Dawgs take Tech out of comfort zone
An early Georgia lead forced Georgia Tech to pass, and the Bulldogs capitalized
ATLANTA -- The last thing Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson wants to do is rely on his quarterbacks putting the ball in the air.
But when Georgia scored a quick touchdown in the third quarter -- pushing its lead to 24-10 en route to a 31-17 victory at Bobby Dodd Stadium -- the Yellow Jackets had little choice but to stray from their run-first mentality.
The result was two third-quarter interceptions that led to one Bulldogs touchdown and a 34-10 advantage by the end of the period.
It was anybody's game when Georgia Tech trimmed the Bulldogs' lead to 14-10 late in the second quarter, but Georgia (10-2) deflated the Yellow Jackets (8-4) by ending the half with a 58-yard drive and a 41-yard Blair Walsh field goal just before halftime.
That was the start of a 17-0 run of unanswered points where the Bulldogs took control -- because once Tech and its ground-control, triple-option offense falls into a double-digit hole, it can be difficult to rally.
The Yellow Jackets attempted six passes in the third quarter -- but Georgia's Michael Gilliard and Shawn Williams intercepted two of them.
"We were able to get some turnovers off of that," Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. "We got two interceptions, and that goes back to the same old philosophy -- forcing them to do some things that they don't want to do, and that gives you a chance to make some plays."
Georgia Tech rushed for 243 yards on 53 carries -- far more than the 81.27 rushing yards per game the Bulldogs allowed through the first 11 games, a total that ranked second in the nation.
But the Yellow Jackets came in averaging 323.55 rushing yards per game -- also ranking second in the nation -- so they finished 80 yards below their average and posted their second-lowest point total of the season. Moreover, the Yellow Jackets had only 78 yards rushing in the second half.
"We just fought as a defense," said Georgia linebacker Alec Ogletree, who led the Bulldogs with 11 tackles. "We wanted to stop the run as best we could and make them rely on the pass. We knew they weren't that strong in passing, so when the ball was in the air, we just tried to make a play on it."
Up next is another run-heavy offense, although the LSU attack Georgia will face next weekend in the SEC championship game is much more conventional. The Tigers simply wear opponents down by slamming power runs at them again and again.
Still, most Bulldogs would say that's a style they would prefer to defend.
"It'll be much better for our defense and what we can do," Ogletree said.
Bulldogs quarterback Aaron Murray also helped Georgia achieve its 10th consecutive win by clicking in the passing game. The sophomore passed for 252 yards and four touchdowns -- hitting nine different receivers with a pass and four different teammates for scores.
That combination -- an opportunistic defense and efficient passing game -- allowed Georgia to carry a 24-point lead into the final period. Against an offense like Georgia Tech's, which is not built to rally from such a steep deficit, that all but assured Georgia of its 10th win against Georgia Tech in 11 games under Coach Mark Richt.
"For us the margin of error was small, and we didn't take advantage of a couple of opportunities that we had early," Johnson said. "When we did that, we got behind, and we could never claw ourselves back into the game."
David Ching covers University of Georgia sports for DawgNation. He can be reached at email@example.com.