With just more than three minutes left to play at Bobby Dodd Stadium Saturday, Georgia head coach Mark Richt gave a two-fold vote of confidence — he went for the field goal.
With his Bulldogs leading 30-24, it would be a 55-yard attempt for kicker Blair Walsh. If he made it, it would make it a two-score lead for Georgia.
If he missed, it would mean a short field for Georgia Tech, with a touchdown to win.
“That was a tough call,” Richt said. “I know that Blair’s very capable of making the kick. I knew if he made it, it would be very tough for them to come back. ... If you punt them down in deep, it would have been tough for any offense to go 80, 90 yards in just a matter of three minutes. It was a tough call.”
Never miss a local story.
Walsh, the Lou Groza Award finalist, had plenty of distance on the kick but pushed it to the left. His defense had his back, allowing the Yellow Jackets to get no closer than the Georgia 46.
“I knew I could have had it, but it is what it is,” said Walsh, who hit from 28, 38 and 43 prior to his second miss of the season. “There was a little bit of wind, and I didn’t play it the way I wanted to play it. I hit it well, but I didn’t aim it the way I wanted to.”
Walsh had been 4-for-4 on the season from 50-plus yards.
“It came down to Blair having the season that he’s had, making every single kick past 50 yards,” Richt said. “In pre-game warm-ups I saw what he did, I knew what his range was, and it was within his range.”
With punter Drew Butler, another national award finalist, sitting on the sidelines during a game in which neither team punted, Walsh couldn’t quite make this one. But his three earlier field goals helped Georgia top Tech.
“We just beat the seventh-ranked team in the nation, and this is what our team’s been capable of all year,” said Walsh, a sophomore. “It’s frustrating we couldn’t put it together for the entire season, but hey, never too late right?”
The turnover battle
Reshad Jones’ second-quarter interception gave Georgia just its ninth takeaway of the season, and Geno Atkins chipped in with a fumble recovery in the third quarter that gave Georgia the edge in the turnover battle for just the second time this season.
Atkins’ recovery was just the second by Georgia in 14 tries this year, but it was Jones’ pick that will make the highlight reel.
The safety made a one-handed grab and hang on the football as he tumbled to the turf for the pick, and Georgia turned the turnover into a touchdown on the ensuing drive to take a 17-3 lead.
“We were in a certain coverage and my man went away so I kind of rose to the high hole and got deep and read the quarterback’s eyes,” Jones said. “I saw him looking at his key, and I just wanted to go out and make a great play.”
Winning for Willie?
Rumors swirled before Saturday’s game that defensive coordinator Willie Martinez might be coaching his final game with Georgia, with former defensive great David Pollack even making a pronouncement on his Twitter page that he expected Martinez to depart within the next few days.
“To all, It does appear that Willie Martinez will not be back next year. Will be an interesting next 46 hours to see what happens,” Pollack wrote.
Martinez has endured two years of constant rumors and criticism as his defense has met with significant adversity during that span, allowing 34 points or more in 10 of its past 21 games entering Saturday’s contest, with last year’s loss to Georgia Tech tops among the oft-cited debacles.
But Saturday, the defense came out hungry, and it was a final stand in the game’s waning moments by Martinez’s embattled crew that proved to be the difference.
“It’s good to be on the field, we wanted to be on the field,” Martinez said about the final defensive stop. “We welcomed the challenge because we knew we could play better than we did last year in the second half. This year, I thought the guys — when things happened bad, we hung in there. The guys did a good job in adjusting to the situation.”
“I wanted to hijack it, but I thought that would be over the top,” — Georgia linebacker Rennie Curran on his plans to steal Tech’s Rambling Wreck as revenge for the Yellow Jackets’ destruction of Sanford Stadium’s famed hedges after last year’s win.