BY THE NUMBERS
Georgia Tech's offense: Averaging 86.3 yards per game passing (119th in Division I-A), 319.4 yards rushing (1st).
Georgia's defense: Allowing 194.5 yards per game passing (31st), 125.4 yards rushing (23rd).
REASONS TO BE EXCITED
The main reason Tech's triple-option increased so dramatically in productivity from 2008 to 2009's ACC title run was the presence of wideout Demaryius Thomas, who gave QB Josh Nesbitt an every-down deep threat. Thomas helped the Jackets' passing game rocket from 92nd in the nation in total efficiency to 12th last season. But Thomas declared early for this past year's NFL draft, and now that he's a Denver Bronco, the Jacket's pass efficiency has dropped to the lowest point in Paul Johnson's tenure on the Flats. Not that Tech was a terribly multidimensional offense even last season, but Thomas' presence at least ensured opposing defenses couldn't simply load the box against the run. This year the Tech passing game has been a complete afterthought, and that was even before starting QB Josh Nesbitt was lost for the season with a wrist injury against Virginia Tech. Unless his replacement, sophomore Tevin Washington, can suddenly morph into a superhero in Athens, Georgia's defensive backfield may be pretty bored for most of Saturday night.
REASONS TO BE WORRIED
Unless, of course, the front seven tackles so poorly that Tech's running backs manage to get into the Bulldog defensive backfield all evening long -- a turn of events that wouldn't be entirely unprecedented in the recent history of this rivalry. Two weeks ago Georgia went into Auburn to face the nation's fourth-ranked rushing attack, and all things considered, that didn't work out so hot; now they've got to go up against the #1 running game in the country, and it's anyone's guess as to how Todd Grantham's going to respond to said attack, given that most of his prior career was spent in the NFL where the triple-option isn't exactly commonplace. Statistically, Georgia's run defense has been mostly solid this year, but it's wilted in the face of stronger attacks like those of Auburn, South Carolina and Florida. And while the caveat about Georgia's vulnerability to mobile QBs doesn't really apply here given how loath Tech is to throw the ball, Paul Johnson is all too happy to run the same type of misdirection plays that Auburn used to murderous effect against the Dawgs, passing threat or no passing threat. If Georgia plays smart and sticks to their assignments like they did last year in Atlanta, they'll be fine; if they get flustered and can't tackle any better than they did against the Jackets two years ago -- or, for that matter, any better than they did against Marcus Lattimore earlier this year -- it's going to be an unpleasant evening.
Georgia LB Akeem Dent vs. Georgia Tech RB Anthony Allen. With Josh Nesbitt out of commission, Allen, the Jackets' leading rusher with 1,059 yards on the season, has had to pick up an even greater share of the offense. Sack master and holy terror Justin Houston is likely to get a lot of attention from Tech's blockers Saturday night, so Dent (and fellow interior linebacker Christian Robinson) will have to step up to ensure that Allen (and the rest of Tech's A, B, F, Q, X, Y and Z backs) don't make it into the secondary. Containing the Jackets on first and second downs and forcing them into third-and-longs will be a main objective as the Dawgs attempt to best their in-state rivals for the ninth time in their last 10 tries.