ATLANTA -- Will Jackson can remember watching the 2008 Georgia-Georgia Tech game from his home in Knoxville, Tenn.
Jackson had been a long-time Georgia Tech commitment, and when he saw Georgia Tech’s 45-42 win over the Bulldogs, he thought was getting in on the ground floor of a change in the way the series was headed.
Things haven’t quite worked out that way. Now a fifth-year senior, Jackson is preparing for his final opportunity to beat Georgia. There’s nothing he would like more than to end the domination endured by Georgia Tech’s biggest rival in his final game at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
“That would be huge,” Jackson said. “That’s something we’re all looking to do.”
That 2008 win was important for Georgia Tech. It ended a seven-year losing streak to the Bulldogs; Chan Gailey never beat Georgia while he was the head coach, and Paul Johnson did it his first time out. But it didn’t change the trend, and after a couple of close games in 2009 and 2010 the past two meetings have been one-sided in Georgia’s favor.
“Everybody understands it’s a huge game,” Johnson said. “Clearly our guys want to win the game. I get a chuckle out of people who tell me to make sure that our guys take the game seriously ... as if we took the game more seriously, we could play better. We take the game seriously, I can assure you.”
The game remains the biggest rivalry on the Georgia Tech schedule but has probably waned some from Georgia’s perspective. That might be the collateral damage done by Georgia’s recent dominance: Since 1991, Georgia Tech has won the game only four times. Georgia head coach Mark Richt has lost to Georgia Tech only once.
Johnson was involved with another bitter rivalry when he was the head coach at Navy. There the theme was always “Beat Army.” But that game doesn’t have the same level of vitriol the rest of the year.
“But when the game is over, the two sides will embrace, and they’ll go sing each other’s alma mater,” Johnson said. “There’s that respect, and they know that they’re going to be on the same team defending the country. Everybody doesn’t quite feel that way with this one. There are probably a lot of people who have the respect, but there are a lot of people who don’t. That’s probably the biggest difference.”
Georgia Tech likely will start 11 seniors Saturday, meaning it’s the final opportunity for players like B-back David Sims, center Jay Finch, defensive end Jeremiah Attaochu and safety Jemea Thomas to beat their biggest rival. There are 17 seniors on the team, some of whom were redshirted on the 2009 team that played in the Orange Bowl. But none have beaten Georgia.
“We know what an important game this is,” Jackson said. “I can guarantee you that every guy in that locker room knows how important it is and wants to do whatever they can to win the game.”
Johnson said this group of seniors is leaving a legacy of excellence in academics, as well as on-field accomplishments. Those players extended the program’s streak of bowl game participation to 17 years this season and last year reached the ACC championship game.
“Each football team has its own identity, and I think that’s developed from the leadership on the team,” Johnson said. “Be it the seniors, be it underclassmen or whoever. Clearly for most of the guys who come here to play it can’t just be about football. It’s got to be about academics, and that’s got to be important to them or it won’t last. They might show up, but they won’t last here very long if the academic part of it is not important to them. For the most part, that might be the one single trait that most of them have in mind.”