ATHENS, Ga.—For a time, a win for Georgia over its in-state rival was a near-certainty this afternoon at Sanford Stadium. The Bulldogs, winners of their previous three games after a substandard 4-4 start, had a fourth straight victory, and a respectable 8-4 regular season, in their grasp before flopping in the fourth quarter, and falling to Georgia Tech, 28-27.
Leading 27-14 with less than 12 minutes remaining in the game, Georgia stopped Tech on fourth down at midfield, regaining possession—and, in doing so, had the luxury of facing the heavy run-oriented Jackets. But, here’s where things began to unravel for the Bulldogs.
Three plays gained no yards, and Georgia was forced to punt. The Yellow Jackets promptly drove 94 yards in just seven plays, capped by a 5-yard touchdown run by Dedrick Mills, pulling Tech within a touchdown, 27-21.
With 3:39 left in the contest, Georgia quarterback Jacob Eason was intercepted, whereupon the Jackets drove 46 yards in eight plays for the game-winning touchdown—a 6-yard run by Qua Searcy—with only 30 seconds remaining.
On the game’s final possession, the Bulldogs could only reach their own 39-yard line before Eason was again intercepted to end the contest. For Georgia, it closed a fourth quarter in which it totaled just 29 total yards on 15 plays after averaging 6.6 yards per play during the first three quarters.
“To finish like that was not a very good job on our part” Georgia head coach Kirby Smart said following the loss. “We had a big lead, but we didn’t finish it.”
Trailing 14-7 in the second quarter, Eason passed to Isaiah McKenzie for a 6-yard touchdown to tie the Jackets just before halftime. For the game, Eason was somewhat disappointing, completing just 14 of 27 passes for 139 yards while suffering the two aforementioned interceptions.
Still, the Bulldogs’ ground game often seemed to run at will for the majority of the affair. For the game, Sony Michel rushed for 170 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries, and Nick Chubb added 22 rushes for 88 yards, including a three-yard score midway through the third quarter which gave Georgia a 24-14 advantage. Late in the quarter, Rodrigo Blankenship kicked a 32-yard field goal—his second successful three-pointer of the game—to add to the Bulldogs’ double-digit cushion.
For the first time in seven meetings between the teams (since 2009), the Bulldogs outrushed Tech’s triple-option attack (263 to 226 rushing yards). Nevertheless, the Jackets’ offense featured a new dimension in which Georgia seemingly was not expecting.
Senior quarterback Justin Thomas, who had averaged just 4.3 yards per pass attempt (146 yards on 34 attempts) in two previous games against the Bulldogs, completed just 6 of 10 passes this afternoon, but for a staggering 164 yards. Covering 78 of those passing yards, three of the six completions resulted during Tech’s two fourth-quarter touchdown drives.
For the Jackets, the win was their second in a row—both upsets—over the Bulldogs in Athens. For Georgia, the setback marked the second time this season (the loss against Tennessee being the other) it was beaten after leading by double digits in the second half. Before today, the Bulldogs had never suffered more than one such defeat since at least 1964 (and, perhaps, in their entire football history).
More so, the loss, especially how it resulted, put a near-fitting end on what has been a disappointing and inconsistent regular-season campaign for the Dogs and their first-year head coach.
“To the fans, I’m just as sick as you are, I’m just as upset as you are and I’m just as disappointed as you are,” Smart said. “We’ve got to do a better job. We recognize that … and we will.”