No. 1 Georgia will face an undefeated Kentucky next

Credit: UGA

Combined ShapeCaption
Georgia football coach Kirby Smart addresses the conditions for his team in 34-10 win at Auburn.

Credit: UGA

ATHENS — The game everyone has been waiting for is finally here. It’s not Georgia-Florida. It’s not the Bulldogs vs. Tennessee. Did you happen to catch that No. 1 Alabama lost to Texas A&M late Saturday night?

No, it’s No. 1 Georgia and No. 11 Kentucky.

The SEC’s last two undefeated teams will face off Saturday at 3:30 p.m. (CBS) at Sanford Stadium in a game that should have a significant impact on who represents the Eastern Division in the SEC Championship game this year.

Who they might eventually meet in the title game is suddenly up in the air. Alabama (5-1, 2-1 SEC), which lost to the Aggies 41-38 on a last-second field goal Saturday night in College Station, Texas, still has Mississippi State, Tennessee, LSU, Arkansas and Auburn to get through.

As for No. 2 Georgia (6-0, 4-0), it executed a no nonsense 34-10 victory over No. 18 Auburn Saturday afternoon at Jordan-Hare Stadium. And thanks to Saturday’s night’s craziness, the Bulldogs emerged as the nation’s No. 1 team for the first time in the regular season since 1982.

But you can be sure coach Kirby Smart will make sure the Bulldogs’ minds remain firmly on the Wildcats (6-0, 4-0), who were ranked 16th when they held up their end of the deal late with a 42-21 victory over LSU late Saturday night at Kroger Field in Lexington, Ky. The win gave Kentucky its first 6-0 start since 1950. That team, coached by the legendary Bear Bryant, finished 11-1 and ranked No. 7 in the nation after a 13-7 win over No. 1 Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl.

It was the eighth win in a row overall for the Wildcats, dating back to last season. That’s the fifth longest streak in school history.

However, Kentucky’s football history against Georgia hasn’t been very good. The Bulldogs have won 11 games in a row against the Wildcats, including last year’s 14-3 win in Lexington. Georgia leads the overall series 60-12-2, including 29-4-2 at Sanford Stadium. The two teams did not play in 1950, by the way.

Here are a few other things we learned about the Bulldogs on Saturday:

Stet rolls on

Don’t look now, but a quarterback controversy might quietly be brewing in the Bulldogs’ midst.

Stetson Bennett put together yet another exemplary effort in relief of starter JT Daniels, who missed his third game of the season due to injury. Daniels missed his second consecutive game due to what is described as a “grade one strain” of the latissimus dorsi muscle in his back. Daniels traveled with the team to Auburn and warmed up briefly before the game, but otherwise did not seem poised to play. Redshirt freshman Carson Beck warmed up with the No. 2 offense.

Combined ShapeCaption
Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett (13) runs with the ball against Auburn Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021, at Jordan–Hare Stadium in Auburn, Ala. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett (13) runs with the ball against Auburn Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021, at Jordan–Hare Stadium in Auburn, Ala. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Combined ShapeCaption
Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett (13) runs with the ball against Auburn Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021, at Jordan–Hare Stadium in Auburn, Ala. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

All Bennett did was come in and play an almost flawless game. In addition to completing 14-of-21 passes for 231 yards and two touchdowns, Bennett ran the ball five times for 51 yards, including 30 yards on one critical late third-quarter play. He was sacked once for a 10-yard loss.

Bennett’s performance nudged him past Daniels as Georgia’s leading passer on the year. He has now completed 69.3% of his passes for 746 yards with 8 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. Daniels has completed 76.1% of his throws for 569 yards, 5 TDs and 2 interceptions.

“We’ve always felt like Stetson was a really good player,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart. “It wasn’t like anybody didn’t think he was good. He was playing well last year, too.”

The question now becomes what happens when Daniels is cleared to play. This past week, he was able to do some “soft toss” during practice and Smart continues to say he’s close to being able to return.

Bennett, for one, is not thinking about it.

“No, I think I’m just like everybody else on this team; we just try to win each game,” Bennett said.

Georgia 34, Auburn 10

Dented but not wrecked

Georgia’s defense continues to dominate, but a couple of their points of pride fell by the wayside against Auburn.

Tigers running back Tank Bigsby scored on a six-yard run at the 4:01 mark of the third quarter. That represented the first and only red-zone touchdown scored against the Bulldogs all year. Georgia’s defense previously had allowed only one other touchdown, a 36-yard pass late in the fourth quarter of a blowout win over South Carolina on Sept. 18.

Bigsby’s score also represented the first and only rushing TD allowed by the Bulldogs in 2021. Earlier in the game, Auburn became the first team to hold a lead on Georgia this season when it made a 24-yard field goal on its opening drive to go up 3-0.

