Athens, GA (SportsNetwork.com) - Peach State rivals collide in a regular- season finale, as the eighth-ranked Georgia Bulldogs play host to the 16th- ranked Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at Sanford Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
Paul Johnson's Yellow Jackets have had another highly successful campaign. Georgia Tech is an impressive 9-2 on the year and has reached bowl eligibility for the 18th straight season. At 6-2 in ACC play, Georgia Tech has captured the Coastal Division title and spot in the ACC Championship Game across top- ranked Florida State.
While reaching the conference championship is a definite plus, Johnson knows his team hasn't achieved all its goals this season.
"I am proud to see the hard work our team has put in all year pay off with the ACC Coastal Division title," Johnson said. "We have lots of work to do over these next two weeks!"
Mark Richt's Bulldogs are still in the hunt for an SEC East Division crown and spot in the SEC Championship Game but will know its fate on Friday, as Missouri must lose to Arkansas for Georgia to get an opportunity to win the SEC. Georgia has fought through some adversity this season but has still managed a 9-2 overall record, with a 6-2 SEC mark.
These two instate rivals have met 80 consecutive seasons with this series being the 19th most frequently played rivalry in the FBS.
Johnson is still running the triple-option attack at Tech and once again, the team has excelled with it, averaging a gaudy 327.9 yards per game rushing, good for third in the country.
Tailbacks Zach Laskey (608 yards, 5 TDs) and Synjyn Days (592 yards, 3 TDs) have shared some of the workload coming out of the backfield. However, redshirt sophomore QB Justin Thomas has really given Georgia Tech's offense a different look this season. Sure he can run the option well, as evidence by his team-best 827 yards and five TDs on the ground, but he prevents teams from keying solely on the run with a strong arm. Thomas has thrown for 1,396 yards this season with 15 TDs against just four INTs.
Coach Richt commented on Thomas' talent earlier this week.
"He's very fast and very athletic," Richt said. "It seems like they're throwing the ball a little bit more with this guy. He's got a very live arm and he's got some receivers that have done a very good job of catching the ball this year. They're still kind of running their thing and (Thomas) seems to run it extremely well. They're much more versatile in the passing game from what I've seen so far."
Wideout DeAndre Smelter is clearly the top option when Thomas looks down the field, as the 6-foot-3 senior leads the team with 32 receptions, for 671 yards and seven TDs.
The Tech defense has had its ups and downs in 2014, as the team yields 24.1 ppg and just under 400 yards of total offense per outing (388.8). The Yellow jackets have been opportunistic with 24 forced turnovers, but the pass rush has been inconsistent at best, with just 16 sacks over the first 11 games. The team does boast a +10 turnover margin, a big reason for the team's overall success.
Tech's linebacker play is a strength behind steady seasons from sophomore P.J. Davis (team-high 90 tackles, 8.0 TFL, 4.0 sacks, 1 INT, 3 FF) and senior Quayshawn Nealy (75 tackles, 6.90 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 2 INT, 3 FR). Junior cornerback D.J. White (57 tackles, 3 INTs) and junior safety Jamal Golden (43 tackles, 4 INTs) are tough to throw on.
The Bulldogs had the luxury of one of the nation's premier players in the backfield coming into the season and although star Todd Gurley has produced big time when on the field (911 yards, 9 TDs in 6 games), he has suffered a couple of injuries this season, including a season-ending knee injury recently. The good news is that Richt has been able to put freshman Nick Chubb into the spot and he has literally run with the opportunity, rushing for 1,152 yards and 11 TDs on a gaudy 7.2 yards per carry.
A ground attack that generates 260. 5 yards per game (12th nationally), has made things easier on quarterback Hutson Mason, who has been efficient, completing 68.4 percent of his passes, for 1,825 yards, with 19 TDs against just three interceptions.
Seniors Michael Bennett (35 rec, 381 yds, 4 TDs) and Chris Conley (29 rec, 532 yds, 7 TDs) are the top targets in the passing game.
Like Georgia Tech, Georgia has made tons of big plays on defense, resulting in a +16 turnover margin, with 13 interceptions and 11 fumble recoveries.
The team boasts of one of the nation's top linebacking units, anchored by playmakers Amarlo Herrera (93 tackles. 10.0 TFL, 3.0 sacks, 1 INT, 1 FF), Ramik Wilson (83 tackles, 6.0 TFL, 1 sack, 1 FR), Jordan Jenkins (61 tackles, 9.0 TFL, 4.5 sacks, 2 FF, 2 FR) and Leonard Floyd (48 tackles, 6.0 sacks). Defensive backs Damian Swann (52 tackles, 3 INTs) and Quincy Mauger (43 tackles, 4 INTs) headline the play in the secondary.