ATHENS — Kirby Smart likes to point out that Georgia has a lot of rivalry games. He’s gone out of his way to make to not say that one is more important than the other, whether it be Florida, Auburn or any other annual foe.
Georgia Tech does fall into that final category. And while the Yellow Jackets haven’t been all that good this season — they’re 3-8 and in the midst of a complete transition from the old triple option days of Paul Johnson — this game does still carry a heightened significance to the Georgia program.
“Georgia has so many rivalries that you can’t say one’s more important than the other,” Smart said. “You don’t think it’s important, then lose it and then it will be really important.”
There’s a saying that for a contest to be a rivalry, both sides have to win. And while that hasn’t been the case when these two teams meet in Atlanta — the Bulldogs last defeat at Bobby Dodd Stadium came back in 1999 before D’Andre Swift’s first birthday — the 2016 defeat is still very much on the mind of the Georgia seniors who were around to witness it.
“It wasn’t a fun game for sure,” senior tight end Charlie Woerner said of the 2016 game. “It put a bad taste in our mouth for sure and you saw the results of that the next year when we went on to have a great season.”
Linebacker Tae Crowder says that Georgia still uses pictures from the 2016 defeat as a motivational ploy. Seeing the hedges get torn to pieces will make just about anyone connected to the Georgia football program’s blood boil.
Georgia used to spend all year preparing for the Yellow Jackets due to the difficulties presented by the triple-option offense. That isn’t the case anymore, now that Geoff Collins has taken over and tried to modernize the program. And Georgia is seeing the fruits of that as Smart said the Bulldogs see more and more of the Yellow Jackets on the recruiting trail.
The Yellow Jackets still have a long way to go to catch to Georgia, but Smart also added that they’re not going anywhere when it comes to the future of Georgia’s schedule. Even as the Bulldogs continue to add marquee non-conference games to the schedule against the likes of Clemson and Ohio State, the Yellow Jackets are still going to be the closest Power Five program to Georgia in terms of proximity.
And that’s is just one of the reasons Georgia Tech will remain on the schedule.
“We’re always going to be intrastate rivals, whether it’s through recruiting, whether it’s through recruiting students, whether it’s through anything,” Smart said. “So I think the history and tradition is there that this game is always going to be a big factor.”
Another reason why some might want to see this game possibly moved is that the Bulldogs have won the SEC East in each of the last three seasons, meaning the Georgia Tech game has essentially become a trap game for the Bulldogs. Georgia has won the last two meetings against Georgia Tech to keep the SEC Championship game as a de-facto College Football Playoff play-in game and will be aiming to do so again on Saturday.
The Bulldogs have a game looming with LSU, who locked up the SEC West this past weekend. A loss to the Yellow Jackets would cripple Georgia’s playoff chances going into that LSU game.
But just about everyone made it clear that the focus is on the Yellow Jackets, who will be treating this game like their Super Bowl. And Georgia will be throwing out the records when it takes on Georgia Tech at 12 p.m. on Saturday.
“The challenge is about the rivalry. So when you think about this game, records are thrown out. None of that matters. They finished Thursday,” Smart said. “This is a huge opportunity and stage for them. We acknowledge that.”
Georgia football coach Kirby Smart on Georgia Tech
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