Georgia, Georgia Tech head into conference play with uncertainty

Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson (left) and Georgia’s Kirby Smart, here after last year’s meeting in Athens, both will have their teams open conference play this week. (Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

Georgia is 3-0. But it’s a September 3-0. Two of those wins came over opponents (Appalachian State, Samford) that were paid $1.75 million in exchange for a likely beating in Athens, and the SEC schedule is devoid of such checkbook assurances.

Georgia Tech is 1-1. It would be 2-0 if not for a turnover and a defensive collapse against Tennessee. The offense has piled up 78 points and 745 rushing yards in two games despite losing its starting quarterback and two best running backs, but the resume is too short to make assumptions because a third game was voided by a hurricane.

“We’re still trying to gauge and prod and figure out who we are,” coach Paul Johnson said Tuesday. “We’ll find out on Saturday.”

Yes. It’s full-exposure week. College football season begins in earnest, with most SEC and ACC teams beginning conference play.

Johnson has to impress his boss. Smart has to impress everybody else.

It would seem there’s significantly less pressure on Johnson than Smart. He has a nice resume as a head coach at Tech: an ACC championship (later vacated by the NCAA), four division titles, two Orange Bowl appearances, three Top 25 finishes (including No. 8 in 2014), a near .600 winning percentage and three wins over Georgia in Athens. He’s at a program not accustomed to such success.

Johnson also appears to have an ally in new athletic director Todd Stansbury, who was hired about this time a year ago. Stansbury is working to upgrade facilities and going through Johnson’s wish list. But the Jackets have not been a factor in the ACC race the past two seasons, and there’s a general rule in sports: For every facilities/financial upgrade, there’s going to be an increased expectation level.

Few expect Tech to finish ahead of Miami or Virginia Tech in the ACC’s Coastal Division. But Tech was out of the ACC race too early the past two seasons, finishing 1-7 in 2015 and 4-4 last season after a three-game skid (Clemson, Miami at home, Pittsburgh) dropped the Jackets to 1-3.

The loss to Mark Richt and the Hurricanes included two early fumbles that led to Miami touchdowns and a 28-7 deficit. The lost to Pitt may have been worse: The Jackets led 34-27 lead going into the final minutes, allowed a 74-yard touchdown on a tipped pass, then basically handled the Panthers the winning field goal when Johnson inexplicably decided to go for it on fourth-and-1 from his own 34, only to see Dedrick Mills get stuffed at the line of scrimmage.

These meltdowns are not easily forgotten.

Tech opens ACC play with home games against two beatable opponents (Pittsburgh, North Carolina), before a five-game stretch that includes Miami (road), Clemson (road) and Virginia Tech (home). Johnson isn’t sure what to think of his team after a double-overtime loss to Tennessee and a win over Jacksonville State. The cancellation of the Central Florida game led to more rest and practices, but fewer game conditions to evaluate players.

“When you’ve got a lot of young guys who haven’t played, you lose those game reps that you don’t get in practice,” he said. “You try, but it’s not the same.”

The pressure on Smart is more pronounced. The Bulldogs are favored to win the SEC East. Florida and Tennessee, their seemingly strongest competition, played a sloppy game last week in Gainesville. Mississippi State, Saturday’s opponent, destroyed LSU last week, but MSU is a much stronger team in Starkville than on the road, and people were overrating LSU after wins over BYU and Chattanooga.

Smart needed the win at Notre Dame on his resume. But lose to any of the next four opponents – Mississippi State, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Missouri – before Florida week and watch how quickly the good vibes go away.

Safety J.R. Reed gets it.

“I know some people thought Notre Dame was a statement game,” he said. “But I think this is a statement game for us, to see where our team is really at, to see how we’ll play in the SEC.”

Reed said game preparations for Mississippi State aren’t any different than they were for Samford, but, “In the back of your mind you think, ‘Hey, this is the SEC. We’ve got to win.’ If we want to go anywhere, bowl-game-wise, playoff-wise, we have to play well on Saturday.’

“It (feels) different. A little bit more excitement. A little bit more heart pounding. And I’m ready to go.”

The Notre Dame game showed the Dogs can win a difficult road game (albeit in a stadium half-filled with Georgia fans). But beating Mississippi State is needed to jump-start their conference season.

“I’m not going to sit here and say we’ve arrived because I don’t think that’s the case,” Smart said. “I think we’ve improved. I think we have to continue to improve to beat the teams we have on our schedule.”

Georgia and Georgia Tech each play eight consecutive conference games starting this week. Soon, nobody will have to guess how good these two are.

Subscribe to the,We Never Played The Game” podcast with the AJC’s Jeff Schultz and WSB’s Zach Klein on iTunes. Episodes also can be downloaded from on-demand link on WSBRadio.com.

⇒ Fresh episode of “We Never Played The Game” podcast: click here.

Digital jukebox

Reader Comments 0

288 comments
peyaxeb
peyaxeb

I saw the receipt that said $6460 , I did not believe ...that...my mother in law woz like they say actualy earning money in their spare time from their computer. . there aunt started doing this for under thirteen months and recently cleard the depts on there mini mansion and bourt a great Aston Martin DB5 . go to this website....

>>>>>>>.www.2morepath.com

TideDawg
TideDawg

Regarding James Franklin.....is doing the unthinkable, running up scores on helpless teams, etc. a guideline for Big 10 coaches. In Franklin's case, I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt for what he offered as a defense. Didn't Urban Meyer do something in a Ga. game that was not sportsman like? Obviously voters that rank Big 10 teams so high are impressed by their teams crushing a nobody with big scores. Woody Hayes, Schembecler (sp) always liked to run up scores.

