ATLANTA — Mark Richt trotted over to a corner of Bobby Dodd Stadium, where the Georgia band played and the red-clad faithful had nothing but cheers for the embattled coach.
Richt has another win over his state rival.
He can only hope it’s enough to keep his job.
Sony Michel rushed for 149 yards and scored Georgia’s lone touchdown on the first possession of the game Saturday, enough for the Bulldogs to pull out an ugly 13-7 victory over Georgia Tech.
While hardly an impressive effort, Georgia (9-3) got back on the winning side in this bitter rivalry and put Richt in position for the 10th double-digit-win season of his 15-year tenure with a bowl victory.
That may be enough to keep his job after a disappointing season in which the Bulldogs started as the clear-cut favorite in the Southeastern Conference East, only to get blown out by both Alabama and Florida.
Richt certainly expects to remain in charge of the Bulldogs.
No matter what happens, the deeply religious coach seemed at peace.
“I think the Lord is in charge of everything and I’m fine with whatever he has in store for me,” Richt said. “But I think the plan for me is to get on the recruiting trail and to keep nailing down a great class and getting prepared for this bowl game and getting prepared for the future at Georgia.”
For Georgia Tech (3-9), it was the fitting close to a dismal season. The Yellow Jackets, who went 11-3 and won the Orange Bowl last season, lost nine of their last 10 games to finish with their worst record since going 1-10 in 1994.
“I think sometimes guys take winning for granted,” coach Paul Johnson said. “It’s unacceptable.”
Richt’s future was the leading storyline going into the game, with plenty of speculation that another season coming up short of expectations might be enough to lead to the school’s first coaching change since Jim Donnan was fired after the 2000 season.
But Richt’s supporters can point to a four-game winning streak since a 27-3 loss to Florida, and the coach improved to 13-2 in his career against Georgia Tech, another big notch in his favor. The Yellow Jackets won 30-24 last season in a wild overtime game in Athens, but they squandered their best chance of pulling off another upset with a pair of turnovers in Georgia territory on Saturday.
Greyson Lambert turned in a solid effort for Georgia, completing 18 of 25 passes for 224 yards.
Most important, Georgia didn’t turn the ball over. The Yellow Jackets coughed it up three times.
For Malcolm Mitchell and the other Georgia seniors, it was an especially satisfying win after last year’s excruciating defeat.
“Before last year, I hadn’t lost to them, so I didn’t know the feeling,” Mitchell said. “It was terrible, actually. So I didn’t want to feel that again.”
Georgia Tech did manage to avoid its first shutout since 1997, finally scoring on Justin Thomas’ 15-yard touchdown pass to Ricky Jeune with 3:24 remaining. But Georgia fell on a pooch kick deep in its own territory, and Lambert connected from his own end zone on a gutsy 25-yard pass to Jeb Blazevich to help the Bulldogs run out most of the clock.
Georgia Tech’s last-gasp pass was intercepted for its final turnover.
“They did a good job protecting the ball,” Yellow Jackets cornerback D.J. White said. “They didn’t put their quarterback in position to make too many mistakes.”
Georgia jumped ahead less than five minutes into the game.
After driving to the Georgia Tech 34 on the opening possession, the Bulldogs passed on a long field goal attempt and handed the ball to Michel on fourth-and-1. He got a huge block on the edge from right tackle John Theus, and kept right on running to the end zone without being touched.
Marshall Morgan added a couple of field goals, pushing the lead to 13-0.
Georgia Tech’s late touchdown extended its scoring streak to 237 consecutive games. The Yellow Jackets also skirted the embarrassment of their first home shutout since a 7-0 loss to Georgia in 1957.
That was little consolation.
“A microcosm of our season,” Johnson moaned. “But it’s all stuff I think we can fix. And I’m hell-bent to get it fixed.”