Whatever it takes. That seems to be the creed of Kirby Smart’s 2023 Dawgs.

They’re not as overpowering as the last two editions of the Georgia Bulldogs, both of which won national championships. They don’t have generational talent across the board on defense, and their talented offense sometimes operates in fits and starts.

With Brock Bowers out, they don’t have a consensus superstar player (though clutch receiver Ladd McConkey is getting close to that status).

However, these Dawgs are 9-0 and proof that, sometimes, good enough is … well, enough.

Ladd McConkey makes a move after a catch during Saturday’s win over Missouri. (Hyosub Shin/AJC) (HYOSUB SHIN / AJC/Dawgnation)

Saturday’s 30-21 win over a feisty Missouri team was a hard-fought battle and kept the Homecoming crowd at a packed Sanford Stadium in its seats until the end.

These Dawgs don’t always have an easy time with their opponents not named Florida, but they seem to have a knack for doing whatever it takes to keep winning — even if that means having freshman field goal kicker Peyton Woodring, who had a shaky start this season, nail the biggest kick of his career; or man-mountain defensive lineman Nazir Stackhouse snagging the first interception of his entire playing career to shut down a Missouri drive as the Tigers trailed by just 6 midway through the fourth quarter.

Stackhouse, a 320-pound senior, even returned the pick, lumbering down the field to inside the 5-yard line, but a flag for an illegal block wiped that out and gave the Dawgs the ball 65 yards farther back, at their own 30. They eventually got a field goal out of it — Woodring’s third of the day, a 48-yarder — to clinch the win.

(The officiating in the game was typical for the SEC, meaning it was very inconsistent.)

Defensive lineman Nazir Stackhouse returns an interception during the fourth quarter against Missouri. (Jason Getz/AJC) (Jason Getz/Dawgnation)

Afterward, a very happy Stackhouse was the talk of the Georgia locker room. Said the big man: “It’s so unreal right now and hard to explain with words, but this is so exciting. Throughout my whole career … playing football since I was 6 years old, I’ve never had an interception.”

The tense Georgia fans sitting in the stands in Athens finally felt a bit of relief after Woodring kicked that final field goal — his longest so far — with 3:57 remaining in the game, to give the Dawgs a two-score lead, as the sportscasters like to say.

That kid has been awesome since his early season struggles. Kudos to Smart sticking with Woodring, and for deciding to put the game on his shoulders when, as the coach noted after the game, “there’s a lot of analytics that will tell you not to kick that field goal. If we don’t hit the field goal and they go down and score it’s certainly a tough situation. … Because of Peyton and what he’s been able to do, we kicked it.”

Holder Carson Beck congratulates placekicker Peyton Woodring after a field goal. (Hyosub Shin/AJC) (HYOSUB SHIN / AJC/Dawgnation)

That wasn’t Smart’s only gamble of the day that paid off. On Georgia’s opening possession of the game, the Dawgs converted a 4th-and-5 from the Mizzou 49 as quarterback Carson Beck hit RaRa Thomas for a 26-yard gain.

On a day when the line had one of its worst outings this season — not giving Beck very good pass protection in the first half and only intermittently opening holes for the running game — Georgia’s offense still managed to outscore a Mizzou team that features a double-threat quarterback; a steady running game; and talented receivers.

And that was despite the Dawgs having a couple of drives in the second quarter that produced nothing but an opportunity for Brett Thorson to punt.

Like I said, it wasn’t this Georgia offense’s best outing.

Georgia defensive back Javon Bullard (wearing the savage pads) celebrates his interception with teammates Malaki Starks (24) and Tykee Smith (23). (Jason Getz/AJC) (Jason Getz/Dawgnation)

Beck had an up-and-down day. Some of his passes were off the mark (though, again, poor protection by the OL had something to do with that), but he rallied to lead the Dawgs on a couple of crucial touchdown drives in the third quarter. Trailing 13-10, the Dawgs moved 65 yards in 6 plays, scoring on a 15-yard run by Kendall Milton, for a 17-13 edge. On its next possession, Georgia scored again on a 5-yard pass from Beck to Oscar Delp, to go up 24-13.

(Mizzou tightened it to 24-21 with 12:50 remaining before Georgia closed out the scoring with a pair of field goals.)