Big Wally
Big Wally

@OH:IO I guess ole cry baby Meyer shouldn't have kept throwing the kid back on the field all the time if he had concussions. 

twelveofthirteen
twelveofthirteen

Keep obsessing and reading UGA articles little ten.

Guess 62-16 does that to a clown like you.

Blame it on the kickers

OH:IO
OH:IO

@twelveofthirteen


Give us more, about the kickers that is. With perspective, sparky. 


And what by the way, is "Bawah" and "wahwa", "clown"? Needing a bottle and a potty?

TOJacket
TOJacket

dawgphlem...Embarrassing choke job?...27-14 end of the 3rd quarter at Sanford and son...final 28-27...do you ever think before you post your ridiculous sheet?...Haha!!...too easy with you mutts.

dawg fan
dawg fan

@TOJacket  We weren't pounding our chests about what a great season we had you effing idiot.  We are embarrassed and dismayed by a loss to such a pile of crap program such as Georgia Tech.  You can bet your bottom dollar Kirby won't be around long if this keeps up.  Meanwhile, you idiots think your big mouthed hillbilly coach is some genius because he's .500 in ACC play.  It's absolutely hysterical how stupid you are. 

TOJacket
TOJacket

@dawg fan @TOJacket You said our loss was an embarrassing choke job of epic proportions...like our game last year...who was pounding anything moron.

dawg fan
dawg fan

Tech is 1-1 and their loss was an embarassing choke job of epic proportions.  To most fan bases this would be significant cause for concern and they probably wouldn't be flapping their gums about other teams right now.  Just another day at the office for Tech fans though.  They don't care.  They have such laughably low standards for their embarrassment of a football program and somehow in their twisted little minds they think this is a GOOD thing.  Wow.  I agree.  WORST FANS IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL.  By a long shot. 

TOJacket
TOJacket

@dawg fan 2 of 3 and get ready for more whining and disappointment from the most over rated CFB team in history...Haha!!!

SvenOttke
SvenOttke

How is beating a 4 win team with a Junior High offense a statement game?  ND is gosh-awful.  Please.

dawg fan
dawg fan

@SvenOttke  Nobody has said it was a statement game you dumb idiot.  Absolutely no one.  Please seek help for the voices in your head. 

ToeMeetsLeather
ToeMeetsLeather

Good read Jeff.


I will continue to enjoy seeing UGA lose to teams that they shouldn't lose to, but it would be cool(I guess that word dates me) to see both teams show up at Bobby Dodd in late November undefeated.


I think we go 7-4, and yes, we gave the TN game away. 

Big Wally
Big Wally

@ToeMeetsLeather I continue to enjoy watching a half empty Bobby Dodd Stadium when Tech plays. Worse fans in college football.  Judging comments from you and TO, I'd have to say what few fans they have are not very bright either.

ToeMeetsLeather
ToeMeetsLeather

Classy response. You represent the black and red well big guy.

dawg fan
dawg fan

@ToeMeetsLeather  I will continue to enjoy seeing Tech lose to teams it should most definitely lose to and then watch their stupid dumb as a rock fans pretend this is somehow a better situation. 

TOJacket
TOJacket

@Big Wally @ToeMeetsLeather Have you enjoyed us thumping your mutt butts the last 2 of 3...and why pick on TML...oh that's right...that's what you children do.

TOJacket
TOJacket

@SvenOttke @Big Wally @ToeMeetsLeather What does the trophy look like you get for having 93,000?...heck I hope you can pile 5-10 thousand more in 2018 to watch us plant that flag again and trim those ugly a$$ bushes.

OH:IO
OH:IO

@twelveofthirteen


If you keep making fun of "old" it will never catch up with you, right "clown"?

twelveofthirteen
twelveofthirteen

What program had a post season ban as recently as this decade and this century?

What I thought. You started this comparison and it's one you can't win with that tarnished little ten embarrassment called freetatgate!

Let me know when our program gets banned, vacated or loses scholarships you Idiot!

#freetatgate

TOJacket
TOJacket

@twelveofthirteen Or gives swimmers passing grades when they don't go to class?....signs mini-footballs in the backseat of a car?....and can guarantee you passing out bags of $$ to these top recruits you're getting....why the heck else would they go to UGA?

dawg fan
dawg fan

You are a worthless liar. You constantly spread that bullschitt about UGA paying recruits. It is absolutely pathetic that you are so owned by a college football program that you stoop so low as to make up lies about it. That is really sad pal.

What's even more sad is that you know everything I say about your pizz ant little joke of a half azzed football program on North Avenue is 1,000 percent true. No lies necessary to put the Joke in its place.

You are one sad little Techie.

twelveofthirteen
twelveofthirteen

Don't start TO buttnut suckup.

You vacated wins and went on probation as well.

We haven't!

twelveofthirteen
twelveofthirteen

Starting to sound desperate. If you are going to claim we cheat in football back it up.

dawg fan
dawg fan

They are true. Why don't you address what a two bit liar you are coward.

dawg fan
dawg fan

FACT: Georgia Tech is barely a .500 football team the past half decade and if you take out all the cupcakes they aren't. Again, no lies necessary to put this joke of an embarrassing football program directly in its place.

So I guess half the teams on your schedule every year are cheaters you lying coward?

Georgia Tech fans are an embarrassment to the game and this state.

TOJacket
TOJacket

@dawg fan It's easy to see how UGA got 8-9 of the top 11 players in the State...those impressive games against TN, Vandy and GT....that and beating one of the worst FCS schools in the country by 2 points...maybe if Vandy and the Jackets thump you again you can get all 11?

twelveofthirteen
twelveofthirteen

Considering you haven't beaten us at the Joke since 1999 I like our chances.

twelveofthirteen
twelveofthirteen

Not really. That gives you 3 wins in 16 season so math may not be your strongest subject but that isn't a good %.