The victory provided a big boost to the inaugural campaign of first-year Georgia coach Mark Richt, who also can claim a drought-breaking win at Tennessee.
"I don't think there was any time our team let its head down,'' Richt said of a game that saw Tech lead 10-9 and 17-15.
"I just can't hardly think of anything that broke down in a bad way other than the red-zone scoring. Other than that, everything went as well as I could have hoped.''
For Tech coach George O'Leary, this loss will add to the school of thought that he is less effective as a head coach without Ralph Friedgen by his side.
In his rookie season as Maryland's head coach, Friedgen won the Atlantic Coast Conference that had been predicted by many for Tech.
"Give Georgia credit,'' said O'Leary, now 3-5 against Georgia.
"I'm just disappointed from the standpoint of how we practiced and then went out and didn't sustain on offense or defense.''
|Georgia head coach Mark Richt gets dunked by Charles Grant in the final moments of the Bulldogs' 31-17 victory over Georgia Tech in Atlanta, Saturday, Nov. 24, 2001. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)|
The six field goals tied a Southeastern Conference record, previously set by three others.
Bennett was good on kicks of 40, 44, 32, 28, 37, and 45 yards. He had been only 11 for 19 in the first nine games of the year.
Wansley, meanwhile, gave Georgia its first comfortable lead with a 28-yard interception return for a touchdown, giving the Bulldogs a 28-17 lead with 8:49 left to play.
"That was huge,'' Richt said. "Timmy undercut it and did a tremendous job.''
The victory allowed Georgia seniors to salvage one win in four tries against the Yellow Jackets.
The loss was another in a series of 2001 disappointments for No. 21 Georgia Tech (7-4 overall), which had been a preseason top 10 pick.
Tech probably will have to settle for a lower-tier bowl, but it can still gain some satisfaction to the season when it finishes its season at Florida State next Saturday at 3:30 p.m.
No. 19 Georgia (7-3) has a final regular-season game left against Houston next Saturday at noon. With a win in that game, the Bulldogs might be in line for a New Year's Day bowl, possibly the Outback Bowl in Tampa.
The performances of Bennett and Wansley and more hard running by Verron Haynes, who followed his 192-yards rushing against Mississippi last week with 207 yards rushing on 39 carries.
"It's phenomenal,'' Richt said. "It's just unbelievable what he was able to do. He just has the heart of a champion. It's just a shame I figured out too late what he can do.''
In just the last two games, Haynes topped the 375 yards rushing by Brett Millican, which led the 2000 Bulldogs.
The power game gained momentum in the second half and allowed Georgia to overcome offensive breakdowns inside the Tech 20-yard line.
Thanks to Haynes, Georgia continued on the ground-control pace it set last week in a 35-15 win at Mississippi. Haynes consistently ran through tackle attempts by Tech's defense, and the game ended with Georgia at the Tech 11-yard line, allowing the clock to expire when Haynes appeared more than capable of adding one more touchdown to the victory.
Tech led 17-15 before Georgia scored 16 unanswered points.
The biggest play was Wansley's interception. The senior stepped in front of Will Glover to intercept the pass from the otherwise reliable George Godsey with 8:49 left to play.
After catching the pass near the Georgia sideline, Wansley had open field for the touchdown and a 28-17 lead.
It was only the second interception of the season for Wansley, who last year shared the Southeastern Conference lead with six. But this interception was his biggest.
Attendance at Bobby Dodd Stadium was 41,974 — Tech's largest home crowd of the year.
Georgia ranks 11th in the Southeastern Conference with its average of scoring 68.6 percent of the time it has the ball inside the opponent's 20-yard line.
Georgia actually improved its percentage of scoring in the red zone, but it continued to have to settle for field goals. Entering the game, it had only 14 touchdowns in 35 red-zone possessions.
Against Tech, penalties often were to blame for Georgia's continued pattern for misfiring inside the 20:
- In the first quarter, Georgia had a first down at the Tech 11, but two plays later tight end Randy McMichael was called for a personal foul penalty when he was drawn into an exchange by Tech fans standing on the field behind the end zone. Georgia had to settle for a field goal.
- In an example that was slightly outside the red zone, a blocked punt by Corrie Collier gave Georgia the ball at the Tech 26 later in the first quarter. A chop-block penalty led to another field goal.
- In another drive that began late in the opening quarter, Georgia moved to another first down at the Tech 11. This time it was a holding call that helped stop the drive in the red zone, bringing out Bennett for his third field goal.
- Late in the half, Georgia was in excellent position with a first down on the Tech 9, but on second down Greene threw high and wide to an open Damien Gary in the middle of the end zone, and on third down Musa Smith was dropped for a one-yard loss.
- On its first possession of the second half, Georgia had a third-and-1 play from the Tech 17 fail when Smith again was dropped for a loss of one yard.
Bennett came in for his school-record fifth field goal. It wasn't until late in the third quarter that Georgia finally crossed the goal line on a 3-yard run by Haynes. A 50-yard pass from Greene to Gibson, followed by a 20-yard run by Haynes, set up the touchdown run.
The offensive breakdowns overshadowed Tech's own woes. The Yellow Jackets were held without a first down in the first quarter and trailed 9-0 before responding with 10 straight points.
Kelly Campbell caught a 13-yard pass from George Godsey with 6:48 left in the first half for the first touchdown of the game. Georgia freshman Fred Gibson fumbled the following kickoff to set up a 28-yard field goal by Luke Manget.
Charles Odum can be reached at CEOdum@aol.com.