By Loyd McIntosh, Sports Editor
ATLANTA — Interim Georgia Tech Head Coach and Trussville native Brent Key faces the toughest test of his coaching career on Saturday as he leads the Yellow Jackets into Athens in the annual rivalry game with the Georgia Bulldogs.
After taking over following the firing of Geoff Collins in late September, Key has led Georgia Tech to a 5-6 record, one win away from achieving bowl eligibility for the first time since 2018. To qualify for a bowl, all Key and the Yellow Jackets will have to do is defeat the top-ranked team in the nation and the defending national champions.
By the way, Tech will have to pull off the upset without original starting quarterback Jeff Sims and freshman signal Zach Pyron. A 2022 graduate of Pinson Valley School, Pyron was 1-2 as the Tech starting quarterback but was emerging as a leader on and off the field before suffering a season-ending injury to his clavicle during a loss to Miami on Nov. 12.
In his three games under center, Pyron completed 49 of 82 passing attempts for 565 yards and threw for three touchdowns. He also led the Yellow Jackets to a thrilling come-from-behind win, 28-27, against Virginia Tech on Nov. 5.
With Pyron and Sims unavailable on Saturday, Key will have to find a way to knock off a Bulldogs squad that hasn’t lost a game since the 2021 SEC Championship Game against Alabama.
“We have a huge challenge in front of us playing the Number 1 team in the country at their place,” said Key during his weekly press conference on Monday, Nov. 21. “They’ve got a solid team all around. It’ll be a good challenge for us.
“Offensively they have some really good weapons on that side of the ball that are unique to college football these days,” Key added. “Very rarely do you see a group of tight ends that explosive yet able to block and do the things that they’re able to do. They have a good collection of running backs, and they’ve got some receivers that are able to hurt you.”
Key played right guard for Georgia Tech from 1997-2000 and was a graduate assistant coach from 2001-2002 before moving on to other coaching gigs at the University of Central Florida and at Alabama for a season under Nick Saban.
Key returned to his alma mater in 2019 as assistant head coach and offensive line coach. Key has been a part of this rivalry for many years and from many vantage points and understands how important the annual contest with the Bulldogs is to the Yellow Jacket nation.
This 2022 contest will also be the first time since 1927 in which both teams’ head coaches are alums of their respective schools — Georgia Head Coach Kirby Smart graduated in 1999 — adding a new layer of intrigue to this edition of “Clean-Fashioned, Old Hate.”
“It’s easy to say this is the next game on the schedule, but it’s Georgia and we’re Georgia Tech. That’s why you come to school, to play in this football game,” Key said. “To be able to coach in this football game is an honor. I’m dadgum really, really excited to get out there and get these guys out there to play on Saturday.”
The Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets travel to Athens to take on the Georgia Bulldogs at 11 a.m., Saturday, Nov. 26.