Alabama won 28 straight under coach Bear Bryant from 1978-80 and 28 under coach Gene Stallings from 1991-93.
Now Georgia is on a 28-game streak that started with a win over Michigan in the Orange Bowl on Jan. 1, 2021. To make it 29, the Bulldogs will have to take care of business against a Tech team (6-5) that just become bowl eligible with a 31-22 win over Syracuse (5-6) Saturday night on the Flats.
It’s a dangerous game, Smart said.
“Our job is to get ready and prepared for a physical, hard-nosed team that knows everything about us,” he said. “Buster Faulkner is there, Kevin Sherrer is there, Brent Key is there. They’ve got good coaches. But it’s not going to be the coaches that win the game. It’s going to be the players. It’s going to be a tough game. Our kids have got to respect it, understand it and go out and be physical. That’s what football is.”
Smart has used the analogy of being the hunter rather than the hunted throughout this run of 38 consecutive regular-season wins and back-to-back national championships. After Saturday’s 38-10 win over Tennessee in Knoxville, Georgia has become the first SEC team since divisional play began in 1992 to go 8-0 in conference play in three straight seasons.
Each week, there is a new mantra, but the never-changing message has been “next game, next practice, next moment.”
“I really believe our culture is the difference,” Smart said. “Everybody will say it’s players, but I don’t think that it’s just players. We’ve got good players; we’ve got really good players. But I think there’s a lot to our culture that the kids buy into. They stay level-headed. We’re not talking about the streak. They’re not worried about the streak.
“Like I said, it’s going to end, and then we’re going to start a new one. But for right now, they just keep getting better.”
Here are five more things we learned about the Bulldogs on Saturday night:
Beck for Heisman?
Smart is confused as anybody else why Carson Beck doesn’t receive more national recognition for his work as Georgia’s quarterback. The junior and first-year starter once again was incredibly efficient for the Bulldogs while playing a high-profile game. In a road game against the 18th-ranked Volunteers, Beck completed 80% of his passes for 298 yards and 3 touchdowns.
He has now thrown for more than 250 yards in every game as Georgia’s starter. On the season, Beck has completed 73% of his passes for 3,320 yards, 21 touchdowns and five interceptions.
“I don’t lobby for those guys, but it’s easy to sit back and say, ‘Look at what this kid has done,’” Smart said Saturday night. “The worst thing for Beck individually is he plays with a good defense. It makes you not want to sit there and just run it up. Some of these other guys, they get opportunities and have to score 40 a game. I don’t think we as an offensive staff think we have to score 40 a game. I don’t think we think we have to. … So you’re able to call the game differently as an offensive coordinator.”
Oregon’s Bo Nix and LSU’s Jayden Daniels are considered the top two candidates for the 2023 Heisman Trophy. Nix has thrown for 3,539 yards, 35 touchdowns and two interceptions for the 10-1 Ducks. Daniels has 3,577 yards and 36 touchdowns and four interceptions while also rushing for 1,014 yards and 10 more scores.
“I don’t think he cares about that,” Smart said of Beck and the Heisman. “He’s talented, guys. He’s smart and he’s a better athlete than you think. He’s got No. 19 and some good players out there.”
Indeed, Beck insisted he’s not worried about it.
“I have super-high expectations for myself and they’re only going to get higher,” he said. “I’m just trying to get better each and every day. That’s where I’m at.”
Georgia wins ‘money down’
The primary reason the Bulldogs have been able to win so much the last few years is their performance on the most important down in football – third down. That was evident again Saturday against Tennessee.
The Bulldogs converted third downs into firsts nine times out of 13 opportunities. They were 9-of-12 when Beck was in the game. Georgia entered the game leading the nation in third-down conversion rate at 56%.
Conversely, Tennessee was 2-of-11 on third downs Saturday. The Vols went 1-for-2 on fourth downs.
