Georgia vs. Georgia Tech
When: Noon Saturday
Where: Sanford Stadium, Athens
TV, radio: CBS (WGCL-4, WNEG-13); 550-AM, 99.3 FM
Web site: www.georgiadogs.com
ATHENS — The only remaining championship goal for Georgia is one it has won seven straight years.
Georgia’s preseason No. 1 ranking is a distant memory; there will be no national championship for the No. 13 Bulldogs this season.
There also will be no Southeastern Conference title for the Bulldogs, thanks to lopsided losses to Alabama and Florida.
Now Georgia is left with one regular-season game against Georgia Tech to retain the state bragging rights it has held each of Mark Richt’s first seven seasons as coach.
Georgia, off this weekend, will try for its first eight-game winning streak in the series when it plays Georgia Tech next week.
Seven years is a long time in the lives of college football players and coaches.
George O’Leary was Georgia Tech’s coach for that 27-15 win over the Bulldogs in Athens in 2000. The Yellow Jackets went through coach Chan Gailey’s full six-year run as coach without beating the Bulldogs.
How long has it been? Jim Donnan was finishing his last year as Georgia’s coach on a 2000 team that featured quarterbacks Quincy Carter and Cory Phillips and running backs Jasper Sanks and Brett Millican.
In the last seven years, Georgia has had two additions to Sanford Stadium, won two SEC championships, enjoyed five seasons with 10 or more wins and played in three Sugar Bowls.
The constant in that time has been wins over the Yellow Jackets.
Next Saturday, another Georgia senior class will try to leave Athens without a loss to the team’s in-state rival.
Senior fullback Brannan Southerland says he feels the burden of continuing the streak.
"It’s something that’s special. It’s hard," Southerland said. "It’s not just this team, it’s the past seven teams. You want to continue the legacy and go out as a senior on top of Tech, your biggest in-state rival. It’s huge. We’re working hard.
"We don’t want to be the senior class that lost to Tech."
Some fans may have come to assume Georgia’s continued domination of the rivalry. Georgia has won 33 of the last 44 games. Georgia Tech’s only notable surge in the recent history of the series was three straight wins that led to Georgia’s decision to fire Donnan in 2000.
Senior Mohamed Massaquoi insists the players will take nothing for granted as they try to match Georgia Tech’s eight straight wins from 1949-56 as the longest streak in the series.
"When you’re a senior, it’s bragging rights for life," Massaquoi said.
Massaquoi said he knew nothing of the rivalry when he signed with Georgia from Independence High in Charlotte, N.C.
Massaquoi said it didn’t take long for him to learn about the importance of maintaining superiority in the state.
"You find that out quick walking through the door," he said.
"Tech is one of our biggest rivals. You see those people all the time. People here know a lot of people there. It’s a big game for everybody."
Recent close games have helped preserve the intensity of the rivalry:
— Georgia won 31-17 last year in Atlanta, but the game was tight until the fourth quarter. There were four lead changes in the first half.
— In 2006 in Athens, freshman Matthew Stafford’s 4-yard touchdown pass to Massaquoi with only 1:45 remaining gave Georgia a 15-12 win over a 16th-ranked Georgia Tech team that was headed to the ACC championship game.
— In 2005, Tim Jennings intercepted a pass with just over a minute remaining to preserve a 14-7 win over the Yellow Jackets.
The recent close scores could help keep Georgia players wary of an upset.
"The last couple of years have been tight, down to the wire, especially the last time they played here," Southerland said. "It was really tight. Even last year’s game was tight until close to the end of the fourth quarter. We have won the past seven years, but it doesn’t mean we have just gone and blown them out."
This will be Georgia’s first game against Georgia Tech first-year coach Paul Johnson. Stafford says no coaching change was necessary to keep the series intense.
"They played us tough two years ago and tough last year too until we kind of pulled away at the end," Stafford said. "Every year they have a great defense and that keeps them in games."
Georgia linebacker Rennie Curran, from Snellville near Atlanta, says in-state players understand the importance of bragging rights that are savored by fans. Curran says he regularly exchanges text messages with friends on the Georgia Tech team, including running back Jonathan Dwyer.
"I text a bunch of those guys. Roddy Jones, Nick Claytor, Dwyer," Curran said.
"Dwyer is who I see the most when I’m watching ESPN or whatever. I’ll send him a text, just to say good job or whatever. We support each other. Definitely on the field it’s going to be different because we’ll be fighting to get that win.
"A lot of us know players from over there. We don’t want to lose to those guys."