ATHENS, Ga. — In the 113th meeting between the Georgia Bulldogs and the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets dubbed the “Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate” game, the No. 5 Bulldogs were looking to finish the regular season on a high note by defeating their in-state rivals in Athens for the first time since 2012.
After both teams traded victories on each other’s home turfs since 2013, it was Georgia which finally prevailed at home against Tech by a margin of 45-21.
“Our fans turned out really well,” Georgia head coach Kirby Smart said. “I thought they impacted the game on some fourth downs and really affected Georgia Tech on some hard counts. With the weather we had and the conditions, Thanksgiving, I thought it was a great atmosphere. Our kids came out and played fast.”
The final score was a little misleading as Georgia dominated pretty much the entire contest before Tech scored two touchdowns in garbage time to close the gap.
The Dawgs would go on offense first and flex their muscles with a nine-play, 75-yard drive that scraped four minutes off the clock and was capped off with a Jake Fromm touchdown pass to Riley Ridley form five yards out.
After forcing a Tech punt, Georgia would again drive down the field in 11-plays scoring once again when D’Andre Swift plowed his way into the end zone for a one-yard touchdown run.
Tech, however, would answer in the most unlikely of ways.
Juanyeh Thomas fielded the Rodrigo Blankenship kickoff in his own end zone and scampered down the field making people miss on his way to a 100-yard return for a touchdown. It was the first kickoff return for a touchdown the Dawgs had surrendered since the first game of the 2016 season against North Carolina.
That score would be Tech’s last one for a while as Georgia’s stingy defense defended the option better than they possibly ever have, holding the Georgia Tech offense to just 128 rushing yards on 46 attempts. It was an effort led primarily by D’Andre Walker who recorded seven total tackles, including a tackle for loss and a sack.
Smart also gave tremendous praise to guys like Mason Wood, Prather Hudson, Colby Pierce and others that formed the scout team during practice that readied his starters for the tall task of defending the triple option.
“These are the guys that formed the Georgia Tech scout team for the last year,” he said. “I think if you ask our defensive players, they’ll tell you that practice is brutal and it’s really tough and those guys make it that way.”
On offense, Georgia would continue to go to work in the first half, scoring on their last four drives that saw two more Fromm touchdown passes to Newton High alum Jeremiah Holloman and Mecole Hardman, a strong run from Elijah Holyfield, and a field goal from Blankenship to end the half.
As flashy as his 44-yard touchdown bomb to Hardman was, the more noteworthy pass was perhaps to Holloman, who he continues to build chemistry with.
“J.J. man, he’s a great receiver,” Fromm said. “He’s been doing a great job, and it’s just fun to kind of watch him grow and become a dynamic receiver as he has. Hopefully he can keep it up and let’s keep this thing rolling.”
It was hard for Holloman to disagree with the growing connection that has been built up ever since he snagged his first career touchdown from Fromm against Middle Tennessee State.
“He just trusts me now,” Holloman said. “Being out there on the field, I developed trust with him over practice and things like that, but being out there in the game, he sees that I am reliable, so it’s a growing chemistry.”
Coming out of the half, the Dawgs continued their dominance on both sides of the ball.
After forcing another Tech three-and-out, they would respond on offense with a six-play, 63-yard touchdown drive that saw Fromm find Ridley once again from four yards out. Fromm finished the game with a career-high four touchdown passes.
After that drive that seemingly sealed the deal, Fromm would be done for the day, giving way to freshman Justin Fields who came in to help run the clock out and any chance of a Tech comeback.
Late in the game, following a Yellow Jacket touchdown from Qua Searcy, Blankenship would have a rare missed field goal attempt from 48-yards out, and Tech would score one final time, late, on a pass from TaQuon Marshall to Brad Stewart, but those points ultimately meant nothing as Georgia secured the Governor’s Cup for the second year in a row.
It was a win that Smart noted was huge, especially for the seniors who suffered a defeat against Georgia Tech last time they played in Athens, especially after buying in to a regime change that happened through the course of their career.
“They bought in and believed,” he said. “They played a tale of two seasons. The first one where it didn’t go the way we wanted it to go, and the second one we get the buy in, and they’ve overcome so many obstacles and gave so much back to Georgia. I’m really happy for these seniors that went out for their last time against Tech the right way.”
While the Yellow Jackets finish 7-5, Georgia caps off an 11-1 regular season for the second straight year and will once again represent the SEC East in Atlanta against the Alabama Crimson Tide, a rematch game from last season National Championship in the same building.
“This is the next game for us,” he said. “For us, we’ve been thinking about the next game, the next game, and the next game for us. We’re focused on Alabama now moving forward. We know how good they are. We played them less than a year ago. They do a good job, and we’re excited about representing the SEC East in Atlanta.
“It’s not about (revenge) for us. This is an SEC East championship team going up against an SEC West championship team, playing in Atlanta for an SEC Championship, and obviously for a chance to continue on for somebody.”