Mark Richt’s tenure as Georgia’s coach was often good, but rarely great. He won a lot of games, but frequently lost the ones that mattered most. However, one area in which Richt was consistently dominant was beating his in-state rival.
Richt racked up a 13-2 record against Georgia Tech over his 15 seasons as UGA coach — including seven straight wins vs. the Yellow Jackets to start his coaching career. As Kirby Smart prepares to coach for the first time in the rivalry known as “Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate” it’s fair to ask whether Smart’s will enjoy as much success in this game as his predecessor did.
It’s reasonable to assume that he will.
Richt’s triumphs over Georgia Tech weren’t so much about his mastery over the Yellow Jackets as they were an indicator of the growing imbalance between the two programs. For instance, Georgia Tech’s 2017 recruiting class is currently ranked No. 53 in the country by 247sports. UGA’s is ranked third.
In other words, while a map of the state shows UGA’s campus in Athens to be just about 72 miles from Georgia Tech’s home in Atlanta, a map of the college football landscape would reveal a far greater chasm between the two schools.
Of course, before Richt’s arrival at UGA in 2001 that wasn’t obviously true. Georgia Tech beat UGA four times in seven seasons from 1984-1990 and won three-straight in this series from 1998-2000. It was on the heels of that losing streak that Richt made his debut in this feud.
In November of 2001 Richt led the Bulldogs to a 31-17 victory at Georgia Tech. It was UGA’s eighth win of the season and it was enough to earn a postseason berth in the Music City Bowl.
The similarities between that season and Smart’s first year are striking. Just like Richt’s first win against the Yellow Jackets helped erase memories of three season’s worth of defeats, a win for Smart on Saturday would ease the pain stemming from Georgia Tech’s upset of UGA at Sanford Stadium in 2014. Smart’s first victory against the Yellow Jackets — assuming it comes this weekend — would also match the total from Richt’s rookie season in 2001. Also, there’s a possibility the bowl destination could end up being the same as well.
UGA fans would like nothing better than to see the symmetry continue beyond this year. Richt’s second season at UGA provided more to cheer about than just a so-called “state title.” The Bulldogs went 13-1 in 2002 and won the program’s first SEC championship in 20 seasons.
Could Smart equal Richt’s performance and deliver the same kind of success for UGA’s next season? It’s still too early to tell, and — frankly — there’ll be plenty of time for worrying about that when the time comes.
For now, it’s about Georgia Tech, and the challenge of living up to the expectations that comes from coaching in a game no one thinks you should ever lose.
Whatever the final score is on Saturday, make plans to join us for the Papa John’s postgame show immediately after the game from the UGA bookstore on Facebook Live. For a preview of this week’s broadcast, please check out the video above.