ATLANTA - Brent Key knows it is possible for Georgia Tech to beat Georgia. He has a Governor’s Cup Trophy in his office as a reminder and, he hopes, as motivation for his players.
Key, in his first full season as Georgia Tech’s coach, played offensive guard as the Yellow Jackets won state bragging rights by beating Georgia three straight years from 1998 to 2000.
"I want guys to see that to know what that is," Key said Tuesday of the trophy. "I want them to understand the importance of this game. It’s not just another game."
The problem for Key’s Yellow Jackets is No. 1 Georgia has won the last five games against Georgia Tech and 18 of 21 since his playing days entering Saturday night’s game. The Bulldogs have outscored the Yellow Jackets 134-21 the last three years, including a 45-0 rout in 2021 and a 37-14 win last season before winning back-to-back national championships.
While state bragging rights have become routine for the Bulldogs (11-0), no Georgia Tech player has experienced the success Key remembers.
For Key, the rivalry game means everything. He says beating Georgia and qualifying for a bowl are "our true team goals." But even Key must acknowledge it hurts to see his alma mater fall so far behind the two-time defending national champion Bulldogs.
"Damn right it does," Key said before acknowledging Georgia Tech (6-5) must be more competitive in the annual battle for the Governor’s Cup.
"That’s what makes rivalries great," Key said. "... It needs to be competitive. Well, that’s on us. That’s on us at Georgia Tech."
Georgia tight end Oscar Delp, a native of Cumming, Georgia, says the Bulldogs’ dominance hasn’t diminished the rivalry.
"It is a huge one," Delp said. "The best team in the state wins. Huge trophy, huge game. They look at it every year. We look at it every year."
The 1998 game came in Kirby Smart’s last season as a Georgia safety. He has enjoyed unprecedented success in eight seasons as Georgia’s coach.
Georgia has done more than dominate the state rivalry under Smart. Smart has followed his mentor, Alabama coach Nick Saban, as the coach of the most dominant team in the Southeastern Conference and the nation.
Georgia brings a school-record 28-game winning streak into the game as it tries to become the first team to win three straight national championships in The Associated Press poll era.
With last week’s 38-10 win at Tennessee, Georgia became the first team to go unbeaten in the SEC three years in a row since the league went to an eight-game schedule in 1992.
Smart has won by maintaining focus. When asked after the win over the Vols about his team’s SEC championship game against Alabama in Atlanta on Dec. 2 and the chances for a threepeat in the playoff, Smart said "I have to go play Tech next week. That’s the perspective I have."
Georgia Tech became bowl-eligible for the first time since 2018 with last week’s 31-22 win over Syracuse as quarterback Haynes King passed for two touchdowns and ran for another. The Yellow Jackets have won three of their last four games.
Georgia Tech offensive coordinator Buster Faulkner spent the last three seasons as Georgia’s offensive quality control assistant for quarterbacks and helped to develop Stetson Bennett. Former Georgia linebackers coach Kevin Sherrer is defensive coordinator, taking over when Andrew Thacker was demoted on Oct. 1.
Both coaches dismissed the idea Faulkner’s knowledge of Georgia’s offense will be a factor in the game.
"There’s this thing called tape, and they watch it, and they see what you do," Smart said. "There’s no secrets out there."
Georgia wide receivers Ladd McConkey (ankle) and Rara Thomas (foot sprain) and defensive tackle Warren Brinson (calf) are questionable with injuries. McConkey did not play last week.
RANKING THE RIVALS
Key wouldn’t hesitate to identify Georgia as his team’s top rival. Smart takes a different approach because he knows different Georgia fans point to Florida, Alabama, Auburn and Tennessee, as well as Georgia Tech, as the Bulldogs’ biggest game.
"You’re playing for something every time you play for them because you’re playing for a state championship, so it’s important," Smart said. "They do a good job. It’s the next opponent. I don’t rank them any higher than anybody else because I look at all the games as rivalries. I let everybody else debate what’s the highest."