ATLANTA -- If you're associated with the University of Georgia, and if you wish to reach the College Football Playoff this season, you have this list. It's a significant one. So, during a gorgeous Saturday afternoon at Bobby Dodd Stadium, it was first things first for the No. 7 Bulldogs. They had to survive in-state rival Georgia Tech on the road.
Make that CHECK.
During the latest edition of a rivalry that folks around here call Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate, Georgia clobbered the overmatched Yellow Jackets 38-7 to move into next week's SEC championship game down the street at Mercedes-Benz Stadium at 11-1. Just like that, there are no more questions about whether the Bulldogs have fully recovered from their 40-17 whacking at Auburn two games ago after they responded with a 29-point victory at home against Kentucky before this Clean, Old-Fashioned Butt Whipping of Georgia Tech.
"Proud as hell. I'm going to be honest with you," Georgia coach Kirby Smart said later, grinning over the ability of his team, not only to win, but to hold Georgia Tech's historically accomplished running game to 188 yards, which was 131 yards below its per-game average. "It is hard to keep them from rushing for a bunch of yards. … The credit goes to them kids out there who got whacked in the knees all week [to prepare for the unique blocking of Georgia Tech's triple-option offense], and they embraced the challenge … just go play tackle football on Saturday as if nobody's watching you."
As for what's next on that list for the Bulldogs, let's just say they would like a Clean (Dirty, or Something In Between) Old-Fashioned Victory next Saturday to grab Georgia's first SEC title since 2005 against SEC West champion Auburn, which beat Alabama. If that happens, it's off to college football's final four for the Bulldogs. If they prosper during that CFP opening round, they're off to battle for their first national championship since 1980.
Georgia running back Sony Michel beamed over his team's possibilities in a backroom of the stadium.
"It's amazing. This only gives us the focus to grind and to keep doing what we've been doing," Michel said after rushing for 85 of Georgia's 247 yards on the ground, and he also added a touchdown. "Our guys on this team understand what we've got in front of us, so at the end of the day, they know what we've got to work for when we get to practice. We're going to enjoy this one a little bit, probably just for the bus ride, and then we'll leave this one behind us. I think the SEC championship game is going to be exciting to be able to go into the new dome, and it's in our state."
Yeah, and now the Bulldogs are back as kings of their state. The Yellow Jackets grabbed the crown in Athens, Ga., last year with a 28-27 victory that included some of their players plucking branches as souvenirs from Georgia's precious hedges surrounding the field.
"We wanted this so badly for our seniors, because last year left a bad taste in our mouths," Georgia linebacker Natrez Patrick said, and for verification, more than a few Bulldogs demonstrated as much with their Not So Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate activities during the game. There was trash talking and near fights along the way, but it was Georgia's dominance on both sides of the ball that bothered the Yellow Jackets the most. Sometimes, the Bulldogs tortured Georgia Tech with their suffocating rushing attack. Other times, Jake Fromm proved Georgia also has a decent passing attack courtesy of his freshman arm that kept finding receivers in the clutch. In the end, he completed 12 of 16 passes for 224 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.
Georgia defenders were the most impressive, though. They responded as if they were inside the mind of Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech's head coach and the noted architect of the triple-option offense.
Here's all you need to know about that Georgia defense: Early in the first quarter, when it appeared Georgia Tech actually had a chance, Qua Searcy ran right for the Yellow Jackets with a handoff from his 37-yard line. It's just that most of Georgia's defense was headed that way. So Searcy reversed himself in a hurry. With just wide-open spaces from the left side off the field to the end zone, Georgia Tech fans screamed like crazy.
That is, until most of Georgia's defense did the impossible by sprinting the other way to crush Searcy for only a three-yard gain.
"I think everybody did a great job of staying true to their assignments, and it basically was just to tackle the dive and to get some slides on those long tosses, and it was the discipline we had," Patrick said before describing the play of all-everything Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith, who was everywhere. "He's phenomenal. He's phenomenal. He's phenomenal. The way he attacks, and the way he studies. He's just a great, all-around player, man."
You can say the same on the Georgia offense of Nick Chubb and Michel, especially since they entered the game ranked second and fifth, respectively, in career rushing yards for the Bulldogs. Those surrounding them on that chart are a who's who of college football history, with Herschel Walker at No. 1 followed by Chubb, Todd Gurley, Garrison Hearst and Michel. It's just that Georgia also has a bunch of other impressive rushers. While Chubb and Michel are seniors, D'Andre Swift is a freshman, and the latter pushed the rout into high gear in the third quarter. After his 31-yard run to the Georgia Tech two-yard line, he finished the job by taking the next handoff into the end zone.
Somebody asked Smart what the Bulldogs can take into the SEC championship game after slaughtering Georgia Tech.
"Absolutely nothing," Smart said. "Defensively? There's not one call we called today that we can use next week. The preparation is polar opposites, but we have to practice a lot of tackling. We have to practice a lot of cutting."
Mostly, the Bulldogs have to win.
You know, to keep those checks coming.