“Look at their conversion rate; that’s how you win,” Tennessee coach Josh Heupel said of Georgia. “A lot of it was in the pass game. At the end of the day, I said going into it, there’s gonna be one-on-one situations. They made plays in those one-on-one situations.”
The Bulldogs were similarly effective under quarterback Stetson Bennett the last two season. Last year, Georgia was 51% on third-down conversions and 45% in 2021. Anything over 40% is considered exceptional.
‘Just let them score’
For the fifth straight SEC game, the Bulldogs gave up a touchdown on their opponents’ opening drive. This time, Tennessee scored on the first play of the game. Jaylen Wright’s 75-yard touchdown run assured that Georgia would trail its SEC foe for the seventh time in eight conference games this season.
“I talked to (Glenn) Schumann before the game. ‘Just let them score so we can get this over with,’” Smart quipped.
Fortunately for the Bulldogs, they responded like they did in all the other games. They scored 24 consecutive points to established control of the game.
Georgia’s defense forced the Vols into three-and-outs on their next two possessions and four straight punts. Tennessee kicked a field goal shortly before halftime and turned the ball over on downs deep inside the Bulldogs’ territory early in the fourth quarter.
The Vols were held to 277 total yards – or 189 before their season’s average – and Wright would rush for just 15 more yards on eight carries the rest of the night.
Nickelback Tykee Smith led the Bulldogs with 10 tackles and safety Javon Bullard added 10. Defensive end Mykel Williams had two of the biggest plays in the game with a sack and a pass breakup.
Injuries and lineups
Georgia lost offensive guard Tate Ratledge and split end Rara Thomas to injuries in the first half. Neither were as bad as they seemed at the time.
Ratledge, who has started in 14 straight games, 25 overall and served as a captain Saturday, had to be helped off the field just inside the two-minute mark of the first quarter with an injured right knee. Turns out that Ratledge “banged knees” and is going to be OK. Images taken Saturday showed neither a fracture nor a torn ligament. He’ll be reevaluated this week.
“We felt he might be able to get back in there,” Smart said. “He tried to go, but couldn’t. There’s damage, so he tells me he’s going to be able to play this week. We’ll see.”
X-rays are negative so that’s really good news,” Smart said. “It’s not an ankle.”
Flanker Ladd McConkey tried to play but could not. The junior from Chatsworth, who grew up as a Tennessee fan, did not practice last week because of an ankle injury he had against Ole Miss. He warmed up Saturday and came in for Georgia’s first offensive series but left and did not return. That was after serving as a team captain.
After Ratledge went out at the 1:56 mark of the first quarter, Georgia offensive line coach Stacy Searels inserted Micah Morris into the lineup. Initially, Morris went in at Ratledge’s right-guard position, then he switched with sophomore Dylan Fairchild at left guard and Fairchild played the rest of the game at right guard.
It went well as, once again, Beck was not sacked and running backs Kendall Milton (14-66) and Daijun Edwards (11-32) combined for exactly 100 rushing and the Bulldogs had 156 yards on the ground as a team. Quarterback Brock Vandagriff was sacked late in the fourth quarter as the backups finished out the game.
“With the injuries we’ve had, it’s been great,” Smart said of the offensive line. “Stacy has done a great job of cross-training those guys. I feel like we’ve got three tackles, three or four guards, two centers. You have to go into the season with that. When you don’t, you get in trouble. He’s done a great job of building those guys that way.”
Amarius Mims returned to Georgia’s starting lineup for the first time since leading the South Carolina game with a high-ankle sprain in Week 3. Mims also got the honor wearing Devin Willock’s No. 77 jersey on Saturday.
The 6-7, 340-pound junior right tackle had TightRope surgery the next week and has dressed out for the Bulldogs the last three weeks. Mims saw his first action the previous week against Ole Miss, logging 35 snaps. Senior Xavier Truss had started the previous seven games at right tackle after moving there from left guard during the South Carolina game. Truss continued to work at tackle Saturday.