Welcome to the inaugural Bend-But-Don't-Break Bowl!
You can throw out the record books when these two defenses get on the field; they're liable to give up yards until the heads of their respective fans spin, then suddenly clamp down on an offense -- and each in their own distinct way.
Yes, it's Georgia vs. Georgia Tech, and Quincy Carter and Joe Hamilton are licking their chops.
Well, sort of. Both teams enter Saturday's game (noon, Channel 12) with records of 8-2, and both have had their moments defensively, but the offenses, and the quarterbacks especially, have carried each team most of the year. Georgia surrenders an average of 347 yards per game, while Tech gives up 399 yards each contest.
The Jackets have been involved in several shootouts this year, most notably their come-from-behind 41-38 win over Virginia, when the Cavaliers gained an astonishing 600 yards in their losing effort. Not a pretty day at the office for the defenders, but hey, they did win the game.
"They give up a lot of yards, but they've got one of those `bend, but don't break' defenses too," noted Carter. "Against Virginia, they were a little bit down, then they stepped it up in the second half and were able to win. They're doing some good things."
Tech has gained a bit more confidence defensively in its last three games, all victories against teams that aren't generally considered offensive juggernauts: Maryland, Clemson and Wake Forest.
Throw out those 35 points and 555 yards allowed to the Demon Deacons last week, most of which came after the outcome was clear, and the Jackets are feeling good about how things have gone. Perhaps the main reason is the team's knack for prying the ball loose from its opponent.
Tech has a plus 8 turnover margin this year (compared to Georgia's -1), and the Jackets have capitalized on their takeaways. Tech has scored an NCAA-record seven touchdowns on fumble returns this season. Georgia hasn't scored off a fumble recovery (or an interception) all year.
"Their defense has been opportunistic," said Georgia coach Jim Donnan. "They've really made some good plays in the open field...Just like our defense, they give up a lot of points and a lot of yards, but they haven't had to worry about that because their offense has scored so many points (37 per game)."
In contrast, scoring points is something Georgia's defense has been able to keep teams from doing. Georgia allows just 16.8 points per game, and has given up more than 20 points only four times all season. The main reason for Georgia's success has been its stellar defense in the "red zone," the area inside its own 20-yard line.
Georgia's opponents have penetrated the red zone 34 times this season, but have scored only 15 touchdowns. Twelve times, the Bulldog defense has shut the intruding offense out altogether.
Tech coach George O'Leary gives credit for Georgia's defensive performance to coordinator Joe Kines, whom he describes as a master of the on-the-fly adjustment.
"I look at film, and what I see are guys who, once you are successful are something, they come back and take it away," said O'Leary. "He does that very well, and I think he's very sharp as far as knowing what to try to do and sort of making you play left-handed a little bit.
"The games I've seen that people have been successful against him, or Georgia, he's come back and made the right adjustment that should have been made, and done that very quickly. I've always been impressed with Joe Kines as a defensive coach."
Not that Tech is afraid its offense will be stuck in neutral all day.
"I think we'll score points if everything runs smoothly," said wide receiver Dez White. "We've sputtered at times during the season, but last week we found a way to put everything together, and hopefully we can make that continue into this week."
And Georgia is also quite confident about its ability to move the ball against the Jackets. One man's theory holds that the Jackets can't possibly present anything Georgia hasn't seen a more difficult version of in the SEC.
"Their defense moves well, pretty quick off the ball," said Bulldog lineman Jonas Jennings. "But the competition level, I think, is different. Besides them and Florida State, I don't see much competition they've played all year. The SEC's one of the hardest divisions in the nation, so I'm pretty sure they'll be a good team, but we've played better competitors, I think."
Leave it to the players to put things into perspective while the coaches distribute platitudes all week. With their public statements, at least, the athletes are probably right on the money -- this one has all the makings of fast-break football.
And on second thought, a coach agrees:
"We'd better score some points on them," said Donnan. "Because we're not going to shut them down."
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