The Vols are the next hurdle for two-time, defending national champion Georgia (10-0, 7-0 SEC). But the complexion of their long-circled Nov. 18 game at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville has changed considerably over the last few weeks. Anticipated to the matchup of the year in the SEC East, as it turns out the outcome will be moot with regard to anything besides pride and winning streaks.
Tennessee’s annual fall from grace continued on Saturday as the Vols were humiliated at the hands of Missouri 36-7 in Columbia. The loss dropped Tennessee to 7-3 overall and 3-3 in SEC play with conference games remaining with the Bulldogs and Vanderbilt.
The Vols’ defense was their demise. Missouri running back Cody Schrader, a handful for the Bulldogs in their 30-21 win on Nov. 4, totaled 321 yards from scrimmage, including 205 yards rushing and a touchdown.
On offense, Tennessee quarterback Joe Milton threw for 267 yards with a touchdown and an interception against Missouri. The Vols’ penalty-prone offense, which entered the game one of the nation’s best rushing attacks, finished with just 83 yards on 23 carries.
For Georgia, its SEC Championship game berth is its sixth in the last seven seasons and 11th overall. It will be the fourth time the Bulldogs face Alabama in the game. They’re 0-3 in the previous meetings. The last came in 2021. Georgia fell 41-24, then avenged the loss a month later when it defeated Bama 33-18 to win the College Football Playoff Championship in Indianapolis.
Asked how it made him feel to make it back to the SEC title game for a third year in a row, Smart grinned. “It’s the expectation, man. It’s what we expect to do.”
Here are five other things we learned Saturday:
Brock’s stock up
The NFL draft stock of Georgia tight end Brock Bowers went up on Saturday, according to Smart. That’s because the two-time All-American ignored the advice of some of his representatives and decided to pursue as quick of a return from injury as possible.
Brock made it back from TightRope ankle surgery in 26 days, the quickest on record for the Bulldogs.
“All he did is stamp himself as a warrior,” Smart said. “… He’s got an opportunity to move up because of who he is.”
Bowers was targeted four times by quarterback Carson Beck and finished with three catches for 34 yards and an 8-yard touchdown. Ole Miss should have been flagged for interference on the other ball thrown his way.
As it was, Bowers now ranks fifth in UGA history with 163 catches for 2,425 yards. His 25 TD catches ranks second in school annals.
The Bulldogs’ 611 yards on offense Saturday was their most since gaining 615 against Missouri in 2020. Georgia averaged just over 10 yards per play.
Nearly half of that production came on the ground with a season-high 300 yards rushing. The majority of that was logged by senior backs Kendall Milton (9-127) and Daijun Edwards (12-59), each of whom scored two TDs.
Junior quarterback Carson Beck surpassed the 300-yard barrier for the fifth time this season with 306 yards on 18 of 25 passing. He had two TDs and one interception. That put Beck over 3,000 yards for the season (3,026). He has 18 touchdowns and five interceptions. Beck is the first Georgia quarterback to throw for 250 or more yards in every game he’s played this season. His season-low was 254 last week against Missouri.
Takeaways adding up
Georgia’s defense was on its heels after giving up 185 yards and two touchdowns to Ole Miss in the first 15:44 of Saturday’s game. But the tide turned in the second quarter when noseguard Nazir Stackhouse sacked quarterback Jaxon Dart on the Rebels’ fourth possession of the game, which backed them up at their own 15. Georgia went ahead 28-14 on the subsequent possession after taking over at the 38-yard line.
The next time Ole Miss got the ball, safety Javon Bullard intercepted Dart’s long pass down the sideline for wide receiver Dayton Wade. Georgia was unable to turn it into any points – Beck was intercepted at the Ole Miss 7 right before halftime – but the Rebels’ No. 1 offense never would threaten the Bulldogs again.
“Yeah, huge momentum plays,” Smart said. “Naz got one. And great play by ‘Bull.’ He worked all week on that. He had a correction from the week before where he busted against Missouri. It really ticked us off he didn’t do his job. He did his job on that play and he got rewarded for it.”
Said Bullard: “We can take a punch. Ole Miss came out firing on all cylinders. They were playing fast ball and got the tempo going real fast. But were able to make adjustments and come out with the victory.”
Saturday was the defense’s first game without inside linebacker and captain Jamon Dumas-Johnson, who suffered a fractured forearm the previous week against Missouri. Freshman C.J. Allen got his first career start and led the Bulldogs with nine tackles, including a sack. Fellow freshman Raylen Wilson also filled in some and finished with two stops.
