Report Card: Bulldogs ace last test before SEC final

Georgia freshman tailback D’Andre Swift leaps for the end zone against Georgia Tech. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@AJC.com)

ATHENS — It doesn’t get much better than that.

That’s about all that needs to be said about No. 7 Georgia’s 38-7 win over Georgia Tech on Saturday at Bobby Dodd Stadium. The Bulldogs were dominant on offense, defense and special teams. Their early lead was never really threatened. And when the Yellow Jackets did exert some will and scored with 48 seconds left in the first half, the Bulldogs simply went 50 yards within that span to kick a field goal and expand their lead.

The 31-point victory represented Georgia’s biggest margin in the series since a 42-10 win in 2012 and gave the Bulldogs (11-1, 7-1 SEC) at least 11 wins in a season for the 10th time in program history. They will get a chance to expand on that when they face Auburn on Saturday in the SEC Championship Game.

The sixth-ranked Tigers (10-2, 7-1 SEC) defeated No. 1-ranked Alabama (11-1, 7-1) 26-14 at Jordan-Hare Stadium to win the SEC West. Auburn throttled Georgia 40-17 on Nov. 11 on The Plains.

If the Bulldogs execute and play with the discipline they exhibited against Georgia Tech, they will have a chance to avenge the loss to the Tigers. Georgia players said those were the words of the week in preparing for the Jackets: “execute” on offense and “discipline” on defense.

They were true to their words. Here’s how it went:

Offense: A

Georgia tallied 38 points and gained 471 yards offense on 247 rushing and 224 passing. That was just ahead of the Bulldogs’ averages for the season, which were 35.3 points and 431.4 yards, respectively. They actually rushed for more yards and possessed the ball longer (30:14) than Georgia Tech, which specializes in those two stats. After missing on 2 of his first 3 passes, quarterback Jake Fromm hit his next 6, not including a spike to stop the clock and kick a field goal at the end of the first half. Fromm finished with 224 yards on 12 of 16 passing with 2 touchdowns, including a season-long 78-yarder to junior flanker Akhil Crumpton. Nick Chubb, Sony Michel and D’Andre Swift each had rushing TDs. The Bulldogs were called for only one offensive penalty.

Defense : A

Georgia Tech was averaging 408 total yards and 319 yards rushing entering Saturday’s game. Georgia held the Yellow Jackets to 226 yards and 188 rushing or almost half on each count. Georgia Tech did manage to put together a 12-play, 75-yard scoring drive that consumed nearly half of the second quarter. On that drive, the Yellow Jackets converted two long third downs on running plays totaling 50 yards. Georgia Tech was 8 of 15 on third down for the game. But the Bulldogs and defensive coordinator Mel Tucker made adjustments to stop the wide tosses Georgia Tech was using to get outside, and the Yellow Jackets threatened to score only one other time. That drive ended with a Deandre Baker interception in the Georgia end zone. It was his second of the year and pushed the Bulldogs’ turnover margin for the season to plus-3.

Special teams: A

Georgia got a bad break on the opening kickoff. It appeared that Christian Payne tackled Georgia Tech returner Brad Stewart inside the 1 after he misplayed the kick. After a review, it was determined the play should have been blown dead after the ball reached the end zone. The good news on that play was it gave UGA kicker Rodrigo Blankenship his 52nd touchback of the season. That broker Hall of Famer Kevin Butler’s record for touchbacks in a season that had stood since 1981. Blankenship added three more before the day ended. Blankenship also made good on his only field-goal attempt of the game, a 37-yarder as time expired in the first half. Mecole Hardman finished with 69 yards on three punt returns and a kickoff return and Cameron Nizalek averaged 44.5 yards on two punts.

Coaching: A

Kirby Smart said he began planning for Saturday’s game against Tech “365 days ago,” meaning right after the Bulldogs lost to the Yellow Jackets in Athens last season. Georgia devoted time to working on defending the triple-option every Monday all season and some during the preseason and during the bye week. It showed with the lowest rushing output by a Paul Johnson-coached team against the Bulldogs. Smart also preached “execution” for the offense and “discipline” for the defense this week. Georgia was whistled for just 2 penalties for 25 yards for the entire game after having at least seven in each of the previous two games. Tucker’s halftime adjustments kept Georgia Tech out of Georgia’s end zone the rest of the way and rarely on its side of the 50.

Overall: A

Georgia showed it is capable of playing a complete game in all phases. That should give the Bulldogs confidence heading into the SEC Championship Game, although Georgia Tech certainly is not the caliber of team that Auburn is. Georgia is also a relatively healthy team 12 games into the season, too. Injuries to defensive lineman Trent Thompson (right knee), who finished the game, and fullback Christian Payne (unknown), who did not, will have to be evaluated this week. Otherwise, a healthy, confident Georgia team exits the regular season with but one blemish on its record.

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