Georgia Tech’s Brent Key understands that physicality is required to compete with Georgia

ATLANTA — Brent Key has not minced his words as he took charge of a struggling Georgia Tech football program after a 3-1 start.

“Number one, I would be extremely black and white with them, very direct, very open and very honest,” said Key, who was named interim head coach after Geoff Collins was fired.

“And I wanted them to have ownership of that football team.”

The Yellow Jackets have responded to Key’s lead and won four of seven games before going into their midday game against Georgia at Sanford Stadium.

Georgia Tech’s 21-17 win over 17th-placed North Carolina certainly got Kirby Smart’s attention.

“They’re playing really well now,” Smart said Monday. “They are playing really hard now. And I think he did a great job of getting these guys to compete.”

The 44-year-old Key, whose playing career at Georgia Tech (1997-2000) overlapped Smart’s at UGA (1995-1998), seems perfectly suited to take over the Yellow Jackets program.

It’s almost “when” not “if” Georgia Tech will take the provisional tag from Key’s title as he has proven he can provide a winning culture and handle game situations.

In addition to his success at the helm of Georgia Tech this season, Key’s impressive resume includes a three-year stint in Alabama (2016-2018) as the Crimson Tide’s offensive line coach.

Key said many lessons were learned under Nick Saban — more than a few that Smart also learned and applied as he turned Georgia into the nation’s most elite college football program over the past two seasons.

“The organization, discipline, accountability, work ethic, drive and ability to put a lot more hours into a day than you think you can put into a day,” Key said, asking what lessons he learned in Alabama and which he now uses at Georgia Tech.

“But to make a high hat you have to be very organized.”

Georgia Tech has beaten two top-25 programs this season with Key at the helm, surprised No. 24 Pitt on the road 26-21 in his first game in charge and then won in North Carolina last Saturday.

Key attributes some of that success to the ability to play physically — another staple in Alabama, and now Georgia.

“We’ve been challenging our team for the past two months to become a physical football team, and not just at the line of scrimmage,” Key said. “But also the way we play football. and the way we stop the run; the way we cover kicks, how we block at the perimeter, how we take blocks in the high school, how we finish with the quarterbacks and ball carriers — all of those things.

“We demanded that.”

Georgia Tech will bring that mentality to Dooley Field on Saturday as a 33-point underdog, looking to shock the world with a win that would qualify the Program Bowl for the first time since 2018.

Win or lose, it seems the Yellow Jackets have found their next head coach in Brent Key.

However, Key declined to participate in that discussion when asked when or if he could speak to Georgia Tech leadership about the promotion.

“I worry about Georgia, it’s the No. 1 team in the country,” Key said. “It’s the biggest challenge of my life right now to bring this group to Athens on Saturday at 12pm.

“It’s Georgia and Georgia Tech and that’s why you come to school here to play this game, it’s an honor.”

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