The No. 13-ranked Bulldogs (8-2, 6-2 SEC) are celebrating a watered-down SEC eastern division championship as they head to Atlanta for the 8 p.m. showdown Saturday (regional ABC-TV). They are a solid football team, but they couldn't carry Miami's or Virginia Tech's water bottles.
Fleabag fans are understandably worried that the No. 20 Yellow Jackets (7-3, 5-3 ACC), by going on NCAA probation for the first time ever, have gained a competitive edge their own team has enjoyed in 11 of the past 24 years. They will still swagger into Bobby Dodd Stadium at Historic Grant Field, decked out in Satan's colors, asking each other with tears in their eyes if they saw Herschel last week, and don't he look good? But their barking will be tentative and hollow.
It's on the football field where their real worries begin. Georgia's rushing game is nothing spectacular, and their receivers have been dropping passes like beer bottles out a car window. So how is Georgia going to move the ball effectively against the nation's No. 12 defense, that strangled Miami at Miami and Auburn at Auburn?
Georgia's pass defense is the strength of their team, but they haven't met a receiver corps as good as Tech's. They have played a team with a better running game -- Auburn, which rushed for 227 against them.
This game all comes down to Tech's play. If the Jackets hold on to the football and execute on defense, the Mutts are going to the Georgia Dome next week with three losses in their last four games. Only if Tech turns the ball over and makes errors on defense that give up big plays does Georgia have much of a chance.
This is the 100th meeting between the teams, with Georgia holding a 56-38-5 advantage and a four-game win streak. Don't expect them to add to it.
Says here the Jackets will be fired up, quarterback Reggie Ball will make up for last year's fourth-down mistake with his best game yet, and the only sounds coming from Athens Sunday morning will be church bells and the whimpering of kicked Dawgs.
Where they're coming from: The Leghumpers ran out to a 7-0 start by beating on the undeveloped (South Carolina), the overrated (Tennessee), the out-of-their-depth (Boise State) and a quartet of bums (Mississippi State, Arkansas) and cupcakes (Louisiana-Monroe, Vanderbilt). The Clarke County Curs narrowly escaped hapless Arkansas when quarterback D.J. Shockley got hurt and was replaced by Joe Tereshinski. As a quarterback, Tereshinski proved to be an excellent son of the strength and training coach, and couldn't beat a middling Florida team, giving Georgia its first loss. Shockley came back strong against Auburn just as the defense took the day off for loss No. 2. The mutts gave up 506 yards and 31 points to the Tigers at Sanford Stadium. A 48-13 win over Kentucky finally backed Georgia into the SEC championship game, courtesy of the weakest eastern division since the SEC expanded in 1992.
Mutts to watch: Shockley, a senior who waited patiently as David Greene's understudy, has had a stellar senior year. He's hitting 57 percent of his passes for over 2,000 yards and 18 touchdowns, while giving up only four interceptions. He has been sacked 13 times, but has netted 250 yards on 57 carries, with three rushing TDs. Shockley's favorite target is super tight end Leonard Pope (28 catches for a 14.6-yard average, 3 TDs). The senior-laden Georgia defense is led by hard-hitting safety Greg Blue (54 tackles, two INTs). Junior defensive end Quentin Moses is a disruptor on the pass rush, with nine sacks and 28 quarterback hurries.
Who's hurt: Georgia safety Tra Battle (concussion) is questionable. DE Charles Johnson (shoulder) is probable. Tight end Tripp Chandler (ankle) is doubtful. Return specialist Tyson Browning (broken leg), LB Tony Taylor (knee) and backup DB Antonio Sims (suspension) are out. Tech starting tailback P. J. Daniels (sternum) is questionable and offensive tackle Brad Honeycutt (leg) is doubtful. Both missed last week's Miami game.
Xs and Os: Georgia likes to keep defenses off balance by mixing short screens and draws with deeper throws and power runs. It usually works, to the tune of 30 points per game, but head coach Mark Richt noted that the passing game has suffered lately because of dropped passes (six in the first half against Kentucky). Danny Ware and Thomas Brown share tailback duties, combining for more than 110 yards a game and better than five yards per carry. Richt usually tries something tricky at least once a game, like running a successful fake punt against Kentucky. On defense, Georgia's strength is against the pass, where they are ranked 13th nationally (with 12 interceptions), as well as 13th in total defense. They are eighth nationally in scoring defense, not merely by stuffing cupcakes in their mouths; they shut down Florida (a 14-10 loss), too. Special teams are a strength, particularly in punt coverage (ninth nationally in net punting) and field goals (Brandon Coutu is 21-26 with a 58-yarder).
Key matchups: Tech DE Eric Henderson vs. Shockley When Shockley gets out of the pocket, he is equally dangerous throwing or running. Georgia can absorb the sacks it should expect from Tech's defense, but if Henderson can knock the ball loose, Georgia could be in deep trouble. Henderson has six sacks despite missing four games to injury, and caused three fumbles against Clemson and Wake Forest. Pope vs. Tech's linebackers Tech's frequent safety and cornerback blitzes often require Phillip Wheeler, KaMichael Hall and Gerris Wilkinson to drop quickly into medium-to-deep zone coverage. Not only does this give them the unenviable task of covering Pope, but they'll also need to beat his blocks on running plays and wide-receiver screens.