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Why the Georgia-Georgia Tech rivalry has fallen off and what must happen for it to really matter again
ATHENS — Maybe the best way to explain how strange the Georgia-Georgia Tech rivalry has gotten in recent years is through the lens of Stetson Bennett.
The sixth-year Georgia quarterback has just about done it all for the Bulldogs since first arriving on campus, from winning a national championship to imitating Baker Mayfield in practice.
But one thing he has not yet done is play in a home game against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. In 2018, he was in the JUCO ranks at Jones College. The 2020 Georgia-Georgia Tech game was called off thanks to the scheduling changes made by the SEC due to the COVID-19 Pandemic.
Saturday will be Bennett’s final home game. For as long as he’s been at Georgia, the rivalry with the Yellow Jackets has changed a lot. The year before he arrived saw Georgia Tech upset Georgia in Sanford Stadium.
The Bulldogs have not lost to their rival since then. What’s more, the Bulldogs have won the four meetings by an average of 36.3 points per game. Georgia is once again a massive favorite this weekend, with the Bulldogs opening as a 34.5-point favorite.
Related: Georgia favored to blow out Georgia Tech amid college football’s so-called ‘Rivalry Week’
The last two games saw Georgia win by a combined score of 97-7. Much of the struggles can be chalked up to the now-fired Geoff Collins. While Kirby Smart didn’t outright say it, the change from Paul Johnson to Geoff Collins has drained much of the intrigue from the rivalry.
“It’s still a big rivalry. I mean, I think maybe it shifted in the dynamic of what their offense was,” Smart said. “Because it went from one extreme to the other in terms of that.”
Brent Key took over for Collins and has helped turn around Georgia Tech’s season. The Yellow Jackets enter the game coming off an upset win over North Carolina. It’s only the second time since 2017 that Georgia Tech enters the game against Georgia with the possibility of getting to the to a bowl game.
Like Smart, Key is an alum of the program he currently runs. The two played against each other in the 90′s back when the rivalry was competitive. Ironically, Smart’s final home game was a loss to Georgia Tech.
So the game still means a good bit to him. Getting his players to understand the level of pain involved in losing to Georgia Tech is a tougher sell.
“Our kids don’t know that history,” Smart said. “They don’t know the history of this rivalry and what goes into it. It was a really big rivalry, you know, during Paul’s years here because of the triple option and playing something different and the physicality of the game, you know.
“And I think educating our players on that so they understand it -- because it means a lot to our players in terms of what they want to achieve and they got to win this game to achieve those things.”
Consider that kicker Jack Podlesny referred to the game as “Clean-Fashioned Old Hate,” as opposed to the actual moniker of “Clean, Old-Fashioned hate.” Like Bennett, Podlesny has never lost to Georgia Tech.
The last time Georgia lost to Georgia Tech in Atlanta came all the back in 1999. Before Mark Richt was the head coach and Smart was a year removed from his playing days.
“Knowing there’s disgust or whatever you may want to call it between the two schools,” Podlesny said. “The rivalry is a hard-fought battle between both teams and always will be.”
Linebacker Jamon Dumas-Johnson demonstrated a better understanding of the rivalry than his teammate. He also shared Smart’s personal history with the rivalry and how it still influences the team.
“I knew in the 90′s it was kind of back and forth but lately it’s been all Georgia winning the rivalry,” Dumas-Johnson said. “That’s all I know pretty much about the rivalry. I just know when coach Smart first came here, we lost and kinda during his era they most likely lost to them.”
Georgia has many rivals. Florida and Auburn have histories just as deep as Georgia Tech. Add in the SEC ties and you can understand why those rivalries seem to have more juice at the moment than Georgia Tech.