Wake-up call: Georgia football overcomes shaky start in 37-14 win over Georgia Tech
ATHENS — Georgia got a late-season wake-up call from Georgia Tech on Saturday, and perhaps it comes just in time.
The No. 1-ranked Bulldogs scored a 37-14 victory over Georgia Tech, extending a home win streak to 18 games while sending their senior class out with a school-record 46 wins.
But in no way, shape or form did this version of Georgia football look like the best team in the country through the first half of the game.
If the Yellow Jackets could hang with Georgia for 30 minutes — UGA holding a 10-7 lead — what might SEC West Division champ LSU do when the teams meet at 4 p.m. next Saturday in the SEC Championship Game?
The Bulldogs opened as a 15-point favorite over LSU, but then, they were also a 35 1/2 -point favorite over the Yellow Jackers
Coach Kirby Smart knew to expect a challenge from Georgia Tech, which entered the day 5-6 and fighting for bowl eligibility.
Yellow Jackets interim head coach Brent Key didn’t disappoint, having his team prepared to open the game with an 11-play, 75-yard touchdown drive.
It marked the first time this season the Bulldogs had given up a first-quarter touchdown, and it served notice that Georgia’s defense wasn’t as impenetrable as its No. 1-scoring rank implied.
Certainly, LSU’s Jayden Daniels — the nation’s top rushing quarterback entering Saturday — noted the Yellow Jackets’ TD came on a 7-yard RB sweep.
UGA legend Eric Zeier, calling the game on radio, summed things up at the half by saying the Bulldogs had been “sleepwalking” and had “zero going in the pass game.”
Stetson Bennett, playing in his final home game, was 10-of-18 passing for 140 yards with 5 carries for 16 yards.
Smart told half-time reporters the wake-up call his team needed would come through the run game and a more physical level of play.
True to his word, Smart’s offense opened the second half running the ball on five of the first six plays, setting up a 50-yard Jack Podlesny field goal that made it 13-10.
The Georgia defense and special teams responded, holding Tech on a three-and-out before swarming the Yellow Jackets punter at the 17 after a low snap prevented a clean kick.
Seven plays later, after Bennett had been stopped on two runs inside the 3, All-American Brock Bowers reached back to scoop up a low fourth-down pass for the touchdown that made it 20-7 with 5:51 left.
The Bulldogs were out of danger, but the realization lingered that UGA had trailed or led by less than one score the first 37 minutes of the football game.
Georgia Tech gifted Georgia another 3 points by fumbling on the first play of the ensuing possession, leading to Podlesny’s third field goal of the day, making it 23-7 with 4:11 left in the third quarter.
The Bulldogs didn’t take long in the fourth quarter to put the game away, Kenny McIntosh reeling in an 83-yard pass - and consequently, a 2-yard TD run — to make it 30-7.
McIntosh, another senior making his final game appearance in Athens, had 12 carries for 86 yards and a rushing TD along with 2 catches for 96 yards.
Tailback Kendall Milton closed the Georgia scoring with a 44-yard touchdown run with 11:13 left.
The Bulldogs pulled many of their starters on offense and defense, and Georgia Tech managed a final six-play, 65-yard TD drive to close the scoring with 2:55 remaining.
By then, the slow start was a fleeting memory for the 92,746 announced in attendance.
But it’s a sure-bet Smart and his coaching staff will have the film rolling Saturday night, pinpointing early-game breakdowns that led Georgia Tech to a 187-153 yardage advantage in the first half.
Of course, it might have been as simple as Georgia overlooking the Yellow Jackets in a classic “trap” game scenario.
But Smart won’t waste the opportunity to use this game as a wake-up call for his reloaded football team.