Ladd McConkey struggles, second-half bounce back sums up ‘ugly’ win for Georgia football

Georgia Bulldogs wide receiver Ladd McConkey (84) reacts after missing a catch during the second quarter against Kent State Golden Flashes during a NCAA football game at Sanford Stadium, Saturday, September 24, 2022, in Athens, Ga. Georgia won 39-22. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

ATHENS — Ladd McConkey was not the sole reason Georgia found itself in a 32-22 game in the fourth quarter. He was not the only Bulldog who didn’t play up to the Georgia standard on Saturday.

Stetson Bennett threw an interception for the first time all season, with he and Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint not on the same page. The defense gave up back-to-back scoring drives in the second half to allow the Golden Flashes to keep the close.

Statistically, it was another good game for McConkey. He led Georgia in receptions and yards, catching six passes for 65 yards. He made a couple of key catches in the second half of the game for Georgia offense that didn’t punt.

That’s a positive sign for McConkey, after he had multiple drops and even worse, two first-half fumbles. Georgia turned the ball over three times on Saturday and gave up 22 points. Those respective numbers were zero and 10 prior to the start of the day.

“There’s nobody that feels worse than Ladd, right? But we need Ladd,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “We need Ladd if we want to go where we want to go. Ladd’s a big part of our offense, he’s a big weapon for us.”

Smart said he was frustrated with McConkey’s first fumble, as the wide receiver elected to field a punt he in hindsight shouldn’t have. It was a muff and the recovered fumble led directly to Kent State’s first points on the afternoon. His second fumble came on a reception in the second quarter with Georgia in Kent State territory.

After the second fumble, McConkey couldn’t quite haul in a deep pass from Bennett that surely would’ve led to points. He was also unable to come in with a reception on the first play of the game that would’ve netted Georgia a big gain.

“He’s dealing with a foot injury, so he’s not able to practice the same volume,” Smart said. “So, when you don’t practice whatever your reps is – 50 reps or whatever – and he gets 15-20 … he doesn’t get as much ball security work.

Teammates did their best to keep McConkey in the game and he very much redeemed himself in the second half. He drew a Bronx cheer from the crowd after catching a pass, and then drew legitimate applause when he made an acrobatic drive to extend a Georgia drive.

The Bulldogs’ offense finished with 529 yards of offense on Saturday, the third time they’ve topped 500 yards in a game this season. As mentioned, the Bulldogs didn’t punt.

Georgia did kick three field goals on the afternoon and could’ve been better in the red zone. So it wasn’t exactly an uninspired performance.

It just wasn’t the world-destroying effort Georgia had shown it was capable of in wins against South Carolina and Oregon.

“Hey, what are you going to do next,” Bennett said when asked about McConkey. “It doesn’t matter, it’s already happened. We have a good defense and they’re going to stop them. We had a good day, just three turnovers, almost consecutively boom, boom, boom. You can’t have that.”

Defensively, linebacker Jamon Dumas-Johnson acknowledged Kent State’s tempo and spread game became a factor on the afternoon. But after the Golden Flashes got the ball back in the fourth quarter after a Kendall Milton touchdown, Christopher Smith hauled in an interception to end the affair for Georgia.

McConkey will have better days moving forward for Georgia. There’s a very real chance Saturday might be the worst game of his career given how things unfolded.

It all still resulted in a comfortable win for Georgia on the afternoon. It speaks to where this program is at this point in time.

Smart likes his team faced some adversity on Saturday. McConkey certainly did and he responded well to it.

The hope though is that it doesn’t happen again.

“Coach Smart says sometimes you do need to win ugly and I agree with that,” Bennett said. “But you’d rather not.

Stetson Bennett on Kent State game: ‘Sometimes you have to win ugly... but you’d rather not’

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