ATHENS, Ga. — The Georgia-Georgia Tech football rivalry may not carry the national clout of the neighboring Alabama-Auburn or Florida-Florida State clashes, but it's no less important to those involved.
Georgia junior tight end Jeb Blazevich knows how the Bulldogs and Yellow Jackets feel about one another, and he's from Charlotte, N.C.
"I went with my girlfriend to a charity run in Atlanta, and there were a bunch of Georgia Tech cheerleaders out there," Blazevich said this week. "My girlfriend was wearing her Georgia cross country and track shirt, because she's on the team, and they're cheering for all the girls as they're running down. When she went by, they started booing her, so you can't avoid it.
"The rivalry is everywhere. Even being out of state, it's something you feel."
Georgia and Georgia Tech have met in football for well over 100 years, though the exact number of meetings depends on the side. The Bulldogs hold a 65-38-5 series edge according to Georgia records and a 65-40-5 advantage according to Tech records, with Georgia not recognizing Yellow Jackets wins in 1943-44, when Tech used players from a naval officers' training program housed on its campus.
There was a time Tech owned the rivalry, with Bobby Dodd guiding the Jackets to eight straight wins from 1949 to 1956, but Georgia has been in command recently, winning 13 of its 15 opportunities under former coach Mark Richt. Saturday will mark Kirby Smart's first turn in the rivalry as Georgia's head coach.
"There are a lot of people split down the line when it comes to this game, and a lot of passion and energy goes into this game on both sides," said Smart, who beat the Yellow Jackets every year as a Bulldogs defensive back until losing as a senior in 1998. "We tell our kids all the time, 'You're remembered by what your senior class does and what your record is against Georgia Tech,' and I think it's the same as any rivalry.
"You play with emotion, but you've got to play with controlled emotion. You've got to make good decisions on the field."
There is not only state pride on the line with Georgia-Georgia Tech but conference pride as well, with Florida-Florida State, Kentucky-Louisville and South Carolina-Clemson comprising four Thanksgiving week showdowns between Southeastern Conference and Atlantic Coast Conference teams. The SEC swept all four matchups in 2009, and the ACC did the same two years ago and holds the favorites this time around except Georgia-Georgia Tech.
"I saw where Clemson and Louisville are three-touchdown favorites," Tech coach Paul Johnson said. "Florida State is a little less than that, and we are what we are. I think it is an example that the ACC does not have to take a back seat in football to anybody."
Those who question whether Georgia Tech is as big of a rival for Georgia as Florida only needs to ask a Bulldogs player who has lost to the Jackets. Richt's signing classes from 2001 to 2004 never experienced a defeat to Tech, provided they graduated in four years, and his 2009 and 2010 classes didn't, either.
Georgia's veteran players still vividly recall the 30-24 overtime loss to the Yellow Jackets two years ago in Sanford Stadium, even though the most recent outcome was Georgia's 13-7 triumph last year in Atlanta.
"The older players here have told us that every time Tech has won, they have torn down the hedges," sophomore cornerback Deandre Baker said. "We find that disrespectful, so we just want to play hard. Hopefully we can come out with a win."
Said redshirt junior nose tackle John Atkins: "That game two years ago left a big wound. This is an in-state rivalry, and you always want to be on top of an in-state rivalry."
Late East rally
SEC Eastern Division teams were just 1-9 against their West counterparts until Georgia upset No. 9 Auburn, 13-7, on Nov. 12. Last week, the East notched its third and fourth wins when Florida upset LSU and Vanderbilt upset Ole Miss.
"I think it's great for our conference," Smart said Wednesday. "I think if you ask the commissioner and the people in the SEC office, they would want balance, because it was divided and originated to hopefully have balance. Certainly it hasn't been that way, but the goal of the East is to close that off.
"You do that through development in recruiting and through game plans, building and moving on. I think the East is starting to do that, but it's not like the West is going to stop."
The final East-West matchup of the regular season takes place Friday afternoon when Missouri hosts Arkansas.
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.