No. 1 Georgia is 12-0 and ready for Alabama

Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett pumps his fist while celebrating a touchdown by running back Kenny McIntosh during the third quarter in a 45-0 shutout over Georgia Tech in NCAA college football game on Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021, in Atlanta.   “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”`

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

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Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett pumps his fist while celebrating a touchdown by running back Kenny McIntosh during the third quarter in a 45-0 shutout over Georgia Tech in NCAA college football game on Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021, in Atlanta. “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”`

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Beating Georgia Tech was a given for Georgia. Doing so convincingly was expected. The Bulldogs unofficially checked off both boxes by halftime Saturday at Bobby Dodd Stadium. If those aligned with them weren’t already thinking it, they were by that point.

Beat Alabama.

“Everyone has had it kind of circled and seen it out there,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said after the 45-0 victory. “We’ve really tried to work hard on getting better. That’s been the emphasis is, ‘What can you improve on?’”

The list is short for the Bulldogs. They are ready for Alabama. Lots of teams say that before getting more than they can handle. The Bulldogs won’t be the latest. They’ll take a complete team to face the Crimson Tide next weekend in the SEC Championship game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

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Georgia has been the nation’s unanimous No. 1 team for weeks. The defense is all-time good. The offense is on the come. Throw out Kentucky’s last-second touchdown and none of Georgia’s past 11 opponents lost by fewer than 24 points.

The Bulldogs finished 12-0 in the regular season for the first time. They say they aren’t celebrating that feat.

“I hate to demean it,” Smart said. “It’s a big deal. It’s an honor. It’s great. But it’s the next step in the process for this group.

“This group has had a single-minded focus. Never said, ‘Hey, lets’ go 12-0.’ They said, ‘Let’s beat everyone we play, let’s focus one game at a time and try to really dominate who we play.’ And they’ve done that.”

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Georgia tight end Brock Bowers breaks away from Georgia Tech defenders as he heads to the end zone on a long touchdown reception to take a 24-0 lead over Georgia Tech during the second quarter in a NCAA college football game on Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021, in Atlanta. “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”`

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Georgia tight end Brock Bowers breaks away from Georgia Tech defenders as he heads to the end zone on a long touchdown reception to take a 24-0 lead over Georgia Tech during the second quarter in a NCAA college football game on Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021, in Atlanta.   “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”`

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

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Georgia tight end Brock Bowers breaks away from Georgia Tech defenders as he heads to the end zone on a long touchdown reception to take a 24-0 lead over Georgia Tech during the second quarter in a NCAA college football game on Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021, in Atlanta. “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”`

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Now comes Bama, Georgia’s toughest test yet. It probably would be easier to win championships without going through the Tide. It just would be more satisfying for Georgia to knock off Bama along the way. The Tide have ruined championship dreams for Smart’s team twice in five years.

A victory in the third meeting be a four-for-one for the Bulldogs. They’d win the SEC championship. They’d do it with a victory over Bama. They’d go into the College Football Playoff as the top seed. And they’d (likely) keep the Tide out of the CFP.

Before getting a chance to do all that, the Bulldogs had to flick aside the Yellow Jackets. They did so methodically and without drama.

“We were just focused on doing the duty in front of us,” Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett said. “We knew what this game means for the history of this program and that, if we slipped up, anything can happen.”

The Bulldogs didn’t slip up. The predictable outcome happened. Georgia scored at will, committed no turnovers and amazingly weren’t flagged for a single penalty. The Jackets couldn’t even manage a field-goal attempt. At one point I wondered if they’d gain a first down.

That’s a preposterous notion, but Georgia’s defense makes wild thoughts seem plausible. The Jackets finally gained a first down on their third drive. Then I contemplated whether they’d make it past midfield. That didn’t happen until Tech’s 21st play, by which time Georgia had scored 24 points on 22 snaps.

