Georgia (7-4) vs. No. 16 Georgia Tech (9-2)
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. (TV: CBS, Radio: 940-AM)
Stadium: Sanford Stadium (92,746)
Kickoff weather: High of 65, low of 38, sunny, 10 percent chance of rain
Series: Georgia leads 57-36-5 (Tech records have the series 57-38-5 in Georgia’s favor)
Last meeting: Georgia won 14-7 in Atlanta in 2005
Odds: Georgia favored by 2
Injuries: Georgia: Probable: OL Michael Turner (ankle); Questionable: RB Danny Ware (ankle), WR Mario Raley (neck). Georgia Tech: Out: OL Jacob Lonowski (shoulder).
Junior Kregg Lumpkin is coming off his second 100-yard rushing effort of the season and is completely healed from a minor ankle injury suffered in that game. Backup Danny Ware still has a tender ankle, so Lumpkin probably will get the bulk of the work if he blocks well. Also, watch for the Bulldogs to run quarterback Matthew Stafford on draws against the Tech blitz. Georgia Tech’s run game, which ranks second in the ACC, is led by Tashard Choice, who averages 96.2 yards per game. “We’ve got to walk the tight rope to make sure we have enough people there to stop the run, but at the same time, not let Calvin (Johnson) get going,” Bulldog coach Mark Richt said. Jackets fullback Mike Cox is a dangerous weapon because he can go in motion and line up as a tight end. He has five catches for 53 yards and a touchdown.
The Bulldogs are hoping to get another interception-free performance from Stafford. He’s coming off his most cautious game of the season, an effort that was aided by a drop-free performance from his wide receivers and tight end Martrez Milner. Stafford will face an added degree of difficulty today against the Yellow Jacket blitz, but if he can handle that, there will be plays to be made. Georgia Tech is ninth in the ACC in pass defense (203.5 per game). As for the Yellow Jackets passing game, Calvin Johnson is best receiver in the nation in the opinion of most. He averages 15.5 yards per catch and more than 80 yards per game. Georgia also is concerned about James Johnson, who plays opposite Calvin. The speedy sophomore averages almost as much per catch as Johnson (14.8). The X-factor as always with the Jackets is quarterback Reggie Ball. He has completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes this year and has 20 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He ranks eighth in the ACC in passer rating and ninth in passing yards per game.
The Bulldogs are 13th in the country in total defense (270.9) and 24th in scoring defense (17.5). Georgia has stepped up its pass rush of late, recording seven sacks in the last two games, and that could be a factor today against a quarterback who sometimes gets antsy under pressure. The secondary will have the toughest job trying to stop Calvin Johnson. Expect Paul Oliver to draw the main assignment for that most of the game, but he’ll get plenty of help from safeties Kelin Johnson and Tra Battle and maybe even a nickel back. Georgia Tech is 25th in the country in total defense (292.6) and 26th in scoring defense (17.7). Senior linebacker KaMichael Hall, who leads the Jackets with 71 tackles, is the most dangerous defender. “They all blitz and do an awful lot of different things, but he’s great at blitzing, and he’s great at doing things to make people miss who are trying to block him,” Richt said.
Georgia Tech probably will take away the Bulldogs’ most dangerous special teams player, punt returner Mikey Henderson, so it will be up for the other areas to take up the slack. That’s not good news for Georgia, which has struggled returning kickoffs since Thomas Brown was lost for the season due to injury. Georgia is ninth in the SEC in kickoff coverage, sixth in punting and down to its fourth-best place-kicker, double-duty punter Gordon Ely-Kelso. The Yellow Jackets have dazzled with their punt coverage team, which ranks No. 1 in the nation in net punting. Junior punter Durant Brooks has been a weapon for Tech all season, but that’s where the good news stops for the Jackets. Georgia Tech is 12th in the ACC in kickoff coverage, 11th in punt returns and 10th in field goals and kickoff returns. Place-kicker Travis Bell has missed five of his 13 kicks, including two from inside 40 yards.