Athens, Ga. —Georgia Tech held its own against the nation’s top-ranked team for much of the game, but No. 1 Georgia Bulldogs pulled away late to beat the Yellow Jackets, 37-14, on Saturday afternoon at Sanford Stadium.
Stetson Bennett threw two touchdown passes and Georgia completed back-to-back undefeated regular seasons for the first time in school history by overcoming a lethargic start in the first half.
“It is special,” said Bennett of the undefeated regular season, “but we didn’t enter this season trying to go 12-0. We want to go 15-0.”
Georgia was losing 7-0 early and led 10-7 at the break. Georgia Tech bullied the Yellow Jackets (5-7) with their running game to score 37 unanswered points and seal their fifth consecutive win in the state rivalry.
The Yellow Jackets took the opening kickoff and moved the ball 75 yards in 11 plays for the score, highlighted by a 34-yard pass from Zach Gibson to Nate McCollum on fourth-and-nine and capped by a 7-yard touchdown run by quarterback Taisun Phommachanh.
The Jackets – only the third team to lead UGA at any point of a game this season – went on to outgain the Bulldogs, 187-153, in the first half.
Making only his third start, Gibson completed 19-of-35 passes for 191 yards – all career highs – and engineered touchdown drives of 75 and 65 yards to lead the Yellow Jackets’ offensively. McCollum led all players with six catches for 65 yards, giving him 60 receptions for the season, the seventh-most in Georgia Tech single-season history and the most by a Yellow Jacket since Calvin Johnson hauled in 76 receptions in 2006.
An bad snap on a punt and a fumble – led to the Bulldogs scoring 13 points in a span of just 6:29 to turn the slim 10-7 lead into a 23-7 advantage. The Bulldogs got a pair of touchdowns early in the fourth period to seal the contest.
Yellow Jackets running back Dontae Smith closed the scoring with a 24-yard touchdown pass to Malachi Carterwith 2:55 to go in the game. The scoring strike came on the first pass attempt of Smith’s career.
Tech’s defense – which limited the Bulldogs to 406 total yards, the Bulldogs’ third-lowest offensive output of the season – was led by linebackers Ayinde Eleyand and Charlie Thomas, who led all tacklers with 11 and eight stops, respectively. Eley and Thomas closed the season with 118 and 112 tackles, which were the most by any Yellow Jackets since P.J. Davis racked up 119 stops in 14 games in 2014.
“I really wasn’t happy with the way we started today but we still scored 37,” Bennett said. We ran the ball really well today.”
The defending national champion Bulldogs are in good position to retain their top College Football Playoff ranking entering next week’s Southeastern Conference championship game against No. 6 LSU.
Kenny McIntosh and Kendall Milton ran for touchdowns. The Bulldogs outrushed Georgia Tech 264-40.
“Every drive we ran the ball, the running backs stepped up and answered the bell,” McIntosh said.
Mistakes in the third quarter hurt the Yellow Jackets’ chance at spoiling the Bulldogs’ history-making day. Following a low snap, punter David Shanahan was tackled at the Georgia Tech 17-yard line. That set up Bennett’s second scoring pass, a 1-yarder to tight end Brock Bowers on a fourth-down play.
“We made some mistakes in the second half and couldn’t sustain some drives,” Georgia Tech interim coach Brent Key said. ” We can’t have those in big games like that, especially when you know going into it that it’s going to be a field possession game and they have an explosive offense.”
With the loss, Georgia Tech closed the season at 5-7 overall, its best record since 2018, when it finished 7-6.
Georgia Tech finished the season at 4-4 under interim head coach Brent Key.
Georgia Tech was 4-4 with Key after Geoff Collins was fired. The Yellow Jackets fell short in their bid to become bowl eligible for the first time since 2018.
“As the game went on, we started to wear down a little bit,” Key said. “… Credit to Georgia and their football team. I didn’t see any quit on our team.”
The key piece of Smart’s quick wardrobe change before his postgame news conference was a tie often worn in games by former longtime coach Vince Dooley, who died on Oct. 28 at the age of 90. Following a celebration of life for Dooley on Friday night at Georgia’s Stegeman Coliseum, Smart was given the tie by Dooley’s family.
“He did it right for so many games,” said Smart of Dooley, whose record was 201-77-10 while coaching the Bulldogs from 1964 to 1988, including six SEC titles and the 1980 national championship.
Smart said he didn’t wear the Dooley tribute attire — including white shirt and sweater without his normal visor — during the game because he didn’t want to take attention away from his seniors.
Georgia should protect its No. 1 positions in the AP Top 25 and College Football Playoff ranking.
Georgia Tech: Opens its 2023 season against Louisville on Sept. 2 in Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
Georgia: Plays in the SEC championship game for the fifth time in six years when it faces No. 6 LSU next Saturday in Atlanta.