Tech game means more than the rest to Dawgs

ATHENS - Usually a college football player's opinion of who his team's biggest rival is changes based on that Saturday's opponent. But even a month ago, as Georgia prepared to take on the hated Gators of Florida, Greg Blue was looking ahead to this week.

"Georgia Tech is our biggest rival," Georgia's senior safety said, "because a lot of people are going to get fired if you lose."

Just ask Jim Donnan. He won more games (40) in his first five seasons as Georgia coach than Ray Goff or Vince Dooley, but he was fired nine days after dropping his third straight to Georgia Tech.

Donnan was an unimpressive 4-11 against Tennessee, Florida and Auburn in his tenure, but Goff had a far worse winning percentage against that Big Three (3-15-1) and kept his job two years longer than Donnan.

The difference? Maybe it's that Goff managed to keep the Yellow Jackets in their place in five of his seven seasons. In fact, until George O'Leary got the best of the Bulldogs from 1998-2000, the only Georgia Tech coaches to beat Georgia three times in a row had very heavy things named after them. Bobby Dodd ended up with his name on the team's stadium, and John Heisman, of course, is the namesake of the Heisman Trophy.

So, no matter the pecking order of the No. 14 Bulldogs' myriad rivalries, it seems that a loss to the Jackets stings worst of all. Georgia (8-2) plays No. 20 Georgia Tech (7-3) at 8 p.m. Saturday in Bobby Dodd Stadium.

"Most people think of them as the academic school and us as the football side," Georgia tailback Thomas Brown said. "I guess that's why people think it's so embarrassing" to lose to Tech.

Georgia leads the overall series against the Jackets 56-35-5, according to its records. Tech's records say the series stands at 56-37-5. Regardless, the Bulldogs have won four straight, 11 of the last 14 and 20 of the last 27 games.

"Tech week is so different from all the other weeks around here," said safety Kelin Johnson, a Florida native. "Just having past players come in here and talk to us about what it means to them and say, ‘You just don't lose to Tech.'"

Former Bulldogs seem to take their losses to the Jackets a little tougher than losses to other teams, quarterback D.J. Shockley said.

"You can feel their pain for other teams, but when they speak of Tech a little bit more pain comes across their face and their voice," he said.

Georgia's senior class has a chance to finish its career perfect against the Jackets, which last year's class and four classes during the 1990s did.

"With Tech, you got to the point where your senior class was expected to beat them four times, and that didn't happen for us," said running backs coach Kirby Smart, who played at Georgia from 1994-'98. "We got beat my senior year. That's what I told the guys, you don't want to go out and have your last chance be the one that lost it."

No Tech senior has left their program undefeated against Georgia since the 1950s. Until Donnan, Georgia hadn't even lost three straight to the Yellow Jackets since 1961-63. The Bulldogs' recent dominance may have taken some of the fuel from the fire, quarterbacks coach Mike Bobo said.

"If you lose to a team, that's the big rival and it's, ‘You can't beat those guys,' and if you win then, well...," said Bobo, who was 4-for-4 against the Yellow Jackets in his Bulldog career. "I think around here any one you lose is the most important of that time. That's just the way people think, but we think this is one of our biggest games, and for me it's the biggest."

It will be for a lot of other people, too... if the Bulldogs lose.

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