In what was supposed to be a test for No. 2 Georgia in its march to its third consecutive national championship, the Bulldogs offense made an emphatic statement to college football Saturday night.
With its starting lineup whole for the first time all season, offensive coordinator Mike Bobo’s unit obliterated Ole Miss in a way that rarely happens at this level of competition in the Bulldogs’ 52-17 throttling of No. 9 Ole Miss at Sanford Stadium.
“We went at ‘em,” an ebullient Beck said. “When the run game works like that, you really can call whatever you want to. Because when they’re worried about the run, now we’re going to try to throw it over their head. When all facets of the offense are working together, (Bobo) just becomes aggressive.”
Georgia’s 52 points and 611 yards of offense were season highs. In 10 possessions before the final clock-killing drive, the Bulldogs scored seven touchdowns (every drive at least 60 yards, yet all requiring nine plays or fewer), kicked a field goal, were intercepted once and punted once. Attempting 25 passes (and completing 18 for 306 yards and two touchdowns), Beck was not sacked once by an Ole Miss defense that ranked second in the SEC in sacks per game (3.4). Out of 61 plays, 11 went for 15 yards or more.
It seemed like everything Bobo called worked.
“You get to a point, especially when each run is hitting for five (yards), six, five, six, and then you bust one for 50,” Beck said. “The next play, we’re calling a shot, and the next play we’re calling a shot. It’s just over and over again.”
Milton was superior, hitting runs up the middle of 33 and 51 yards to finish with 127 yards and two touchdowns on only nine carries. He executed back-to-back runs in the second quarter that spelled out Georgia’s physical domination of Ole Miss. On a second-and-5 from the Ole Miss 13, he broke two tackles in the backfield for a 6-yard gain and a first down. On the next play, he ran through an arm tackle near the line and then put defensive back Ladarius Tennison on his back with a vicious stiff-arm before reaching the end zone.
The Bulldogs averaged 10.0 yards per play, which is a number that deserves a paragraph or two. In the past 11 years, Georgia had averaged more yards per play only once, and that was against a Massachusetts team in 2018 that ranked seventh worst in FBS in total defense. The Bulldogs posted their 10.0 yards per play Saturday against a team that was thought to have an outside chance at the College Football Playoff.
Ole Miss does not have a very good defense, but Georgia’s yards-per-play average was almost twice the Rebels’ defensive rate (5.1 yards per play) before Saturday.
“They really dominated us on the other side of the ball to have a 10-plus yards per play,” Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin said. “I don’t know if I have been a part of that on defense.”
Saturday was the first time all season that the Bulldogs could roll out the offensive starting 11 that they anticipated before the season. When the season began, injuries sidelined wide receiver Ladd McConkey (back), Edwards (knee) and right tackle Amarius Mims (ankle). Edwards missed two games. McConkey, who led Georgia wide receivers in receptions the past two seasons, missed four.
Then Bowers was injured in the seventh game with his high-ankle sprain. Mims, a preseason All-American, made his season debut Saturday. In the 10th game of the season, they all finally shared a huddle.
Less than four weeks after undergoing TightRope surgery to repair his left ankle, Bowers walked onto Dooley Field with the offense for the Bulldogs’ first series of the game. At first, the Bulldogs were careful with a player who had been their focal point before the injury, running plays away from his side of the field and not throwing to him until the third drive of the game.
On a first-and-10 from midfield, Bowers went in motion to the left, caught a short pass from Beck and sidestepped a tackle try by cornerback Demarko Williams. The maneuver required Bowers to land with all of his 240 pounds on his left foot, an impact he appeared to handle without pain on his way to a 7-yard gain. He finished with three catches for 34 yards, including an 8-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter.
Teammates were staggered by Bowers’ return from a surgical procedure that can take players twice as long to return to competition.
“I’m not going to lie,” Milton said. “I’ve seen Brock running and doing certain drills and stuff, and I’m just looking over there, I’m like, ‘That’s crazy.’ Like, he just got out of surgery, and he’s over there running and doing all type of stuff.”
With two games remaining in the regular season before their SEC Championship game against No. 8 Alabama at Mercedes-Benz Stadium (a matchup made official Saturday), the look of the Bulldogs may be changing in a way that makes their historic push to a third national title in a row appear far more likely than it did earlier in the season.
“I said it earlier in the week, but I think that offense is overlooked because it is a defensive-made team, people think,” Kiffin said. “That is a really good offense.”
Georgia probably can’t roll to 52 points and 611 yards of offense every Saturday. But take into consideration that the Bulldogs did it against Ole Miss even with Bowers limited. With an elite defense on the other side, if the Bulldogs can maintain any degree of this offensive excellence, is there a team out there that can keep up with them?
Beck was asked if Saturday’s performance was a demonstration of what the Bulldogs are capable of now that they are fully healthy. He made a face as though he’d been asked if it’s fun to beat a top-10 team by 35 points in front of a sellout crowd.
“I mean, yeah,” Beck said. “It looks like it.”