Georgia-Georgia Tech Preview
By MATT BECKER
(AP) -- Led by one of the nation's top defenses, Georgia has earned a berth in the SEC title game for the first time in six years.
Mark Richt's team doesn't have time to savor this accomplishment after an inauspicious start to the season, however. Not when it still must face in-state rival Georgia Tech and its potent spread option offense that has given the Bulldogs problems in the past.
Seeking a 10th straight victory, No. 13 Georgia looks to slow down the 25th-ranked Yellow Jackets as they meet Saturday in Atlanta.
After opening the season with back-to-back losses to No. 5 Boise State and 12th-ranked South Carolina, leading many to call for Richt's job, the Bulldogs (9-2) have rallied to win nine straight games, their longest single-season winning streak since an 11-0 regular season in 1982. They defeated Kentucky 19-10 last Saturday to win the SEC East for the first time since 2005 and secure a spot in next Saturday's conference title game.
"It's hard to win nine in a row, especially when you need every single one to get back to the (Georgia) Dome," Richt said. "I'm just so proud of them."
The defense once again led the way against the Wildcats, while the offense struggled to move the ball without its top two running backs. Georgia held Kentucky to 165 yards - including 23 on the ground - and forced four turnovers. It was the fourth time during the winning streak the Bulldogs held an opponent to fewer than 200 yards.
Georgia ranks fourth in the FBS in total defense (263.5 yards per game) and second in rush defense (81.3), but could have its hands full trying to stifle Georgia Tech.
Running their spread option, the Yellow Jackets (8-3) are second in the nation in rushing (323.5). Georgia Tech, which has already been eliminated from ACC title game contention, amassed 549 total yards in last Saturday's 38-31 win over Duke, as quarterback Tevin Washington passed for 185 yards and ran for 136.
Washington's 849 rushing yards are fourth-most among quarterbacks, and although he isn't asked to pass much, the Yellow Jackets routinely move the ball when he puts it in the air. The junior leads the nation with an average of 11.9 yards per attempt for players with at least 10 passes.
Washington threw for 101 yards and rushed for 73 with a pair of touchdowns in last season's 42-34 loss to Georgia.
"We know we've got to change gears here real fast as Georgia Tech is such a huge game for us," Richt said.
The Yellow Jackets have given the Bulldogs trouble in the last three meetings, averaging 34.3 points and 341.7 rushing yards. Despite struggling a bit defensively, Georgia has won two straight over Georgia Tech since a 45-42 loss in 2008, its only defeat in the last 10 meetings.
The Bulldogs' offense has played a big role in winning the last two in the series, but it didn't do much last week.
Georgia finished with 317 total yards and scored its lone touchdown in the final quarter. Some of the struggles stemmed from playing with a depleted backfield.
Freshman Isaiah Crowell lasted only two carries before leaving with an ankle injury and Carlton Thomas did not play after breaking a team rule.
Richt expects Crowell, who ranks fifth in the SEC in rushing with 832 yards, to play, but isn't certain if Thomas will see the field. Thomas is second on the team with 327 rushing yards.
Without much help in the backfield, Aaron Murray had a tough time against Kentucky, completing 16 of 29 passes for 162 yards with a touchdown and interception. He had nine TDs without a pick in his previous two games.
As a freshman last season, Murray was solid against Georgia Tech, going 15 of 19 for 271 with three touchdowns.
Like the Bulldogs, the Yellow Jackets were also without one of their top running backs last week, as junior Orwin Smith was sidelined with an undisclosed injury. Smith is third on the team with 570 rushing yards and averages 10.8 yards per carry, and his status is uncertain. He ran for 39 yards on eight attempts against the Bulldogs last season.
Updated November 22, 2011