The No. 6 Bulldogs were hoping to come out of Saturday with another win over Georgia Tech and a spot in the SEC championship game. They took care of the first part of that equation with a charmed 31-17 victory in front of 54,990 in Bobby Dodd Stadium.
Kentucky almost provided the second part. In fact, the Wildcats came so close that Georgia’s head coach and several players spent 30 minutes thinking Kentucky had won. In the end, though, the Wildcats fell short in a 52-50 quadruple-overtime loss to Tennessee, leaving Georgia to find solace in the stranglehold it has over its in-state rival.
Oh, and an almost certain trip to a BCS bowl game.
The Bulldogs’ seventh-straight win over the Yellow Jackets was their sixth straight victory this season and leaves them at 10-2 and awaiting the Dec. 2 bowl announcements.
“I think we deserve to be in (the BCS) right now,” said Georgia head coach Mark Richt, who became first Bulldogs coach to beat the Yellow Jackets seven consecutive times.
Richt’s enthusiasm was tempered, he said, because he received false information midway through the third quarter that Kentucky had beaten the Volunteers, which would have put Georgia in the conference title game.
“I was actually going to tell the team at the end of the third quarter, and then I went to someone who I thought would know for sure,” Richt said. “I said, ‘Is that for sure what happened?’ and they said, ‘No.’ I did go in the tank slightly at that time. That was something that maybe put a little damper on everything, but this has definitely been a wonderful year.”
It was better than the Jackets’ season. Tech finished 7-5 as head coach Chan Gailey dropped his sixth game in as many tries against the Bulldogs. It’s not like Georgia Tech didn’t have its chances.
Three times balls fumbled in the end zone resulted in touchbacks for the Bulldogs. Twice it was after Georgia muffed punts that were recovered by Mikey Henderson and Ramarcus Brown respectively.
“I think we are living right,” Henderson said. “We were trying to live on the edge there. The ball kept bouncing our way.”
Georgia freshman Knowshon Moreno saw his streak of five straight 100-yard rushing games snapped, but may have made the play of the game on defense, when he chased down the Yellow Jackets’ Morgan Burnett, who had recovered a Moreno fumble. Moreno forced a Burnett that went through the back of the end zone, preventing a touchdown that would have resulted in a 21-16 Yellow Jacket lead midway through the third quarter and giving the ball back to Georgia.
“We had three plays that really could have been catastrophic, and all three of them ended up going our way,” Richt said. “That was a huge, huge part of our day.”
Georgia also made its own luck, mostly in the form of 139 rushing yards by senior Thomas Brown, who put the game away with a 32-yard touchdown run with 11:07 left in the third quarter that provided the final margin of victory. Brown’s run capped a 71-yard drive on which all six plays were runs.
“I thought (offensive coordinator) Mike Bobo was very patient, continuing to hammer the run even though some of the times we were getting next to nothing,” Richt said.
The second-biggest offensive hero of the day was senior wide receiver Sean Bailey, who caught back-to-back passes of 22 and 55 yards to set up a 3-yard Brannan Southerland run that put the Bulldogs head 23-14 with 1:40 left in the third quarter. Bailey’s first catch came on an audible by quarterback Matthew Stafford, who 14-of-29 for 214 yards. The next play was the same route, he said.
“It’s a game of chess our there, you are setting different things up and being patient,” Bailey said. “When you do go for that home run you have to take advantage of it, and I think we did.”
The Bulldogs finished with 432 yards against the nation’s seventh-ranked defense. Georgia Tech led the nation in sacks and tackles-for-loss entering the game but got to Stafford once on the first series and not again the rest of the game.
Senior running back Tashard Choice set the pace for the Yellow Jackets with 134 rushing yards, becoming the second back this year to gain more than 100 against Georgia.
“There was definitely a lot of emotion from the fans, from the guys on the field, a lot of junk-talking between Tashard Choice and our DBs and everybody,” Georgia linebacker Rennie Curran said. “It was real intense.”
The Jackets, who had to deal with a hand injury suffered by starting quarterback Taylor Bennett, snapped the ball to five different players in the second half, Bennett, backup quarterbacks Josh Nesbitt and Calvin Booker and running backs Choice and Jonathan Dwyer.
The Yellow Jackets finished with 315 yards.
“I probably didn’t do a good job of celebrating this victory, but I tell you when you go for a long season and you start out the way we did and we finish the way we did, I get to where I’m just feeling real thankful and real calm,” Richt said. “Maybe ol’ boring coach Richt came out again.”
Boring ol’ coach Richt is just fine with Georgia fans this morning.