Georgia showed the nation what true domination looks like Saturday night.
A 14-14 game that looked like it might become a PAC 12-style shootout as the second quarter began instead turned into a runaway romp over No. 9 Ole Miss for Kirby Smart’s Dawgs, variously ranked No. 1 or No. 2.
Despite missing one of its on-field generals, with Jamon “Pop” Dumas-Johnson out, a banged up and very young Georgia defense overcame a shaky start to shut down Mississippi head coach Lane Kiffin’s high-powered offense for most of the three final quarters of the game, before allowing a garbage-time field goal.
At the same time, a finally healthy Georgia offense, plagued by injuries all season, turned into a points machine, scoring touchdowns on its first four drives as its off-and-on ground game caught up with its reliably productive passing attack.
With superstar tight end Brock Bowers and go-to wide receiver Ladd McConkey able to line up next to each other for the first time this season, Amarius Mims rejoining a restored offensive line and a full complement of healthy running backs led by a resurgent Kendall Milton, the Dawgs’ offense had its best game of the year under the confident direction of quarterback Carson Beck.
Beck completed 18 of 25 passes for 306 yards, 2 TDs and 1 interception (on a bobbled ball late in the first half). Meanwhile, Milton ran for a career-high 127 yards and 2 TDs on just 9 carries (a 14.1 yards per run average), as UGA outgained Ole Miss in total offensive yardage, 610-352. Daijun Edwards contributed 59 yards on 12 carries and 2 touchdowns, Roderick Robinson had 37 yards on 2 carries and Andrew Paul got 32 yards and 1 touchdown on 6 runs.
McConkey had a team-high 81 yards on four catches, including a 29-yard touchdown, Dominic Lovett caught 4 passes for 77 yards, Rara Thomas had 2 receptions for 54 yards and Bowers tallied 3 catches for 34 yards, including his fifth TD of the season.
On a cool, intermittently rainy night in Athens, the Dawgs finished with a season-high 611 yards of total offense on 61 plays, averaging an eye-popping 10 yards per play.
Credit Georgia’s offensive line, which had a superb night, definitely its best of the season. The pass protection, which generally has been good, was excellent, with Ole Miss never sacking Beck, despite coming into the game as the conference’s second-leading team in that department. As Beck told ESPN’s Holly Rowe after the game, “I didn’t get touched all day.”
The key, Smart told the Bulldogs radio network’s D.J. Shockley, was being able to rotate players on the offensive line. “We stayed fresh,” he said. “It’s hard to stop fresh o-linemen, especially in the fourth quarter.”
And the Georgia OL opened huge holes for the running backs. With a truly balanced offense Saturday night — 300 yards rushing and 311 yards passing — coordinator Mike Bobo was able to use much more of his play book than earlier this season.
Beck noted afterward: “When the run game works like that, you really can call whatever you want to. Because when they’re worried about the run, now we’re going to try to throw it over their head. When all facets of the offense are working together, [Bobo] just becomes aggressive.”
As Kiffin said after the game, “That is a really good offense.”
Bowers, who returned from ankle surgery in less than a month, faster than anyone had predicted, showed no limitations, as he made cuts, broke tackles and blocked like always. More than that, though, his mere presence on the field meant Ole Miss couldn’t load up coverage on any of Georgia’s receivers, giving QB Beck his full array of targets.
For a change, the 52-17 final score is a pretty accurate reflection of how the game really went. After weeks of keeping their unbeaten string alive by doing just enough to win, or pulling away from their opponent in the fourth quarter, Smart’s “resilient” Bulldogs surprised much of the college football world by stepping out of the phone booth Saturday night as an across-the-board super team more closely resembling the past two UGA contingents that won back-to-back national championships.
The Georgia head coach has been complaining all season that his offense needed more “explosives,” meaning chunk plays that result in a gain of more than 20 yards.
Well, Saturday night’s SEC showdown at Sanford Stadium resembled a Fourth of July fireworks display, with a bumper crop of explosives, including Georgia runs of 51, 36, 33 and 22 yards and receptions covering 44, 43, 41 and 22 yards.
Having already secured the SEC East title and a December conference championship clash with Alabama before they even took the field Saturday — thanks to the Dawgs’ previous victim, Missouri, throttling next week’s Georgia opponent, the Tennessee Volunteers — Smart’s Dawgs now sit at 10-0 for the third consecutive season. (And doesn’t their close win over Mizzou last week look a lot better after seeing what the Tigers did to the Vols Saturday afternoon?)
Initially, Georgia’s defense looked a little discombobulated without Dumas-Johnson out there, giving up those first two scores, including another TD on an opponent’s opening drive. Then, they settled down — youngsters C.J. Allen and Raylen Wilson, playing in place of Pop, were “nervous” to start the game, Smart said afterward. “I’m proud of them for overcoming it.”
Those young linebackers, and Georgia’s cornerbacks, started executing better (Smart said no real adjustments were made) and the result was the Dawgs successfully containing the Ole Miss running backs while putting pressure on QB Jaxson Dart. (An injured Dart left the game late in the third quarter.)
The key, Smart told Shockley, was “stopping the run.”
Georgia basically smothered Kiffin’s offense in the second and third quarters, a sequence that saw Ole Miss gain only 19 yards on 21 plays.
Freshman Allen led Georgia defenders with 9 tackles, including one of the Dawgs’ 2 sacks on the night, while Tykee Smith was next with 6. Javon Bullard notched his second interception in as many games.
Ole Miss came in averaging 38.8 points per game and was held to just 17. They were 6-for-15 on third down and 2-for-4 on fourth down.
Special teams play wasn’t a major factor, though Georgia’s freshman placekicker, Peyton Woodring, made a 27-yard field goal and was 7-for-7 on PATs. Punter Brett Thorson only had to punt once, for 41 yards.
The only downsides to special teams play were a nice Mekhi Mews punt return being wiped out by a penalty, and everyone on the Georgia side falling asleep during a successful Ole Miss fake punt. It didn’t produce any points, however.
The officiating was typical for the SEC: inconsistent. There were two blatant cases of Ole Miss pass interference that weren’t called.
With Georgia recognizing 30 seniors before the game (some of whom actually have eligibility remaining and could return), it was old home week for a bunch of familiar faces. Former head coach Mark Richt was honored on the field between the first and second quarters for his induction into the College Football Hall of Fame, mystery man Stetson Bennett received his second Burlsworth Trophy, awarded to the best college player who began their career as a walk-on (in his first public appearance since he went on the Los Angeles’ Rams’ inactive list for undisclosed reasons), and other former Dawgs in attendance included Kelee Ringo and Mecole Hardman (who led the pre-game “Call the Dawgs” cheer), Nolan Smith (guest picker on ESPN’s “GameDay,” which originated in Athens Saturday), Jordan Davis, Brian Herrien, Malik Herring, Champ Bailey and Aaron Murray.
No matter where the College Football Playoff ranks them this week, the Georgia Bulldogs now have won 27 games in a row (an ongoing UGA record, third longest in the SEC), 25 in row at home (a new UGA record and the longest active streak in FBS!), 43 of their past 44 games, 26 SEC games in a row (another ongoing UGA record) and 37 regular season games in row (ditto). The glory days continue!
As for where the Dawgs go from here, when post-game interviewers tried to get Smart to look ahead, he said all he was thinking about was Tennessee, and “the focus is tempo [the Vols run a high-speed offense] … and getting better.”
As he noted before Saturday’s game, the key for his players is simple: “win the now.”
Still, when asked how it felt to make it back to the SEC championship game for a third year in a row, he replied: “It’s the expectation, man. It’s what we expect to do.”