell disaster.
MD: Again, I'm still not getting this lack of "focus" or "motivation" you keep harping on. Do you really think our team is going to be overlooking the Jackets that badly?
DD: Yeah, because like I said, we've been playing down to the level of our competition all season long. I think they'll get into a rhythm early on offense, and unlike what happened against our other non-conference opponents, I don't think we'll adjust quickly enough to contain them in the second half. I'm worried about how focused our offensive line will hold up, too — they got handled in the first half against Ole Miss, just to name one example, and for all the problems the Jackets have had in their secondary this year, their QB pressure has been fairly solid, and they've held up well against the run, too. I think the game will be very close at halftime, I think we'll cough up a critical turnover deep in our own territory in the second half that flips momentum over to the Jackets, and . . .
MD: Oh, man. Don't even say it. Even from a sad-sack like you, I don't think I can stand to hear this.
DD: . . . I think Tech pulls the upset just like we did when we went to their place in '09 and they were headed for the ACC title game. Final score, Georgia Tech 30, Georgia 27.
MD: Preposterous. Absolutely preposterous. You're killing me. You literally took my life with that statement.
DD: Uh-huh, OK. Instead of confirming every Tech fan's worst stereotype of UGA degree-holders with your flagrant misuse of the word "literally," why don't you tell me how you think Saturday's gonna go.
MD: Well, for starters, Tech's not gonna be able to stop our offense. Not in a house, not with a mouse, not in a box, not with a fox. Their pass defense has been rancid this season, and even with Marlon Brown and Michael Bennett out, we've proven we have more than enough weapons in the passing game to keep lighting up the scoreboard. Particularly with Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall running the ball, they just aren't going to have enough manpower to stop us consistently. Meanwhile, we're fully prepared for the one-dimensional offense they're going to throw at us. Yes, that one dimension can be fairly tricky, but we handled it pretty well last year, which tells me Todd Grantham has Johnson's system figured out. They'll get some yards on the ground, sure, but only because that's the only way they can get them — Tevin Washington's not going to beat us with his arm. Look at it this way: We held Georgia Southern to just two-thirds of their per-game rushing average for 2012. If we do the same thing to Tech, we'll end up holding them to only 216 rushing yards. Since Paul Johnson arrived in Atlanta, the Jackets have been held to that many rushing yards or fewer 13 times. You know how many of those 13 they've won?
DD: You got me. How many?
MD: Four. Heck, when they've been held under three hundred net rushing yards, they're only 10-18 under Johnson. So don't worry about the Dawgs this weekend — they'll get going in a hurry on offense and build a lead in the first half that the triple-option just isn't designed to dig out of. Final score, Dawgs 45, Nerds 13.
DD: Wow. So you actually think we're going to beat Tech slightly worse than we beat Southern?
MD: Sure. Man, that'd be embarrassing for the Techies.
DD: Well, yes. Embarrassing, certainly. Realistic, I'm not so sure about.
MD: Well, look, since you're such a Tech fan today, why don't you put your math skills to good use and average up our predictions so we can get started on the traditional Thanksgiving display of gluttony.
DD: OK, let me stop you right there. I may be a Chicken Little when it comes to Georgia football; I may take the dimmest possible view of every single game that pops up on our schedule; I may be at this very minute texting my primary-care physician to see if he can up my antidepressant dosage in preparation for the Tech game and the SEC championship. But no matter how bad I get, don't ever, ever, accuse me of being a Tech fan. Even people as miserable as I am have standards.
MD: Well, I'm glad to hear it. That's one thing all of us Dawg fans can be thankful for this time of year.
DD: And our predictions average out to a Georgia win by the score of 36-22, which would be both a win and a cover for the Dawgs, since I know that information has particular relevance for a degenerate such as yourself.
MD: Not this time, bro. I'm taking the money I'd normally wager on the Dawgs and donating it to a food bank.
DD: Wow. I'm . . . I owe you an apology, buddy. That's a really generous and honorable thing to do.
MD: Thanks. I figure I can always make that money back by doubling up on my bet in the SEC title game, anyway.
DD: Aaaaand once again I rescind every positive assumption I made about your maturity, morality or anything else. You never cease to amaze, but one thing you never do is surprise.
MD: Awww, thanks, man. I really appreciate that. Happy Thanksgiving, bro.
DD: [heavy sigh] Happy Thanksgiving to you, too.