ATHENS — Kirby Smart didn’t specify whether he wanted Carson Beck to be more like Max Verstappen or Chase Elliott, but he wants to see the Georgia quarterback attack as those two talented drivers famously have.

“There were a couple of times that he started losing a little confidence and he started stepping back,” Smart said. “He’s got to be willing to step up like they talk about racecar drivers when the smoke’s there, you’ve got to go right through it. There’s a lot of smoke in there sometimes, especially when people pressure you. You’ve got to be willing to step up and go through it and not always out and around it because you can’t always outrun it that way.

“I’m really pleased with the way he’s playing, but there’s certainly things that he can continue to work on.”

That Georgia found itself down 14-3 at halftime did not fall on the shoulders of Beck in Smart’s mind. He pointed to the fact that the Bulldogs were able to get into the red zone after long drives twice. That Georgia came away with three points has more to do with red zone woes than quarterback ones.

And in Smart’s mind, it wasn’t like Beck came out and played all that differently in the second half. Yes, it helped that Georgia was more adept at handling South CArolina’s pressure, but Smart saw Beck be the same consistent player throughout the game on Saturday.

Teammates saw it as well. Beck wasn’t giving some big Friday Night Lights speech, but rather going in and checking in on everyone.

“It shows you his character, his composure,” wide receiver Dillon Bell Said. “We’re down, and as a quarterback, you can get nervous and start making mistakes. But no, Carson kept us poised. I’m very proud of him, he made the plays and did what he’s supposed to do.”

Beck completed 27 of his 35 pass attempts for 267 yards on Saturday. There weren’t any touchdown passes, which certainly would’ve helped the red zone issues, but there were no turnovers either. While South Carolina quarterback Spencer Rattler dazzled at times, he was also intercepted twice in the fourth quarter as he frantically tried to lead South Carolina back from a double-digit deficit.

When Beck was tasked with doing the same for Georgia earlier in the game, he displayed a different energy. One that spread to his teammates.

“I just seen him develop from how he takes control. How he goes out there with his swag,” wide receiver Dominic Lovett said. “He’s very poised. He doesn’t let a lot of stuff get to him and he goes out there. Whatever he says, we follow. He’s been a great leader from game 1 to now. I only see him keep growing and making strides. And we’re going to follow right behind him.”

Beck knows the offense has to be more productive. Red zone execution must be sharper. The hope is that with a renewed running game, the passing game further develops.

The Bulldogs ran for a season-best 210 yards against South Carolina. Even as injuries continue to mount in the backfield — Kendall Milton has an MCL sprain while Roderick Robinson has a high-ankle sprain — the Bulldogs will continue to lean on the run game, and the extension of it, in hopes of further opening the pass game.

“I think we’re very explosive,” Beck said. “When our running game is working it opens up our passing game. Obviously we can get guys the ball that can go make plays and get yards after the catch. I think we’re going to continue to improve and keep getting better.”

Some may want to see Beck push the ball farther downfield. Of his 35 pass attempts on Saturday, 21 were within five yards of the line of scrimmage. Only four passes traveled farther than 15 yards downfield.

Smart repeatedly pushed back against the idea that Beck is just checking down. Smart raves about Beck’s ability to read a defense and trusts that Beck is able to recognize when a play is available compared to when it is not.

Smart also offered a strong rebuke to the idea that this offense is all that different from what Beck played under when Todd Monken was the offensive coordinator.

“Everybody thinks it’s some kind of different offense. It’s the exact same,” Smart said. “It’s not different. The results have not been the same. That’s statistical proof. He’s transitioning well because of the fact he’s in the offense that he’s been in.

“The one thing he’s really good at, he was a great baseball player. This guy catches the ball and gets it out of his hand and is very accurate. That’s baseball. That’s boom, boom, boom. He can do that. He does that very well. We’ve been very pleased with what’s he’s done. We’ve got to get better results.”

Georgia can start getting better results this Saturday against UAB. The Blazers have given up an average of 45 points in their two losses and Beck should be able to feast on the UAB defense.

Smart expects to play well once again on Saturday. Because as the head coach sees it, that is what Beck has done through the first three games of the season.

Kirby Smart wants Carson Beck to be a race car driver for Georgia offense