It was all over before it had really begun. What had been billed for weeks as the South's game of the year turned into a shambles out of which Georgia Tech's precision-drilled Yellow Jackets emerged as one of this section's three teams of national stature.
The 40,000 astonished witnesses who crammed into huge Grant Field, the sunken concrete horseshoe on the flats outside Atlanta's business district, watched Georgia Tech outplay bumbling Duke with a finality which not even the 27-0 score indicates.
Until Saturday the South had three real football teams—Auburn, Maryland and West Virginia—a trio of ground-gulping land juggernauts that could battle anyone on even terms. Now there are still three but Tech has replaced Auburn. The Plainsmen, only team to beat Tech all year (by two points), were incongruously trampled by unranked Tulane 27-13.
Georgia Tech, without the steamroller characteristics of either Maryland or West Virginia, is a solid team. It has a small but fast and agile line, competent quarterbacking and ball carriers who run with both power and agility. The Yellow Jacket superiority over Duke (which was unbeaten until losing to Pittsburgh only the week before) was absolute. Duke didn't make a first down until late in the second quarter, never moved past its own 36 in the first half.
Duke fumbled on the game's third scrimmage play; Tech recovered and had a touchdown five plays later. Duke took the ensuing kickoff, had to punt on fourth down and two plays later, Tech scored again. The time: 7:10 of the first quarter. Duke was beaten then. The last quarter scores were mere window dressing. It was that simple.
While Georgia Tech was plastering the Blue Devils, Maryland and West Virginia continued to roll on toward unbeaten seasons—and also helped to bring the southern football scene into sharper focus. Maryland, the only real power in the Atlantic Coast Conference now that Duke is through, breezed past helpless South Carolina 27-0 and headed for an Orange Bowl date with Oklahoma. West Virginia, easily the class of the downtrodden Southern Conference (three of the teams haven't even won a game), continued to sail through a schedule which is something less than awe-inspiring and trampled hapless Marquette 39-0.
But the Grant Field massacre and Auburn's loss to Tulane did even more to clear up the picture, proving at least three points: outside of Maryland and West Virginia, no other team from the section's other leagues can compete against the Southeastern Conference; any SEC team, on any given day, can beat another; Georgia Tech is in the best position to win the blue ribbon—and a trip to the Sugar Bowl.
Auburn, tied by Kentucky in early season, may have lost its chance with the Tulane setback, for now Georgia Tech would have to lose one of its three remaining conference games (with Alabama, Tennessee and Georgia), which is unlikely. Mississippi and Mississippi State still have a chance to tie, but Mississippi State must play vengeful Auburn this weekend and Ole Miss at the end of the month. Mississippi, which plays neither Tech nor Auburn this year, just doesn't measure up to either in overall stature. The others are out of it although they are capable of causing havoc for the leaders.
So it looks like Georgia Tech. But then last week it looked like Auburn. In this league you never know.