When Georgia takes the field inside Sanford Stadium for the last time this season Saturday, it will be a final chance for a highly decorated crop of seniors to check one more box on their collegiate to-do list — win a rivalry week game at home.
“I want this. I know everybody on the team wants this,” senior Jonathan Ledbetter said. “Like I said, 2012 was the last time we won at home.”
The Bulldogs’ series against the Yellow Jackets has been as heated and tightly contested as ever over the past four matchups, with the road team winning each time and all but last year’s game being a one-score affair.
On Saturday, Georgia will look to buck that trend.
“I’m excited for the senior class,” head coach Kirby Smart said. “You always remember your last game at Sanford Stadium. I certainly remember mine.”
Smart’s final home game as a player also came against Georgia Tech, a 21-19 loss at the hands of the Jackets that came on a last-minute field goal.
Smart and the rest of the Bulldogs (10-1) will hope to produce different results in this year’s home finale.
“Coach Smart talks about it all the time — his senior year he left with a bad taste in his mouth,” said Buford graduate and Georgia tight end Isaac Nauta. “That’s something that we want to make sure the seniors don’t have. We want them to go out on top.”
If the Bulldogs pull off the win, the senior class will be in rare air in terms of success at the school. A Georgia victory would put the group that arrived four seasons ago at 42 total wins, good for third-best among four-year spans in program history.
Only the class of 1983, which left with 43 wins, and the class of 2005 (44 wins) had more. If the team can run the table — win in the SEC Championship, playoff semifinal game and college football championship — it would be enough to make the class the most successful Georgia has ever seen.
“They’ve done a great job for our program, and certainly me personally and our staff personally, this is kind of the group that we came in with as freshman, rising sophomores, and now they’re heading out,” Smart said. “So I’m proud of what they’ve been able to accomplish.”
Of course, this rivalry game carries implications beyond just sending the seniors off on a high note. The Bulldogs need the win to help solidify their chances of playoff qualification, should they beat Alabama a week later in the SEC Championship.
The visiting Jackets (7-4) would like nothing more than to be the team that knocks Georgia out of the running.
“We don’t really like them, and they don’t really like us,” Nauta said. “It’s just rivalry week.”
Things will be extra personal for Nauta, who said he’s looking forward to playing against one of his best friends and a fellow Buford grad David Curry, who plays linebacker for Georgia Tech.
“We’re gonna get after each other, no doubt,” he said.
Personal storylines aside, the members of the Bulldogs acknowledged that the most important thing come Saturday will be winning the game.
The seniors going out on top in their last-ever game inside Sanford Stadium would be the cherry on top.
“I’m not just playing for me,” senior wide receiver Terry Godwin said. “I’m playing for the other seniors and my other brothers. But to send this senior class out with a win at that last home game, it would mean the world.”