Dawgs’ historic run not derailed by another slow start

The Dawgs celebrate keeping the Governor’s Cup in Athens. (Jason Getz/AJC)
Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Kirby Smart thought his Dawgs “answered the bell in the second half” Saturday.

It was a good thing they did, too, because much of the team apparently had hit the snooze button before Saturday’s noon kickoff against Georgia Tech at Sanford Stadium, getting off to a very slow start against a motivated swarm of Yellow Jackets.

“I wish we had played better,” Smart told DJ Shockley of the Bulldogs radio network after the game. “Traditionally, we start fast, and we didn’t today.”

His assessment of the problem: “I thought the energy was down.”

UGA fans point to the Redcoat Band’s solo trumpeter before Saturday’s game in Athens. (Olivia King/special)
Olivia King, Dawgnation

To be fair, it wasn’t just the players who had a hard time getting cranked up Saturday. The home crowd was late in arriving — as has become the custom of UGA fans at noon games — and took a while to get warmed up and loud.

And, it also should be pointed out that the officiating Saturday was inconsistent at best, and dreadful some of the time, with most of the bad calls going against Georgia.

And, so, the latest sluggish start for Smart’s team against a lesser opponent, before pulling away in the second half for a 37-14 win — a familiar scenario for the Dawgs this season — made the battle to hold on to the Governor’s Cup a lot more difficult than it needed to be.

Make no mistake: The Jackets certainly are an improved team under interim coach Brent Key, who took over midseason from the dismissed Geoff Collins. But, based on sheer talent alone, Tech should have been run off the field from the start by Smart’s vastly superior Dawgs.

Tailback Kenny McIntosh fights off a Yellow Jackets defensive back on an 83-yard pass play. (Jason Getz/AJC)
Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com, Dawgnation

Instead, with the Georgia defense looking unfocused, uninspired and flat-footed at the start the game, you saw the Jackets’ fourth-string quarterback practically walk untouched into the end zone, marking the first touchdown scored in the first quarter against the Dawgs this year. That culminated a 75-yard opening drive that included Tech using a deft mix of screen passes and its running game, along with a 35-yard pass on 4th and 9.

The Jackets had a good game plan and dominated the time of possession in the first half, limiting Georgia’s opportunities. And, early on, the Dawgs’ secondary blew several plays, and Georgia also was struggling to contain the edge and make tackles, which is concerning moving forward.

Georgia’s defense did a much better job of shutting down the Jackets’ offense the rest of the game, until giving up a late touchdown in garbage time, but the Georgia offense also got off to a slow start.

The Dawgs’ first drive resulted in a punt, and then, in their second drive, the Georgia offense still had problems punching it in deep in the Red Zone, as in other games this season.

Wide receiver Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint catches a 5-yard touchdown pass in the win over Tech. (Jason Getz/AJC)
Jason Getz, Dawgnation

That drive did produce points, but after getting a 1st-and-goal at the Tech 5 following a run by quarterback Stetson Bennett, the running game lost a couple of yards, and then a penalty made it 3rd-and-goal at the 12. That resulted in a bizarre (and wrong) offensive pass interference call that was declined by Tech, and, on 4th down, Georgia kicked a field goal.

The Dawgs continued to trail the Jackets until wide receiver Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint finally caught a 5-yard touchdown pass from Bennett with 7:59 remaining in the second quarter. Bennett placed the ball perfectly in a very tight window on that play.

The score remained 10-7 in Georgia’s favor at the half, but Tech held a 187-153 advantage in total yardage at that point.

Georgia got the ball to start the third quarter and appeared to score a long touchdown when Bennett hit receiver Arian Smith in the back of the end zone, but it was ruled that Smith didn’t control the ball while he still was in bounds, and the call was upheld on review. Instead, Jack Podlesny kicked a 50-yard field goal to push the Dawgs’ lead to 13-7. From there, the game more closely resembled what had been expected. In the end, Georgia outgained the Yellow Jackets in net yardage, 394-255, as well as dominating the scoreboard.

Tech punter David Shanahan is tackled for a loss by the Dawgs’ Trezmen Marshall (15), Kendall Milton (2) and Marvin Jones Jr. (7). (Jason Getz/AJC)
Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com, Dawgnation

The Dawgs had five unanswered scores (3 touchdowns and 2 field goals) before the Jackets tacked on their late score. And, Tech contributed to the Georgia surge with a couple of mistakes that gave UGA a short field, including a low snap that saw the Jackets’ punter swarmed for a sack. Later, a Tech fumble was forced by Jamon Dumas-Johnson and recovered by fellow linebacker Robert Beal at the 25.

Georgia’s second-half scores included a tremendous effort on tight end Brock Bowers’ part as he made a terrific catch with his fingers just shy of the grass on a low throw by Bennett for a Georgia TD in the third quarter; Kenny McIntosh punching it in from the 2 after he had set the score up with an 83-yard reception down the sideline; and fellow tailback Kendall Milton exploding through the middle for a 44-yard touchdown dash after Tech had turned the ball over on downs.