As usual, though, the Bulldogs answered the bell. Coming in leading the nation in scoring defense at 4.6 ppg, that rises to 5.5 with the Tigers’ 10 points on Saturday. But the 33 points allowed on the year represents the lowest six-game total for the Bulldogs since 1935, when they allowed 24.

Bo Nix contained

Georgia’s unquestioned defensive priority on Saturday was keeping Auburn’s elusive quarterback Bo Nix contained.

Mission accomplished.

While the Tigers’ junior signalcaller hit the Bulldogs with a few big players, they kept Nix bottled up most of the night. Georgia was able to sack Nix four times, and his long run of the night was just nine yards.

As for passing the ball, Nix’s longest completions of the night were 31 yards to Caylin Newton and 29 yards to former Bulldog Demetris Robertson. For the game, the Tigers yards per 43 attempts was just 6.3 yards.

Combined ShapeCaption
Auburn quarterback Bo Nix (10) is sacked by Georgia defensive lineman Travon Walker (44) during the first half Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021, at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Ala. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Georgia football-Mel Kiper-2022 NFL Mock Draft

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Combined ShapeCaption
Auburn quarterback Bo Nix (10) is sacked by Georgia defensive lineman Travon Walker (44) during the first half Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021, at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Ala. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Overall, Nix was 21-of-38 passing for 217 yards with one interception and no touchdowns. Linebacker Nakobe Dean picked off a pass to set up the Bulldogs first score of the game in the first quarter. It was Nix’s first interception of the entire season.

“We knew Bo was a great athlete and knew we had to contain him in this game,” said senior noseguard Jordan Davis, who finished with a season-high five tackles. “I’m elated that we got four sacks. I didn’t even count them, but Bo Nix is a great athlete and he has a promising future ahead of him.”

Next man up

It gets a little old sometimes to hear college football players and coaches constantly blurt “next man up” when it comes to injuries. But that has truly been the case for Georgia all season.

Lost in the discussion about whether or not the No. 2-ranked Bulldogs deserve to be the nation’s top-ranked teams is the fact they they have managed to dominate to this point without many if their top players in action.

Combined ShapeCaption
Georgia quarterback JT Daniels (18) throws during warmups before the Bulldogs faced Auburn Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021, at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Ala. Daniels did not play in the game. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Georgia quarterback JT Daniels (18) throws during warmups before the Bulldogs faced Auburn Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021, at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Ala. Daniels did not play in the game. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Combined ShapeCaption
Georgia quarterback JT Daniels (18) throws during warmups before the Bulldogs faced Auburn Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021, at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Ala. Daniels did not play in the game. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Not only is Georgia playing without its starting quarterback, it’s also playing without star receiver George Pickens and has been missing starting wideouts and primary receivers all season. That was the case again Saturday as split end Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint (ankle) and flanker Jermaine Burton (groin) were unable to play.

No problem. Freshman slotback Ladd McConkey switched to flanker and finished with five catches for 135 yards and the game’s biggest catch — a 60-yard touchdown late in the third quarter.

Georgia also lost starting left tackle Jamaree Salyer (ankle) and starting safety Christopher Smith (shoulder) during the first half. Smart said both players possibly could have returned but remained sidelined because their replacements — Broderick Jones and Dan Jackson, respectively — were playing well in their stead.

“It’s a next-man-up mentality; that’s what we talked about all week,” Smart said, evoking the phrase yet again. “It’s going to be next man up no matter who’s in. We’ve got lot of guys hurt and beat-up, including the quarterback.”

Run-game resurrection

Georgia’s rushing attack generally doesn’t produce fear and awe in opponents, but it has become almost unstoppable with a lead late in the second half.

The Bulldogs finished with 201 rushing yards Saturday after tallying just 36 in the first half. In the fourth quarter, as Georgia aimed to salt away what was then a 27-10 lead, the Bulldogs ran the football on all 10 plays of a 64-yard scoring drive. Those plays were divided between running backs Kendall Milton, James Cook and Zamir White.

Combined ShapeCaption
Georgia running back Zamir White (3) celebrates as he scores a touchdown during the second half Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021, at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Ala. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Georgia running back Zamir White (3) celebrates as he scores a touchdown during the second half Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021, at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Ala. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Combined ShapeCaption
Georgia running back Zamir White (3) celebrates as he scores a touchdown during the second half Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021, at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Ala. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Hit two yards deep in the backfield, White broke the attempted tackle and rambled 10 yards for final touchdown of the night. White the Bulldogs with 79 yards on 18 carries and finished with two touchdowns. He leads the team with six rushing scores on the year and 20 in his career.

Georgia has finished games similarly all year, including the 10-3 win over then-No. 3 Clemson to open the season. In that game, the Bulldogs ran the ball on nine consecutive plays before kneeling at the Tigers’ 12-yard line to end the game.