Georgia Bulldogs running back Kenny McIntosh (6) fights off Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets defensive back LaMiles Brooks (20) as McIntosh runs after a catch for 83-yards during the fourth quarter in a NCAA football game at Sanford Stadium, Saturday, November 26, 2022, in Athens, Ga. Georgia won 37-14. Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Georgia football winners and losers as Bulldogs complete perfect regular season, look ahead to LSU

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Georgia football winners and losers after completing perfect regular season

Winner: Georgia special teams

Neither the Georgia offense or defense had strong outings in the opening half on Saturday. The same cannot be said though when it comes to the play of Georgia’s special teams units.

“I thought special teams came through today,” Smart said. “And it’s the first game in quite a while that we made some plays in special teams to kind of give us some momentum and get us rolling. so proud of that.”

Jack Podlesny made all three of his field goal attempts, including a 50-yarder to give him a new season-long make. Punter Brett Thorson had one punt fair caught after booming it 51 yards. His only other punt of the afternoon was downed at the one-yard line after Ladd McConkey was able to tip the ball and catch it prior to the ball reaching the end zone.

McConkey also ripped off a 39-yard punt return on Saturday as well. The Bulldogs were able to make winning plays on nearly every special teams phase.

Georgia Tech meanwhile did not have the same high level of execution. Its punter dropped a punt and set Georgia up with excellent field position. The Bulldogs responded by finding Brock Bowers for a touchdown to really help break the game open.

Smart speaks all the time about the importance of special teams and Saturday showed why that is the case. It can absolutely help win you games, even if the Bulldogs shouldn’t have needed it to do so.

Loser: The SEC championship game

What was going to be a matchup of top 5 teams now looks much less appetizing after the Tigers went out and lost 38-23 to Texas A&M. Mind you, the Aggies hadn’t scored more than 30-points in an FBS game all season and LSU saw quarterback Jayden Daniels pick up an ankle injury.

“We kept him in a boot for today. His exam was good today,” LSU coach Brian Kelly said. “We’re pretty optimistic about his ability to practice on Tuesday.”

Related: Georgia football eager for 2022 SEC Championship Game: ‘I’ve been wanting to play LSU again’

Georgia is still very much invested in winning the SEC championship. It is something last year’s team didn’t accomplish and it would remove any drama come Sunday’s College Football Playoff rankings. A win likely also puts Georgia in Atlanta for its College Football Playoff semifinal.

There is also the fact that Georgia has as many national championships under Smart as it does SEC championships. The Georgia coach would like to change that this coming Saturday.

“We’re worried about winning the SEC championship,” Smart said. “That’s the most important thing on our agenda, is to have an opportunity to do something that rarely gets done. I mean, it’s tough to win an SEC championship. I’ve been part of this league for a long time. I have almost as many national championships as I do SEC championships. They’re really hard to come by.”

Much of the national attention usually reserved for this game will be elsewhere, as LSU is the first three-loss SEC team to make it to Atlanta since Florida did so in 2016. The Gators lost that game 54-16 to No. 1 ranked Alabama.

The Bulldogs will be hoping for a similar result on Saturday, even if the common fan is hoping for something more competitive.

Winner: Stetson Bennett

Saturday was not Bennett’s finest day. A majority of his passing yards came on an 83-yard dime to running back Kenny McIntosh. In what will be Bennett’s final home game at Sanford Stadium, he had just 140 passing yards and two touchdowns.

But in winning, Bennett capped a pretty remarkable run as Georgia’s starting quarterback. While he hasn’t always been the single biggest reason for Georgia’s success, Georgia is 26-3 in games started by Bennett.

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