As they ride the bus from Atlanta back to Athens on Saturday afternoon and evening, the members of the Georgia football team, knowing they’ll return to Atlanta in a week, will have a chance to watch a certain other game to see who their opponent will be in the SEC Championship Game.
“Probably. Probably afterwards,” Georgia safety J.R. Reed said. “But during it, focused totally on Georgia Tech.”
That was the aim this week around the program, where the Bulldogs (10-1) know their most important game in years is looming – but first have to take care of their in-state rival.
It can be a tricky balance, and it’s a new one to every player on this team. Georgia played in five SEC championships from 2002-12, which required playing Georgia Tech a week before. Those teams handled it well: Georgia is 5-0 against Georgia Tech in years it has also played in the SEC championship.
But this is new to this year’s team. Nobody was around for the last such appearance.
“It’s really a blessing. We understand that this time last year we’re sitting here saying, Well let’s beat Tech and then we’re off this week, then bowl practice, thinking about school and stuff,” Georgia senior tight end Jeb Blazevich said. “But now it’s like no, we have something to do, we have something to achieve, there’s still stuff out there for us. Whereas last year it was kinda like, Well, obviously you want to beat Tech every year. But it means more when you have more opportunities, and we understand this is a crucial step to where we want to get.
“And it’s Tech. Just always love to play Tech. It sucks. And it’s never a fun, awesome game. It’s always a drag-out fight. That’s part of it, that’s part of the fun.”
Two things certainly work in favor of Georgia not looking past this game.
It fits into the revenge tour aspect of this season: Georgia Tech has defeated Georgia twice in the past three years, including last year. So far Georgia is 3-0 against teams it lost to in 2016. Players have been reminded of that this week.
“You just come in the facility, and you just see Georgia Tech posters everywhere. You know, you get to the point where it actually annoys you,” senior offensive tackle Isaiah Wynn said, describing those posters. “Yellow hornets and the scores from previous games.”
It’s the Yellow Jackets, but one supposes they do like hornets.
Then there’s the Georgia Tech triple-option offense, which should serve as a jolt to Georgia’s defenders, a self-preventive measure against taking it easy this week.
Reed, the one new starter on Georgia’s defense, recalled that he only saw a triple-option offense once in high school. And not like Georgia Tech.
“These guys are totally different from what I saw in high school. They cut a lot more,” Reed said. “In high school, they were all about hiding the ball and hitting you up high.”
But the main thing Georgia needs to watch, Reed acknowledged, is a rare pass from the Yellow Jackets, which was what burned the Bulldogs most last year.
Still, Georgia Tech (5-5) isn’t as strong as in past years, mainly due to its defense, so UGA comes in as an 11-point favorite. The Bulldogs haven’t played down to opponents this year, beating everyone but Auburn and Notre Dame by an average of 28 points.
Take care of this first, and then Georgia can turn full attention to Auburn or Alabama.
“We know that they’re the next opponent and we’ve got to win this game to accomplish all our goals,” Reed said of Georgia Tech. “And we want to complete this season on top and on a high note.”