Most of America was shocked last week when The Citadel was tied with No. 1 Alabama at halftime. But Georgia people knew better.

The Citadel might be a tiny FCS military school and unbeaten Alabama might be the best college football team in years, but there was a common denominator at play here. The score was tied at halftime because the Crimson Tide defense simply couldn’t get off the field against the Bulldogs’ triple-option offense.

They couldn’t figure it all out on the fly, and The Citadel held a 2-to-1 edge in time of possession in the first 30 minutes. The best way to stop Alabama’s potent offense is to keep them on the bench, and that’s what The Citadel did. Hence, 10-10 at the break. Wow.

And yes, Georgia people knew better.

That’s because Georgia goes through it every year at this time in its annual season-ending showdown with Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets run that same option offense, except with bigger, faster and more talented players. That’s why they rank No. 1 in the country with 353.7 rushing yards per game, and No. 5 in time of possession. They are 7-4 on the season, and have scored 38 points or more six times this season.

And one more thing. They are a royal pain in the butt for the Georgia Bulldogs this time every year.

“I don’t care what the differential is in terms of personnel, it’s schematically a problem,” said former Auburn coach Gene Chizik, who won a national title as Auburn’s head coach (2010) and Texas’ defensive coordinator (2005) and recently faced Georgia Tech twice as UNC’s defensive coordinator. “It’s hard to duplicate in practice.

“Those defensive lineman and those perimeter safeties and corners getting cut (blocked), it’s in their head before the kickoff. They’re thinking about it.”

It’s usually the only time all year that Georgia sees the option, so preparation is difficult, especially in a week late in the season where a lot of guys are banged up and practicing in full pads with a lot of hitting is frowned upon anyway. To offset that, Georgia works on the option a little bit in practice every week during a segment of practice.

And that still might not be enough. Not only for the Georgia defense, but the offensive guys, too. That’s because the offensive guys can spend a lot of time on the sideline, watching long, time-consuming Georgia Tech drives.

Just ask Alabama. It happens.

“Time of possession problems create frustration for an offense,” SEC Network analyst Chris Doering said.  “There’s nothing worse than having to sit on the sideline and watch a game if you’re on offense. It minimizes your possessions, and you don’t have room for errors,” Doering said.

“I think it has to do with not being familiar with this type of offense and defending it, and it creates frustrations for your defense and offense.”

Like Chizik, Doering knows that defensive players hate all the cut-blocking they see in a game like this. A threat of injuries is always there.

“I think these guys, they’re just a little bit concerned with coming out of this game healthy, and if that’s in the back of their minds, it makes you a step slow, perhaps,” Doering said. “You can’t simulate the cuts that the offensive line will make on your edge defenders, one because they will get hurt, and two because they are not as familiar with blocking like that.”

Georgia hasn’t been particularly great against the run this season, ranking just 27th nationally. There are also health issues heading into the game, both along the defensive line and at linebacker, where Monty Rice got hurt in pregame warmups last week and is questionable for this game as well.

Rice did not play against UMass and Georgia surrendered 125 yards rushing in the first half. And that was UMass. What’s Tech going to do against that defense?

Georgia won easily (38-7) last year, but the two teams split the previous four meetings, with two games going to overtime and the other two were settled by less than a touchdown. Especially on the eve of the SEC Championship Game for the second consecutive year, this is one difficult game to go through.

Ga. Tech rushing vs. Georgia

Year
Rushes
Yards
Rush TDs
Score
2017
46
188
0
UGA 38-7
2016
42
226
4
GT 28-27
2015
41
194
0
UGA 13-7
2014
70
399
3
GT 30-24

Georgia’s winning formula all season long has been to grab an early lead and play from ahead. That’s even more important against Georgia Tech, to take them out of its comfort zone.

“I always want to put people down by multiple scores. I would love to get a lead, but that doesn’t put any more pressure to say that we have to have it,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said.  “You’ve got to play the game you’ve got and you’ve got to do a good job managing whatever it is, whether you’re behind, ahead, doesn’t matter.”