Georgia QB Carson Beck making believers out of everyone

Georgia quarterback Carson Beck (15) celebrates their win against Auburn at Jordan-Hare Stadium, Saturday, Sept. 30, 2023, in Auburn, Al. Georgia won 27-20.  Beck had 318 yards passing and the go-ahead touchdown. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Credit: Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Georgia quarterback Carson Beck (15) celebrates their win against Auburn at Jordan-Hare Stadium, Saturday, Sept. 30, 2023, in Auburn, Al. Georgia won 27-20. Beck had 318 yards passing and the go-ahead touchdown. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

ATHENS – It’s not all up to Carson Beck. Georgia’s hopes of national championship three-peat do not rest solely on the broad shoulders of the 6-foot-4, 220-pound quarterback. But as everyone who follows football can attest, that position always carries an inordinate amount of sway when it comes to success and failure.

Approaching the halfway point of the 2023 season, what’s clear is Beck is not going to be the reason the Bulldogs can’t achieve any of their goals. While he may not be creating any Heisman buzz or wowing folks with incredible play-making, the junior from Jacksonville is taking care of the football, moving the sticks and keeping Georgia out of the “L” column.

All that will be on the line again Saturday night when the No. 1-ranked Bulldogs (5-0, 2-0 SEC) play host to 20th-ranked Kentucky (5-0, 2-0) at Sanford Stadium (7 p.m., ESPN).

“When you start talking about national title hopes and putting it all on one player, I think that’s a little far-fetched,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “I don’t think we’ve won the ones we’ve one because of that position. Stetson (Bennett) was certainly more experienced and better the second go-around than the first. But neither one was (because of him), and whether we do or don’t this year is not going to be because of Carson.”

Beck had to wait until his fourth year to finally be anointed QB1 for the Bulldogs. He got the first road start of his career last Saturday at Auburn. He came through in a big way in that one as Georgia had to rally from another double-digit, first-half deficit to win 27-20 victory.

The Bulldogs trailed 17-10 in the third quarter when Beck oversaw a 10-play, 98-yard drive to tie the game. Beck converted third-down passes of 14 and 12 yards to keep the possession alive.

Beck helped Georgia orchestrate a pair of scoring drives in the fourth quarter. Again, he came through with big-time throws to move the Bulldogs into scoring position. None were bigger than his completion over the middle to Brock Bowers, which the All-America tight end turned into a 40-yard, game-winning touchdown.

Beck would finish with 313 yards on 23-of-33 passing and an interception. His passes went to eight different receivers. Bowers caught eight of them.

“It was a tough game, but we persevered and kept pushing,” Beck said. “I try to embrace every moment of every day. All that happened (Saturday), happened on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. It’s been happening since fall camp; it’s been happening the last four years. All those practices, all those reps, I have full confidence in myself and in this offense and all these guys.”

Slowly but surely, the Bulldogs’ offensive identity under Beck and first-year offensive coordinator Mike Bobo is started to come into focus. And it’s different.

Traditionally known as a run-first team that pounds opponents into submission, Georgia instead is passing the ball 52% of the time and accounting for 69% of its offensive yardage through the air. The Bulldogs threw the ball just 43% of the time in 2021 and 47% last year.

Nationally, UGA is 10th in passing (336.6 ypg), the school’s highest ranking since Eric Zeier was quarterback in 1994. Individually, Beck is ninth in passing at 299.4 ypg. He has seven touchdowns and two interceptions in five games. His efficiency rating of 162 is almost right on par with Bennett’s last year (161.18).

At least some of Georgia’s offensive identity has been dictated by external factors. The running back position has been decimated by injuries this season. Senior Daijun Edwards was the only scholarship back to have rushing attempts against Auburn last Saturday (19-76-2) and even he’s just three weeks removed from being sidelined with an MCL sprain. The Bulldogs’ other four backs are either temporarily sidelined or out for the year, as is the case for sophomore Branson Robinson (knee). Currently, Georgia’s second-leading rusher is split end Dillon Bell (17-98), who is alternating between positions.

Georgia expects to have senior Kendall Milton (knee) back in the fold Saturday against Kentucky. But the Wildcats’ defensive make-up – they rank No. 5 in the nation against the run (71.8 ypg) and 46th against the pass (222 ypg) – would seem to indicate that the Bulldogs will look to move the ball through the air.

Asked what he thinks is the Bulldogs’ offensive identity to this point in the year, Smart shrugged his shoulders.

“Do what it takes,” he said. “I mean, that’s essentially what it always comes down to, right? You’d love to have it defined as ‘we’re just going to bully you and run it through you.’ Nobody really does that. ... If you have one identity, then that’s probably what they’re going to stop.”

Being able to advance the football with equal efficiency on the ground and through the air is the ultimate goal, of course. And the Bulldogs certainly have some work to do running the football. That’s something they see as a deficiency approaching the season’s halfway point.

“We definitely want to see improvement in the run game,” junior guard Tate Ratledge said. “I have to take ownership there. Just across the board, we’ve got to go out there we a mindset that we’re still going to run the ball and not let different things affect us.”

At the same time, the Bulldogs are also learning that they have a quarterback they can depend on to throw the football. Though his body of work as Georgia’s starting quarterback remains small, Beck’s numbers certainly will stand up against others in recent years.

And he seems to be getting better each week. Not only has he completed 72% of his passes so far, but he’s proving to be incredibly effective on third down. He enters the Kentucky game tied for fifth nationally at 54.7%. As a team, the Bulldogs were 8-for-13 against Auburn, including 5-of-7 in the second half.

“I thought he played really well on third down; I’d like to play better on first and second,” Smart quipped.

The belief is that Beck grew up on the Plains this past Saturday. While Georgia certainly doesn’t appear to be as dominant a team offensively or defensively this year, Beck already has helped engineer come-from-behind SEC victories. That has to have instilled belief in his teammates, if not just himself.

“We’ve been together,” he said of the offense. “We have the chemistry and I know exactly what’s on each guy’s mind. You’re going to miss throws sometimes. You’re not going to blow everyone out. That’s how it works sometimes. It’s the SEC.”

While that may be a relief for many Georgia fans, it’s not for Smart. Beck is doing exactly what he expected.

“I had been around the kid,” Smart said. “He had been in the program, had been in the offense, I had seen him have good days on third down against our defense. Seen him have bad days, too. He makes really good decisions with the ball. He’s efficient. I guess the only thing I’ve learned is he does have natural composure, but I already thought that.”

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