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By the Numbers: Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate isn’t rivalry where records are ‘thrown out the window’

Brandon Adams

Georgia football fans can get their statistical fix each week with By the Numbers — a stats-based look at how UGA coach Kirby Smart is doing in his attempt to keep the Bulldogs on top of the SEC and continue the program’s pursuit of a national championship. Today’s edition of By the Numbers looks at the history of the rivalry known as Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate.

Rivalry games in college football have a reputation of being unpredictable. Conventional wisdom suggests that when two teams who hate each other get together, anything can happen. “Throw the records out the window,” the saying goes. That sentiment hasn’t proven true for Georgia and Georgia Tech.

The rivalry known as Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate has actually been kind of predictable.

The Bulldogs and Yellow Jackets have played with at least one team ranked 47 times, and the higher-ranked team has won all but 10 of those games.

UGA lost as the higher-ranked team six times — most recently in 2014, and perhaps most famously in 2008, as the punctuation mark to a total flop of a season that began with the Bulldogs as the preseason No. 1 team in the country. 2008 was also Paul Johnson’s first year as Georgia Tech coach.

Ironically, Georgia returned the favor the following season. The unranked Bulldogs beat No. 7 Georgia Tech 30-24 in Atlanta in 2009 — one of four times the Yellow Jackets lost in this series as the higher-ranked team.

That game also represented one of only five match-ups in the last 51 years between the two rivals in which the Yellow Jackets entered the game ranked ahead of UGA.

Not only has the expected team normally won in this rivalry, the games have rarely been in doubt. A  fact that’s been good news for UGA.

OddsShark’s searchable database stretches back 22 years. Georgia is 16-6 vs. Georgia Tech over that span, and the Bulldogs covered the spread in all but three of those wins.

Of course, Georgia didn’t always dominate this series.

Georgia Tech won as the higher-rated team five-straight seasons from 1951-56, as part of an overall eight-game winning streak vs. UGA from 1949-1956. When Georgia finally scored a victory against the Yellow Jackets (7-0 in 1957), the hero of the game, Theron Sapp became such a legend around UGA that he was given the nickname, “drought breaker.” He also later became one of four Bulldogs players to have his jersey retired.

Georgia has won 43 of the 60 meetings since Sapp broke the “drought.”

Although it’s never been explicitly stated as such, UGA’s overwhelming success against Georgia Tech in recent decades possibly explains why the Yellow Jackets turned to Johnson — and his unorthodox triple-option offense.

It seems reasonable to surmise that the thinking from Georgia Tech goes something like this: If you can’t beat them, confuse them.

Johnson’s mastery of his offense certainly has the potential to confuse, and it has earned him UGA coach Kirby Smart’s respect.

“As soon as I can turn that tape on I’ll be turning it on because it’s very different for us,” Smart said of his plans to watch game film of the Yellow Jackets offense. “You don’t have enough time to prepare for them. You never have enough time; you always feel crammed preparing for this offense because you so rarely see it.”

Smart speaks from experience. Georgia became one of the rare favorites to lose in this series in Smart’s first year in 2016 when it was bested 28-27 by the 4.5-point underdog Yellow Jackets. UGA yielded 390 yards of offense to Georgia Tech that day.

The disappointment of that loss was seemingly still on Smart’s mind last November after the Bulldogs 38-7 win in Atlanta. Smart suggested during his post game press conference that what had happened vs. Georgia Tech in 2016 fueled the success UGA enjoyed in 2017. (The Bulldogs went on to become SEC champions and College Football Playoff participants).

“You guys make a big deal about a ‘revenge tour,’” Smart told reporters. “We try not to make it about that, but we checked the last box on that list today.”

Maybe revenge will still be on Smart’s mind Saturday when his team meets Georgia Tech in Sanford Stadium for the first time since losing at home to the Yellow Jackets in 2016. Either way, history suggests UGA and its status as the No. 5 team in the country and a 17-point favorite is likely the safe bet once again.