No. 18 Georgia Tech (8-3) at No. 13 Georgia (9-2), 12:10 p.m. CBS (WGCL-4)
Line: Georgia by 8 1/2.
Series Record: Georgia leads 59-38-5.
Last Meeting: 2007, Georgia 31-17.
What's at stake
State pride and potentially better bowl bids are on the line for both teams. Georgia Tech is still in contention for a spot in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game as well, but that hinges on the outcome of the Virginia-Virginia Tech contest. If Virginia wins, the Yellow Jackets are headed to Tampa on Dec. 6 — no matter how they fare against the Bulldogs.
Georgia Tech's defensive front, led by seniors Michael Johnson and Darryl Richard, vs. Georgia's young offensive line. Because of injuries, the Bulldogs have started five different line combinations and are on their third left tackle.
Players to watch
Georgia Tech: QB Josh Nesbitt is coming off perhaps his best game of the season in a 41-23 win over Miami. The sophomore has battled injuries and struggled to learn the intricacies of the triple-option offense, but he rushed for 93 yards and guided the Yellow Jackets to 472 on the ground.
Georgia: RB Knowshon Moreno could be playing his final regular-season game for the Bulldogs. The third-year sophomore can choose to enter the NFL draft and would appear to have little left to prove after another brilliant season with 1,244 yards rushing and 15 touchdowns.
Facts & Figures
Georgia has won seven straight over the Yellow Jackets, one away from the longest streak by either team in the series. Georgia Tech had eight straight victories from 1949-56. ... Georgia Tech S Morgan Burnett is the younger brother of Cap Burnett, who played for the Bulldogs from 1999-02. ... Georgia lists the series record as 59-36-5, refusing to count two Georgia Tech victories during World War II when the Yellow Jackets had access to players from a naval officers training program on campus. ... Georgia's opponents have the best cumulative record of any schedule in the country: 65-36.
ATHENS — Paul Johnson smirked when someone asked for a quick comparison between the two coaches who'll be facing off for the first time in the Georgia Tech-Georgia rivalry.
"What? He's a good guy and I'm a bad guy?" said Johnson, Georgia Tech's first-year coach. "I guess I'm Dr. Evil."
While neither will take a snap today, the two guys running things on the sidelines provide a compelling contrast that could add a spark to this one-sided series.
Richt is already a revered figure at Georgia, which is on the verge of its sixth 10-win season in his eight years as coach. Johnson is a rookie to the rivalry, but he certainly wasted no time trying to get under the skin of the Bulldogs by repeating a familiar cheer at booster club meetings.
"When you say 'To hell with Georgia,' they clap really loudly. That's why you say it," Johnson said. And what about Georgia fans who've complained? "My concern about the Georgia people is very minimal," he replied. "They're not paying my salary."
Richt has built a sterling reputation as a churchgoing family man who, at times, seems almost two good to be true.
He and his wife already had two children when they adopted two more from an orphanage in the Ukraine, inspired by a Sunday school lesson that challenged everyone to do more for the world's needy. Richt never curses and will always interject "bless you" when a member of the media sneezes during one of his news conferences.
Not exactly another Woody Hayes, though Richt does play a bit of good cop-bad cop by surrounding himself with salty mouthed assistants and laughing off complaints about his offensive line coach Stacy Searels, who refuses to talk with reporters.
Richt also began showing a bit more of his personality after giving up the offensive play-calling duties to coordinator Mike Bobo late in the 2006 season.
"When I called the game, I had to stay calm so I could think straight and make the best decisions for my team," Richt said. "Now that I'm not making as many decisions throughout the game, I have more time be outwardly emotional and still keep my head in the game for the decisions I do need to make."
Johnson approaches his job with a bit of a disdain for those who don't measure up to his exacting standard, whether it's a player who keeps making the same mistake in practice, a journalists who asks what he deems to be a silly question — or even his own child.
"I'm pretty demanding in that I have high expectation levels for people," he said. "Not just in football. My wife tells me sometimes I'm hard on my daughter that way. She makes a 95 on a test and I wonder why she didn't make 98. That's just my nature."
During his very first game at Georgia Tech, Johnson was photographed going face-to-facemask with freshman Embry Peeples, yelling at the youngster while holding a fistful of his jersey. Clearly, this coach will not stand for mediocrity that prevailed under previous coach Chan Gailey, whose teams were always good enough to go a minor bowl but never accomplished much more than that.
Johnson was expected to have a rough debut season, especially since he was switching from a pro-style offense to the triple-option, but the 18th-ranked Yellow Jackets (8-3) have exceeded all expectations. They can even claim a spot in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game if Virginia beats Virginia Tech in a contest that kicks off at the same time today.
"I don't have any doubt that I'm pretty intense most of the time," Johnson said. "My goal in coaching is to have players come back later and say, 'Coach, I just want to thank you. I don't know if I liked you much when I played for you because you were on me all the time. But now that I'm gone, I realize how much that helped me and raised my expectation level in what I'm doing.'"
Richt is rarely seen yelling at his players, at least in public, but there's no doubt he demands the same level of commitment and dedication. In a sign of just how far he's taken this program, No. 13 Georgia (9-2) is viewed as a bit of a disappointment despite being on the cusp of double-digit wins.
The Bulldogs started the year ranked No. 1 but won't even get a chance to play for the Southeastern Conference championship. Still, Georgia can bolster its bowl standing and maintain the state's pecking order with an eighth straight win over the Yellow Jackets.
But as soon as Johnson was hired by Georgia Tech, Richt knew his team would have its hands full at the end of each season trying to defend a run-oriented offense that is largely unseen at the major-college level.
"You just shake your head and know it's going to become an issue on preparing for them," Richt said. "It's just so different than anything else that we see. It's just very difficult to simulate and prepare for."
Johnson, of course, knows he can give his program a huge image boost by knocking off the Bulldogs in his very first try.
"All the talking in the world is not going to change it," he said. "We've got to go out and win the game if it's going to become a rivalry. We'll go play and see if we're good enough. Most people would think we're not right now. I doubt we'll be favored by anyone. My job as the coach here is to get us to the point where we are favored some time.
"Now, does that mean I don't think we have a chance this year? Nope."