“Our goal this week was to win the now, from Monday until today,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “We weren’t going to worry about anything that happened. The past does not talk to the future, the past does not talk to the present and the present doesn’t talk to the future or past. They don’t talk, they don’t text and they don’t send each other messages. All we wanted to do was win the present. Each play that happened in the game, we just wanted to win the next, and I thought the guys did a great job of handling that message.”
The victory extended Georgia’s long lists of win streaks to 27 games in a row overall, 25 in a row at Sanford Stadium and 26 SEC regular-season games in a row. The Bulldogs (10-0, 7-0) are now 44-4 at home under eighth-year coach Kirby Smart. They head to Tennessee on Saturday carrying a regular-season streak of 37 consecutive victories.
Georgia clinched its third SEC Eastern Division title in a row well before Saturday’s 7 p.m. kickoff. That was because Missouri, on the heels of its 30-21 loss to the Bulldogs last week, dominated the Volunteers (7-3, 3-3) 36-7 in Columbia earlier in the day. That makes for a decidedly different tone for Saturday’s meeting at Neyland Stadium. In the preseason, that much-anticipated matchup was expected to have College Football Playoff implications.
Meanwhile, Alabama (9-1, 7-0) clinched the Western Division’s SEC Championship game berth with an easy 49-21 win over Kentucky in Lexington. The Crimson Tide and Georgia will meet in the championship game Dec. 2 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. It will be the fourth time those two schools face off for the league championship. Georgia is 0-3 in those games, with all the losses coming at the hands of coach Nick Saban.
Besides clinching their eighth SEC Championship game berth, the big news for the Bulldogs was the return of tight end Brock Bowers. The two-time All-American played extensively against Ole Miss and even caught his fifth touchdown of the season and 25th of his career.
Bowers’ 8-yard TD grab from quarterback Carson Beck 48 seconds into the fourth quarter ended the night for both players. The score represented 31 consecutive points by Bulldogs after the score was tied 14-14.
Beck finished with 306 yards and two touchdowns on 18-of-25 passing. He threw an interception at the end of the first half. Bowers finished with 34 yards on three receptions.
Nobody in the Bulldogs’ locker room was surprised Bowers returned to play a record 26 days after undergoing TightRope surgery to repair a high-ankle sprain.
“That is 100% the player he is, to sit in there and grind (his rehabilitation),” Beck said. “The guy was icing his ankle like 10 times a day, just over and over and over. He wanted to be out on the field. That’s the type of player he is. Obviously, to come back that fast and have a huge impact on the game is unreal.”
But the real story of the game was in the trenches for the Bulldogs. Georgia’s offensive line absolutely overwhelmed Ole Miss, plowing over and through the Rebels to the tune of 611 yards, with almost half of that coming via the ground game. Running backs Kendall Milton and Daijun Edwards each accounted for two touchdowns, with Milton getting loose for a career-high 127 yards on nine attempts, or an incredible 14.1 yards per carry. Even Beck got in on the act with 30 yards on four carries.
Ladd McConkey led Georgia’s receivers with four catches for 81 yards and a touchdown, and Dominic Lovett added four for 77. The Bulldogs piled up 25 first downs.
“They got their tackle back and their tight end back,” Kiffin said. “We didn’t tackle. They’ve got really physical backs. I think that offense is overlooked because it is a defensive-made team, people think. That is a really good offense. That was a concern.”
Georgia was similarly dominant on defense, at least after the first quarter. Ole Miss running back Quinshon Judkins scored both his team’s touchdowns and had 75 yards on the night. But only 20 of that came after halftime.
The Bulldogs knocked quarterback Jaxson Dart out of the game, literally. A downfield collision with defensive lineman Zion Logue with 3:31 remaining in the third quarter left Dart on the sideline with only 112 yards on 10-of-17 passing. Dart had 20 yards rushing on eight attempts. That includes being sacked twice for 17 yards.
Safety Javon Bullard had an interception for Georgia, which was playing without starting linebacker Jamon Dumas-Johnson. Dumas-Johnson was lost the previous week in the Missouri game to a fractured forearm. His status for the Tennessee is unknown.
Georgia started C.J. Allen at Dumas-Johnson’s “Mike” linebacker position, and the freshman from Barnesville led the Bulldogs with nine tackles. Fellow freshman Raylen Wilson also logged snaps in that spot beside junior Smael Mondon, and some early confusion contributed the Rebels’ early offensive success.
“No adjustments,” Smart said. “The calls we had worked; they’ve just got to play them well. We had two young ‘backers, and they were little nervous to start the game. (The Rebels) converted the first third-and-long of the game, and we should’ve been off the field. C.J. messed up, then Raylen had a little boo-boo, but those kids grew up, and I’m really proud how they handled things.
Curiously, Kiffin had his team kick a 29-yard field goal with 8:50 remaining for the final margin. Georgia backups finished the game, which included an eight-play, 75-yard touchdown drive led by quarterback Brock Vandagriff. That possession was keyed by a 37-yard run by freshman Roderick Robinson and a 4-yard TD run by Andrew Paul.
It made for a celebratory ending of a day that started with much tension and a whole lot of rain. The game tilted Georgia’s direction on Ole Miss’ fourth offensive series. With the Bulldogs leading 21-14, Georgia’s Nazir Stackhouse, with some help from Allen and Chaz Chambliss, recorded the first sack of the night of Dart at the Rebels 15. The Rebels ended up punting from there, and the Bulldogs took over at their own 38.
A perfectly executed nine-play, 62-yard touchdown drive of six runs and three passes pushed the Bulldogs ahead by two scores and they’d never be threatened again.
“This was real Georgia football to me,” Kendall Milton said. “This was the Georgia football that I grew up watching. You know what I mean?”