There probably won’t be many, if any, Georgia fans in attendance. The Bulldogs have their hands full with a home game against Tennessee.
But if Mark Richt looks to the stands, he should see a few friendly faces.
“When I was in Athens — my mom, my dad, my brother, my two sisters and all their families, we all lived within 10 miles of each other, maybe five miles of each other,” said Richt, who lives in Coconut Grove with his wife, Katharyn. “Everybody is still there. Most everybody there is going to go to the game. Then there’s friends. There was a lot of demand” for tickets.
Georgia Tech’s Bobby Dodd Stadium is about 70 miles from the University of Georgia, where Richt coached for 15 years. He makes his return to Atlanta on Saturday when his 14th-ranked Hurricanes (3-0) face the Yellow Jackets (3-1, 1-1 ACC) at noon (ESPN2). He’s mostly enjoyed his trips there.
He is 13-2 against Georgia Tech, a team Georgia plays to annually to close the regular season. He is 8-0 on the road, with his most recent win in the series coming last Nov. 28, when UGA beat Tech 13-7 in the final game of Richt’s tenure (Miami introduced him as its coach six days later). Richt’s only losses in the City of Atlanta have come in SEC championship games. He is 2-3.
The stakes aren’t as high Saturday, but Richt expects a raucous atmosphere in the 103-year-old stadium downtown.
“They get it going. Their students do a great job, their fan base does a great job. It’s going to be a 180-degree contrast of the scenery around,” he said, referencing UM’s most recent game, a 45-10 win at Appalachian State. “We were looking at mountains last time we played, and now we’ll be looking at mountains of buildings. Both of them have their beauty to it.”
After the game, he’ll see old friends and family members. But not before.
“We’ll be having our routine the night before the game and everything,” Richt said. “There might be a minute where I get to hug everybody’s neck, real quick. Of course, the game happens real fast in the morning. The next time I’ll see them is after the game, like any home or away game. But when you travel, you get on the plane, you get on the bus, you go to the hotel, take care of business there, you get on the bus, go to the stadium and you play. There’s not a lot of socializing during that time.”
Will his history with old friend Paul Johnson help the Hurricanes solve his triple-option offense?
“If you play them year in and year out, you’re going to have as much familiarity as anybody else,” Richt said. “Miami has been playing them every year. It’s not like this is a one-time special event. Our players are used to playing Georgia Tech every year.
“I would say this – if I was a defensive coordinator, and I was in the nuts and bolts of every single decision that’s made to try and play that offensive system – I would say maybe there would be an advantage going from where I was to here. But because I’m on offense and have always had to lean heavily on defensive coordinators to handle this detail, I don’t know if it’s a big advantage.”
Noteworthy: Several of Richt’s assistants are also familiar with Atlanta: offensive coordinator and running backs coach Thomas Brown, a UGA tailback from 2004-08 and an assistant in 2011 and 2015; tight ends and special teams coach Todd Hartley, a member of Richt’s UGA staff in 2009-10 and ’15; offensive line coach Stacy Searels (UGA 2007-10); and Richt’s son, quarterbacks coach Jon Richt. As far as players go, tight end Chris Herndon grew up in the suburb of Norcross. Quarterback Evan Shirreffs is from Jefferson, about 60 miles northeast. Fullback Marquez Williams, from Athens, is well-versed in the Georgia-Georgia Tech rivalry. Asked about Richt’s success against Tech, Williams said with a smile: “That’s what I’ve heard, and witnessed over the years.”