Rapid Reaction: Yellow Jackets sting Bulldogs with late touchdown
Georgia gave up a 13-point, fourth-quarter lead to Georgia Tech, which scored the go-ahead TD with 30 seconds left for a 28-27 victory over the Bulldogs in Athens.
Behind terrific offensive line play, Nick Chubb and Sony Michel enjoyed big outings and helped power the Bulldogs’ offense to one of its strongest performances of the season, but it wasn’t enough.
Georgia struggled defensively in the first half and again late as Georgia Tech took advantage.
What it means
Georgia saw its three-game win streak snapped, and the team caps Kirby Smart’s first season as head coach on a very sour note.
Before the year began, many fans just wanted to see improvement from the young players as the fall progressed. It’s safe to say that was largely accomplished, which bodes well for the team’s future, but this one will hurt.
What I liked
Georgia’s offensive line: One of the most criticized aspects of the Bulldogs’ team this year was a strength against Georgia Tech. From the beginning, it was clear that Kirby Smart and Jim Chaney wanted to run the football, and the offensive line made that possible.
Georgia ran the ball 8 times for 56 yards on its opening drive and had 175 rushing yards in the first half while averaging 7 yards per carry. Noticeably lacking for much of the season were explosive run plays. The offensive line’s performance allowed Chubb and Michel to reach the second level early and often on Saturday. The team finished with 263 yards and 6.3 yards per rush.
Second-half defensive adjustments: It looked like Georgia’s defense was in for a long afternoon when Georgia Tech covered 75 yards in four plays to take an early 7-0 lead. The Bulldogs buckled down more often after that drive but still allowed the Yellow Jackets to gain 201 yards and average 7.7 yards per carry in the first half.
After halftime, it was clear Georgia made some adjustments that proved to be effective. The Bulldogs’ defense held Georgia Tech to only 21 yards in the third quarter and looked much more comfortable shedding blocks and stringing out the quarterback and pitch man. However, it was a different story in the fourth quarter as the Yellow Jackets outgained the Bulldogs 168-34.
What I didn’t like
Riley Ridley’s drop on the first drive: Georgia hasn’t struggled to move the ball on most of its first offensive possessions this season, and that continued Saturday. The Bulldogs began the drive at their own 16-yard line and covered 59 yards behind a heavy dose of Chubb and Michel.
On 3rd-and-3, however, Jacob Eason hit Ridley in stride for what would have been a first down had Ridley not lost the ball while turning upfield. To make matters worse, Rodrigo Blankenship missed the ensuing 42-yard field goal, and a promising drive ended with 0 points.
Giving up explosive plays on defense: Slowing down Georgia Tech’s triple-option offense is no easy task, but the Bulldogs struggled to limit explosive plays. The Yellow Jackets had a number of gashing runs on their first possession, which ended with a 42-yard touchdown run.
Georgia’s defense was also caught sleeping on a 64-yard pass early in the second quarter, which helped Georgia Tech score its second touchdown of the game.
Who’s the man: Michel may be considered “1B” to Nick Chubb, but he looked like an elite player between the hedges. With several big runs, including 29- and 42-yard gains, Michel sparked Georgia’s offense.
What’s next: All that remains for Georgia is the bowl game, which will be determined in the coming weeks. Ending the year on a four-game win streak would’ve helped build momentum, but the Dawgs will have to find that momentum in the postseason.
William McFadden covers the University of Georgia for Saturday Down South. For news on everything happening between the hedges, follow him on Twitter @willmcfadden.