Beck completed 21 of 32 passes for 254 yards and 2 touchdowns (to Dominic Lovett, a transfer who led Mizzou in receptions last year, and that throw to tight end Delp, subbing for the injured Bowers).

Dawgs tight end Oscar Delp celebrates after a 5-yard touchdown catch against the Tigers. (Jason Getz/AJC) (Jason Getz/Dawgnation)

Beck’s leading receiver was McConkey, who caught 7 passes for 95 yards. In addition to his passing, Beck made a crucial scramble for a third-down conversion.

As mentioned previously, the UGA rushing attack was slowed for much of the game by a tenacious Tigers defense that loaded the box, but the Dawgs’ running backs finished with 131 yards on 33 carries, led by Daijun Edwards’ 77 yards on 16 carries (an average of 4.8 yards per run).

Georgia finished with 385 yards of offense, while Missouri had 363 yards.

Said Smart after the game: “They have a really good defense. … I thought they controlled our run game more than anybody has in the last couple of weeks and that frustrated us. Luckily, we have a good enough passing arsenal where we can throw it around some.”

Credit for the win also goes to the Dawgs’ defense, of course. True, Georgia defenders only occasionally were able to get to shifty, speedy Tigers QB Brady Cook; tackled poorly at times against the run (especially having a hard time keeping containment on the left side). left some of those Mizzou receivers wide open; and gave up a 2-point conversion. But the Dawgs generally defended well inside the Red Zone.

Georgia quarterback Carson Beck runs for a first down against Missouri. (Jason Getz/AJC) (Jason Getz/Dawgnation)

Mizzou running back Cody Schrader finished with 112 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries, but Georgia’s defense holding the Tigers to field goals on their last scoring drive of the first half and first scoring drive of the third quarter turned out to be huge in the end.

Said Smart of his defense: “I don’t think we played really well. We got tired at times and they took advantage of that. We played well when we had to; we had some big stops. The red area probably won this game for us. Those stops are big.”

Each team’s defense had 3 sacks, but Georgia’s seemed to have more impact, particularly one by Tykee Smith on the Tigers’ opening drive of the second half that forced Mizzou to settle for 3 points.

Smael Mondon, Smith and Jamon Dumas-Johnson tied for the team lead in tackles, with 7 apiece. (On the downside, Dumas-Johnson left the game in the fourth quarter with a fractured forearm that will sideline him for a while.)

And then there were those two very big interceptions, both Stackhouse’s and one late in the game by Javon Bullard that ended any hope of a Tigers comeback. The Tigers’ Cook had thrown just 3 interceptions in 242 attempts before Saturday.

Head coach Kirby Smart and defensive coordinator Will Muschamp (right) react to a play Saturday. (Hyosub Shin/AJC) (HYOSUB SHIN / AJC/Dawgnation)

The very loud capacity Sanford Stadium crowd did its part, too, forcing some Missouri false starts and a time out.

“It was an incredible atmosphere,” Smart said after the game. Our fans were awesome, and they had a major impact on the game.”

Basically, the first half (which featured an amazingly quick first quarter) was dead even, with a halftime score of 10-10, the second time this year that the Bulldogs have been tied at 10 at the half (the other being Auburn). Overall, the Dawgs were severely tested by No. 12 Mizzou, with some very tense moments, but Georgia kept its cool and took over the game with a strong third-quarter performance and a good enough (there it is again) fourth quarter.

Losing this game likely would have been fatal to Georgia’s SEC East hopes, so this ranks as the biggest win of the year so far.

The Dawgs now have won: 26 in a row (ongoing UGA record and third longest streak in SEC history), 42 of their past 43 games, 24 home games in a row (ties a UGA record), 25 SEC games in a row (an ongoing UGA record) and 36 regular season games in row (an ongoing school record that leads all of the FBS). Georgia is 9-0 for the fourth time in the Smart era (he’s now 90-15 overall), joining the 2017, 2021 and 2022 teams.

The gauntlet continues, though. A talented Ole Miss team comes to Athens next weekend; with a win, Georgia can lock up the SEC East and a trip to the conference championship. And that will be followed the week after by a trip to Knoxville to face the high-tempo Vols.

Still, the way the 2023 Dawgs have managed to scratch and claw to keep that unbeaten string going so far makes one ponder: Might this is another team of destiny after all?