The McIntosh touchdown capped a 4-play, 99-yard drive, the longest of the Smart era at UGA.

Tech’s Key did a pretty good job of summing up the difference between the two halves when he said that, in the first half, he had “noticed some issues on the edge of the [Georgia] defense that we were able to take advantage of early on, but not in the second half. Credit them for making adjustments.”

It was another big day for Georgia senior McIntosh, who appears to have hit his stride late this season. He racked up 86 yards on 12 carries (including a season-long 45-yard run) and a TD, and caught 2 passes for 91 yards. Daijun Edwards finished with 8 carries for 61 yards, and Milton had 4 carries for 56 yards, most of it on that long scoring run.

Bennett was 10-for-18 passing, for 140 yards and 2 TDs, though only 28 of those yards were in the first half. The Georgia QB also ran it 5 times for 21 yards. Backup quarterback Carson Beck took over late in the game, but did not have a great day, missing a throw he should have made, and then fumbling the ball away on a keeper.

Tailback Kendall Milton runs for a touchdown in the second half of Saturday’s game. (Hyosub Shin/AJC)
Hyosub Shin, Dawgnation

Bowers was the Dawgs’ leading receiver, with 5 catches for 20 yards and the scooped-up score. The Dawgs did most of their damage on the ground, rushing for 268 yards.

Defensively, Georgia shook off its slow start and limited the Jackets to just 68 yards on 26 plays in the second half. Tech finished with 255 yards on 64 plays.

Most impressively, the Dawgs’ D had 11 tackles-for-loss to go with its 4 sacks. Leading tackler was Smael Mondon with 6, while Kelee Ringo, Tykee Smith and Dumas-Johnson had 5 apiece.

On special teams, Ladd McConkey had 53 yards in punt returns, including a career-long 39-yarder, plus he downed a punt at the Tech 2.

The Dawgs’ defense limited the Jackets to an average of 1.4 yards per rushing play on 28 attempts. Tech finished with just 40 yards overall on the ground. The Jackets came into the game averaging 141.1 rushing yards per game and 3.9 yards per carry.

On the other side, Georgia’s running attack averaged 6.5 yards on 41 carries.

And, so, Georgia completes back-to-back undefeated regular seasons.

It has to be said, though, that this year’s edition of the Dawgs definitely lacks last year’s team’s consistency, even if the end result ultimately may be the same.

As Smart said, “There’s so many things we need to get better at.”

UGA head coach Kirby Smart argues a call by officials during the second half of the win over Tech. (Jason Getz/AJC)
Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com, Dawgnation

Among the aspects of the game that need work: short-yardage scores in the Red Zone, with more creative play-calling; defending swing passes and screen passes; and eliminating missed tackles. It also was disappointing how little Georgia’s receivers and tight ends were able to get open downfield. Defenses only will get harder from this point on.

Smart succinctly capsulized what the Dawgs need to do: “We’ve just got to be more consistent, get turnovers, and get off the field on third down.”

Looking ahead to the SEC Championship Game against LSU at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Smart seemed most excited about the environment and atmosphere of the big game.

“It’s so cool to be in that place,” he said.

With the win over Tech, Georgia has won 30 of its past 31 games, 14 in a row, 27 regular season games in a row, 18 consecutive games at Sanford Stadium and 5 in a row against Tech.

Saturday also tied the school record for consecutive sellouts with at 64, matching the mark set in 2001-2011. The current streak began versus Florida Atlantic on Sept. 15, 2012.

Also, the 2022 senior class (honored before the game with Senior Day festivities) has established a school record for wins, with a 46-5 mark so far.

To cap it all off, Georgia almost certainly has locked up its third College Football Playoff appearance.

It’s an incredible and historic run, and Georgia fans should take a moment to soak it all in.

As I said a few weeks ago, these are glory days.

REMEMBERING A DAMN GOOD DAWG

Dawgs fan John Sosebee, seen with his Auburn fan wife, Lisa, died Friday night. (Sosebee family/special)
Sosebee family, Dawgnation

Someone who would have loved the Dawgs maintaining their streak against Tech didn’t get to see it: my dear friend John Sosebee, a lifelong Dawg.

I heard from his wife Lisa an hour before kickoff. As she put it: “My sweet, funny, Bulldawg-loving hubby passed away last night.”

John, who grew up in DeKalb County and lived for many years in Stone Mountain, loved following the Dawgs.

Even after he got married and settled down in Alabama, he continued to display his Georgia Bulldogs fandom proudly, wearing his UGA shirts and caps year-round in the midst of all those Bama and Auburn fans (with his wife being one of the latter).

In recent years, John had a lot of health problems, but he always was pulling for the Dawgs, and he certainly was enjoying this season.

He didn’t get to watch Georgia continue its dominance of Tech, but I know he was woofing in Bulldog heaven. RIP, Slick.

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