Nov. 29, 2003
By PAUL NEWBERRY
AP Sports Writer
ATLANTA – The first two parts of a very complicated formula fell into place for Georgia. The celebration had to wait.
The No. 5 Bulldogs did their part to get back to the Southeastern Conference championship game, beating Georgia Tech 34-17 on Saturday.
Tennessee also helped out, defeating Kentucky to create a three-way tie in the SEC East and boost Georgia’s chances of returning to Atlanta to meet West champion LSU for the conference title.
“We’ll have to wait around a little while and see if we get to come back here next week,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “Hopefully we will.”
The SEC’s convoluted tiebreaker system – hastily adopted three weeks ago to avoid the possibility of an athletic directors’ vote to decide things – is based on a combination of the BCS standings and head-to-head meetings.
Georgia (10-2) was seventh, Tennessee eighth and Florida – the other part of the three-way tie – 11th in the most recent BCS rankings.
Even if Tennessee jumps Georgia, the Bulldogs would still get the nod based on their 41-14 victory over the Vols. Florida, which beat Georgia, could reach the championship game by passing Tennessee in the BCS standings, but that seemed unlikely.
Florida had to beat Florida State on Saturday to have any chance of denying the Bulldogs. The new BCS standings will be released Sunday.
“From what we’ve been hearing, we feel like we’ve got it,” Georgia defensive lineman Ken Veal said. “It’s still in other people’s hands, but we’ve put ourselves in position to get back (to the championship game). Whatever happens, we’re excited about what we did. We’ve had a great year.”
After beating Georgia Tech 51-7 the year before, the Bulldogs got off to another quick start, scoring two touchdowns less than two minutes apart in the first quarter.
David Greene set up the first score by completing a 46-yard pass to Fred Gibson, fooling the Yellow Jackets by faking a handoff and holding the ball against his hip. But the Bulldogs needed a little luck to get it in the end zone.
On first down at the 4, Greene tried to run it in but fumbled short of the goal line. The ball rolled into the end zone, where freshman center Nick Jones fell on it for his first career touchdown.
“When we’re in practice, we talk about things like that all the time,” said Jones, who got the start only because Bartley Miller was injured. “It came true today.”
On Georgia Tech’s ensuing possession, Bryan McClendon broke through the line untouched and blocked Hal Higgins’ attempted punt. Georgia recovered at the 13, and Kregg Lumpkin ran it in on the next play to give the Bulldogs a 14-0 lead.
Georgia Tech (6-6) lost to Georgia for the third year in a row, but the Yellow Jackets are bowl eligible. If invited, they likely will wind up in either the Continental Tire Bowl or the Humanitarian Bowl.
The Bulldogs are eyeing a bigger prize – a spot in the BCS.
Georgia’s fans seemed to understand what was happening as the final minutes ticked down, knowing Tennessee had defeated Kentucky 20-7.
At one end of Bobby Dodd Stadium, they chanted “SEC! SEC! SEC!” At the other end, they performed the Florida State chop, hoping the Seminoles would make it official.
“I did see that Tennessee score a couple of times,” Richt said. “I did see they won. I can’t lie about that.”
Georgia Tech trailed 20-3 at halftime, their hopes of a comeback essentially snuffed out when freshman quarterback Reggie Ball trotted to the locker room with a possible concussion.
Ball returned after halftime without his shoulder pads, turning the game over to senior A.J. Suggs, who had not taken a snap all year. At least the Yellow Jackets didn’t get blown out again.
“Last year, we didn’t fight to the end,” Suggs said. “That’s one thing we wanted to do. No matter what happened, we were going to fight until the end.”
Suggs threw a couple of long touchdown passes in the second half, but he also had two ugly interceptions that led to Georgia TDs.
Speaking of ugly, the state rivals showed plenty of animosity for each other. Georgia was penalized five times for late hits and unsportsmanlike conduct, while Georgia Tech was flagged three times – including a penalty against Ball for shoving a Georgia trainer after being pushed out of bounds near the Bulldogs’ bench.
The officials finally called Greene and Georgia Tech linebacker Keyaron Fox to midfield, hoping to calm things down.
“There was a lot of talking,” Georgia fullback Jeremy Thomas said. “When everyone knows each other, you’ve always got something to say.”
Greene completed 16 of 22 passes for 235 yards, including an 11-yard touchdown pass to Lumpkin. The freshman running back earned bragging rights over Ball, his former high school teammate.
Georgia also got a surprising contribution from Thomas, known primarily for his blocking. He scored on a 1-yard dive and also caught five passes for 51 yards.
Georgia Tech senior Jonathan Smith stood out in his final home game, catching nine passes for 108 yards. But P.J. Daniels, the Atlantic Coast Conference’s leading rusher, played sparingly because of a concussion and gained only 30 yards.