Homecoming for the Bulldogs officially was the last game against Missouri, but you wouldn’t know it from all the former players and coaches who were in attendance on Saturday.
Former Georgia coach Mark Richt was recognized on the field on the occasion of his impending Hall of Fame induction next month and was presented with his Hall of Fame plaque along with his wife Katharyn. Former Bulldogs Mecole Hardman and Kelee Ringo simultaneously led the “Call the Dawgs” cheer during pregame ceremonies. And two-time national championship game MVP Stetson Bennett hung out on the Georgia sideline and was recognized on the field along with teammates Jordan Davis, Nolan Smith, Brian Herrien, Malik Herring and several other former Bulldogs.
Smart was disappointed not to have time to visit with any of them.
“I didn’t get to see Stetson. I looked on the video board and saw him,” Smart said. “I saw Coach Richt. What a great honor. I thought, ‘golly man, we can’t mess this game up with all these dudes here. It’s a tight ball game, and I’m looking up going through our whole past, working for Coach Richt, honoring Coach Richt, College Football Hall of Fame, his wife, what they’ve meant for this community, what they’ve meant to me. He gave me a job when I didn’t have one. It’s just incredible people, just unbelievable people.
“And to see Stetson. You know, I’ve seen Stetson around a couple times, but I haven’t really got to spend time with him. It’s just so consumed.”
Bennett, MVP of the every CFP playoff game he played with the Bulldogs the last two years, was drafted by the Los Angeles Rams. However, he was placed on the Rams’ reserve/non-injury list in September and hasn’t played since. Saturday was Bennett’s first public appearance.
Georgia honored 30 players in Senior Day ceremonies before Saturday’s game. From an eligibility standpoint, some were redshirt juniors and some were fifth-years. In the end, some of them who walked will be back and some who did not participate won’t.
However you break it down, they never lost a home in their entire career and their overall record after Saturday’s win is 47-3. That’s second only to the 2022 senior class, which left with a 49-5 record. The 2023 senior class has at least four games left to try to improve on that.
“There’s a lot of walk-ons that don’t get a lot of credit that got to go out there tonight, a lot of guys that give their bodies and time and effort,” Smart said. “I think we have one of the best scout-team looks in the country and of those guys, I bet 16 or 17 practice every day for four or five years knowing they will never play a snap. I don’t think you realize how deep that is to know, ‘I’m never going to step on that field, but I’m going to serve the team and do a great job.’ … They have an opportunity to do something special. They’ve been special to me. I got a little emotional tonight.”
Here’s the Bulldogs who were recognized Saturday:
- Offensive lineman Austin Blaske (Faulkville)
- Defensive lineman Warren Brinson (Savannah)
- Tight end Cade Brock (Subligna)
- Offensive lineman Chris Brown (Savannah)
- Running back Sevaughn Clark (Dawsonville)
- Outside linebacker Luke Collins (Birmingham, Ala.).
- Inside linebacker Graham Collins (Atlanta)
- Running back Joseph Daniels (Johns Creek)
- Running back Daijun Edwards (Norman Park)
- Wide receiver Braxton Hicks (Tiger)
- Defensive back Dan Jackson (Gainesville)
- Offensive lineman Miles Johnson (Blue Ridge)
- Offensive lineman Chad Lindberg (League City, Texas)
- Defensive lineman Zion Logue (Lebanon, Tenn.)
- Wide receiver Ladd McConkey (Chatsworth)
- Running back Kendall Milton (Fresno, Calif.)
- Snapper William Mote (Hoover, Ala.)
- Quarterback Jackson Muschamp (Columbia, S.C.)
- Offensive lineman Tate Ratledge (Rome)
- Wide receiver Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint (Pompano Beach, Fla.)
- Tight end Drew Sheehan (Woodstock)
- Defensive back Tykee Smith (Philadelphia, Penn.)
- Wide receiver Arian Smith (Bradley, Fla.)
- Defensive back Colby Smith (Danielsville)
- Defensive lineman Nazir Stackhouse (Stone Mountain)
- Defensive back Patrick Taylor (Johns Creek),
- Offensive lineman Xavier Truss (West Warwick, R.I.)
- Offensive lineman Sedrick Van Pran (New Orleans, La.)
- Wide receiver George Vining (Macon)
- Place-kicker Jared Zirkel (Kerrville, Texas).