What it means in the grand scheme of things we’ll have to wait and see. But for the moment, Georgia’s dominance over Georgia Tech under coach Mark Richt continued on Saturday.
The Bulldogs beat the Yellow Jackets for the 13th time in the last 15 games under Richt’s guidance. The 13-7 win keeps him undefeated at Tech’s Bobby Dodd Stadium. Georgia had lost three in a row in the series before Richt showed up on the scene.
How much that weighs in the extremely complicated equation that is Richt’s tenure is unknown. Neither UGA Athletic Director Greg McGarity nor President Jere Morehead, who watched the game from the AD’s suite in the South end zone, would comment on the football situation Saturday. The university’s top decision-makers have been receiving a lot of feedback on Richt from influential alumni and state leaders in recent weeks. By all accounts, those with a vested interest in the program are 50-50 on the issue.
But as Richt and the Bulldogs proved yet again on Saturday, a change in leadership is a risky proposition. With the victory, Georgia (9-3) secured at least nine wins for the 11th time in his 15 season. The Bulldogs have gone to a bowl game in every one of those years and will likely be heading South for another one on New Year’s Day. Many projections have them headed to Tampa for the Outback.
“We came up short of our goal to get to Atlanta and win it and try to go beyond. We all know that,” Richt said. “That’s the standard here, to win the SEC and hopefully go beyond that. … From that point of view we fell short. But you also have to look at a team being in the position we were in and watching everybody come together. We certainly could have gone one way or another.”
The win was Georgia’s fourth in a row after losing three of four in October, with the one victory coming 9-6 over a lowly Missouri team. But the Yellow Jackets ended the season 3-9, meaning only three of the Bulldogs’ victories this season came against teams with winning records, two if Auburn loses to Alabama on Saturday.
It was Georgia’s struggles in a season in which it was picked to win the SEC East that have many questioning Richt’s leadership. It has now been 10 seasons since the Bulldogs’ last SEC championship.
Richt will meet with McGarity for his annual postseason evaluation in the coming days. But in the meantime, Richt said he plans to hit the recruiting trail immediately and is not sweating whether or not he remains Georgia’s coach.
“I think The Lord’s in charge of everything and I’m fine with whatever He has in store for me,” Richt said. “The plan for me is to get out on the recruiting trail and keep nailing down a good class and getting prepared for this bowl game and for the future at Georgia.”
Georgia logged this win that way it has all of them lately: With strong defense and a conservative offensive approach.
Sony Michel led the Bulldogs’ 402-yard offensive with 149 yards rushing on 24 carries and scored a touchdown. The sophomore tailback from Florida became the 13th Georgia player to rush for more than 1,000 yards in a season. The Bulldogs finished with 178 yards rushing for the game.
Meanwhile, the Bulldogs were in line for a shutout until linebacker Jake Ganus was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct at the end of a third-down stop. The Yellow Jackets made them pay with a 15-yard touchdown pass from Justin Thomas to Ricky Jeune with 3:24 to play. The point-after made it 13-7.
Afterward, Ganus revealed he had not said anything to the opposing player and was merely repeating the incomplete signal when the referee hit him with the flag.
“I didn’t say a word; I just did the incomplete gesture with my hands and I then saw a flag at my feet,” said Ganus, who led the Bulldogs with 12 tackles. “It was chippy all game. There were multiple scuffles and no flags were thrown. But we won so it’s OK and the coaches weren’t mad at me.”
Tech elected to kick deep against Georgia’s onsides alignment on the ensuing kickoff. Reggie Davis curiously took a knee when he fielded it at the Georgia 7. But the Bulldogs broke free with a gutsy first-down call, a play-action pass to tight end Jeb Blazevich for a 25-yard gain.
The call, made by offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, showed great confidence in Lambert, who ended up releasing the pass with his feet in the Bulldogs’ end zone.
“I appreciate the coaches trusting in our offense and trusting in me in allowing us to go out there and try to execute that play,” said Lambert, who finished with 224 yards on 18-of-25 passing. “If we got it we knew it was going to help us big time.”
A 19-yard run by Sony Michel would give Georgia further breathing room. But they’d end up facing fourth-and-four at the Tech 20 and took a delay of game penalty before punting the ball to Tech with 28 seconds to play. Collin Barber got off a quick 41-yard punt, then Ryne Rankin then made the play of the game to tackle Jamal Golden at the Jackets’ 16-yard line.
Malkom Parrish ended the game with an interception for the Bulldogs. Georgia had held Tech to 276 total yards, including 194 on the ground.
“We haven’t had (a shutout this season),” said senior defensive tackle James DeLoach, who recovered a fumble and made a huge tackle-for-loss on fourth-and-one. “We just went out and executed the game plan. We believed it, we bought into and we tried to execute it.”
Georgia planted a huge UGA flag in the center of the field, which resulted in a stare-down by the two teams before a post-game prayer eased the tension. Richt had already left the field at the time but said he didn’t like hearing it and would have stopped it had he seen it.