ATHENS, Ga. — It wasn't so much a challenge than it was a directive that Kirby Smart laid out for his University of Georgia football program this week.
Instead of putting in elaborate scheme changes or different personnel packages to try to slow down Georgia Tech's prolific option-based offense, the coach made Saturday's game plan simple. The No. 5 Bulldogs went back to basics while routing their neighbors 45-21 to end the regular season 11-1 and send the program's seniors out in style at Sanford Stadium.
"Today was about effort and backyard football," Smart said. "Much has been made about when we played and about the weather, but none of that mattered. We just wanted to go out and play old-fashioned tackle the man with the ball. You have to have that demeanor to play Georgia Tech — old-school backyard football.
"I'm just so happy these seniors get to walk out of here for the last time with a win. I thought we got great leadership from our seniors today and all week."
While the defense was holding the Yellow Jackets (7-5) to 225 yards less than their rushing average, the Georgia offense was in peak form. Sophomore quarterback Jake Fromm was 13-for-16 passing for 175 with four touchdowns, two of them to Riley Ridley.
The Bulldogs rushed for 285 yards, with 106 on 14 carries from D'Andre Swift and Elijah Holyfield adding 79 on just nine carries. Georgia scored on each of its six first-half possessions and led 38-7 at halftime.
"We liked our matchups against their defensive backs," Fromm said. "Our athletes are really good with the ball in their hands, so we wanted to get the ball to them quickly and let them make plays, and they did a fantastic job."
Georgia put together drives of 75 and 88 yards on its first two possessions. From hit senior Terry Godwin for 22 yards to get deep into Tech territory on the first series, then finished the drive with the first of his scoring passes to Ridley, a 5-yarder on second down.
Holyfield sparked the second drive with a 39-yard run, and Fromm later kept the drive going with a 1-yard sneak on fourth down. The 11-play drive ended with Swift's 1-yard run, and the Bulldogs led 14-0 with less than a minute remaining in the first quarter.
The momentum changed quickly, though, as Georgia Tech's Juanyeh Thomas returned the ensuing kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown. The sudden lift didn't last as the Bulldogs put together a crisp six-play, 63-yard touchdown drive to recapture their edge. Receiver Jayson Stanley, another senior, had a 26-yard run on the drive, which was capped by Fromm's perfect 12-yard touch pass to Jeremiah Holloman in the corner of the end zone.
The quick answer seemed to put Tech coach Paul Johnson in desperation mode. Facing fourth-and-6 from his own 48 but with it still early in the second quarter, Johnson went for it. Georgia freshman lineman Jordan Davis made him pay with a sack of senior quarterback TaQuon Marshall.
Fromm made the Jackets pay even more on the next play as he hit a streaking Mecole Hardman for a 44-yard touchdown to set up a 28-7 lead.
"It was a great time to go up top," Fromm said. "I said in the huddle, 'Let's go for it.' That was a great play call, and we schemed it up well. Anytime you have a foot race between (No.) 4 and anybody, I'll take 4. All I had to do was get it there."
Hardman was critical on the next scoring drive as well, returning a punt 27 yards to set up Georgia at the Tech 33. Five runs later, Holyfield scored on an 8-yard run. The Bulldogs added a Rodrigo Blankenship field goal to end one of the most dominating halves of football the team has played this season.
"We wanted to start fast and get up, because with their offense it's harder to come from behind," Holyfield said. "We got that quick start and just kept our foot on their throat.
Praised Smart: "Our kids came out and played fast today. I was really proud of how cleaner we played today, and by that I mean everybody doing their job. It wasn't about the points or yards; I'm happy because we were executing at a higher rate."
Smart had particular praise for his defensive line, which endured Tech's cut-blocking scheme with little trouble.
"We told (Jonathan) Ledbetter to go play like you're back in Tucker little league," he said of the senior end. "Just go play, man, go play. With Malik Herring it was the same thing. He played at Mary Persons, so he knows what it's like to go play in the dirt. You've got to go play in the dirt. They embraced it."
Contact Lindsey Young at email@example.com or 423-757-6296. Follow him on Twitter @youngsports22.