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Georgia defensive lineman Zion Logue (from left) and defensive back Derion Kendrick tackle Georgia Tech running back Jordan Mason during the first half on the way to a 45-0 shut out in a NCAA college football game on Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021, in Atlanta. “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”`

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Georgia defensive lineman Zion Logue (from left) and defensive back Derion Kendrick tackle Georgia Tech running back Jordan Mason during the first half on the way to a 45-0 shut out in a NCAA college football game on Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021, in Atlanta.   “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”`

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

caption arrowCaption
Georgia defensive lineman Zion Logue (from left) and defensive back Derion Kendrick tackle Georgia Tech running back Jordan Mason during the first half on the way to a 45-0 shut out in a NCAA college football game on Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021, in Atlanta. “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”`

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

The Jackets ended up running 12 plays on that drive but gained just 39 yards before punting. It was a lot of effort for not much reward. That’s been the outcome for every team that’s faced UGA this season.

You can’t chalk up what the Bulldogs did to Tech as them beating up on an outmanned opponent. Well, you can’t attribute it only to that. Didn’t Arkansas, Auburn, Kentucky and Tennessee look nearly as inept against the Bulldogs? Even solid-to-good teams appear overwhelmed against Georgia.

Said Smart: “It just says that they hold each other accountable, they are up for the task, they’ve answered the bell and they’ve done the right things. But we also haven’t played a team the caliber of Alabama.”

Bama was in the back of the mind when Tech made its first big play of the game. Jordan Yates threw over the top of Georgia’s coverage to Dylan Leonard for 40 yards. Defending long pass plays is a weakness for the Bulldogs. In their case, that means they are just OK at it instead of great.

But Leonard’s catch came with Tech down 31-0. Anyway, the drive ended with Yates getting chased from the pocket on fourth down and futilely looking for an open receiver. The Bulldogs took over on downs. Two plays later, Kenny McIntosh was running 59 yards for another Georgia touchdown.

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Georgia's running back Kenny McIntosh (6) runs past Georgia Tech's defensive back Miles Brooks (20) for a touchdown during the second half of an NCAA college football game at Georgia Tech's Bobby Dodd Stadium in Atlanta on Saturday, November 27, 2021. Georgia won 45-0 over Georgia Tech. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Georgia's running back Kenny McIntosh (6) runs past Georgia Tech's defensive back Miles Brooks (20) for a touchdown during the second half of an NCAA college football game at Georgia Tech's Bobby Dodd Stadium in Atlanta on Saturday, November 27, 2021. Georgia won 45-0 over Georgia Tech. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

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Georgia's running back Kenny McIntosh (6) runs past Georgia Tech's defensive back Miles Brooks (20) for a touchdown during the second half of an NCAA college football game at Georgia Tech's Bobby Dodd Stadium in Atlanta on Saturday, November 27, 2021. Georgia won 45-0 over Georgia Tech. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

The Jackets never got close to the end zone. They really had just one playmaker for Georgia to worry about, Jahmyr Gibbs. The Bulldogs will have to account for many more threats against Alabama and their eventual CFP foe. The flip side of that is none of UGA’s postseason opponents will have seen a defense this great.

Now Georgia’s offense is peaking, too. The running game has rounded into typical UGA form. Bennett is playing better than ever. Freshman tight end Brock Bowers regularly delivers big plays. One of UGA’s best wide receivers, George Pickens, made his season debut Saturday, just in time for the postseason.

The Bulldogs scored on each of their four drives. The first one ended with a field goal after a dropped pass on third down that would have gone for a first. On Georgia’s second possession, Bennett was 3-of-4 passing for 61 yards and ran for first downs twice. That drive ended with his feathered, 25-yard touchdown pass to Jermaine Burton.

Georgia 45, Georgia Tech 0

Georgia’s next drive: Bennett squeezed an 18-yard pass to Darnell Washington to Tech’s 11-yard line, then found Ladd McConkey for a touchdown on the next play. Next UGA possession: Bowers took Bennett’s crisp pass on the second play and ran the rest of the way for a 77-yard score. At halftime, Bennett was 10-of-15 passing for 226 yards with three touchdowns and six completions of 15 yards or more.

In the third quarter Bennett threw his fourth touchdown, and second to Bowers, for the 31-0 lead. He took a seat for the fourth quarter. The Bulldogs were on their way to their fourth consecutive victory over Tech.

“What we have done in this regular season is all good, but it’s always about how we finish the season,” Georgia linebacker Nakobe Dean said. “If we don’t finish the right way, none of this really matters.”

That’s the spirit. Bring on Bama.