No. 1 Georgia boasts more balance thanks to offensive surge

Nov 5, 2022, 10:08 PM | Updated: Nov 6, 2022, 11:57 am
An assistant coach restrains Georgia head coach Kirby Smart, right, as he yells to his players on t...

An assistant coach restrains Georgia head coach Kirby Smart, right, as he yells to his players on the field during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Tennessee, Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022 in Athens, Ga. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

(AP Photo/John Bazemore)

ATHENS, Ga. (AP) — Kirby Smart was obviously in a hurry to get through his postgame news conference and join his recruits after Saturday’s win over Tennessee.

At one point, the Georgia coach asked longtime sports information director Claude Felton if he was trying “to set some kind of record” for the longest news conference after a game.

Even so, Smart wasn’t in too big of a hurry to extend the session long enough to add an unsolicited vote of support for No. 1 Georgia’s offense following the 27-13 win over then-No. 2 Tennessee.

“I’m super proud of our offense because I personally felt coming in Tennessee’s defense was peaking,” Smart said.

Some observers of Tennessee, which fell to No. 5 in the latest AP Top 25 poll, agreed with Smart. The Vols were coming off an impressive 44-6 win over then-No. 19 Kentucky, smothering the Wildcats and holding quarterback Will Levis to 98 passing yards.

But Tennessee’s defense didn’t look so strong against Georgia (9-0, 6-0 Southeastern Conference). Stetson Bennett passed for 247 yards and two touchdowns, and the Bulldogs added 130 yards rushing, including a 13-yard touchdown run by Bennett, to complete what Smart proudly called “complementary football.”

Bennett said the Bulldogs, who led 27-6 before Tennessee’s only touchdown late in the game, made a statement.

Yes, Tennessee carried the No. 1 ranking in the first College Football Playoff ranking, but Bennett noted the defending national champion Bulldogs were “the reigning ones.”

“You’ve got to come and see us on our field, and I think we played like it,” Bennett said. “We attacked this week, and it was pretty sweet.”

The win gave the Bulldogs, who play at Mississippi State on Saturday night, command of the SEC’s East Division. Georgia likely will move up from No. 3, possibly to the top spot, in the next CFP ranking.

Georgia’s winning formula now involves Bennett, a balanced running game and a powerful combination of Brock Bowers and Darnell Washington at tight end. Compare that to a year ago, when Georgia leaned on its strong defense to win its first national championship since 1980.

The Bulldogs have reloaded on defense despite losing eight players in the NFL draft, but now they look more balanced — and perhaps even stronger — thanks to the energized offense.

Georgia ranks among the top 10 teams in the nation in total yards, scoring and even passing. But don’t overlook the defense, which ranks second in the nation with its average of 10.50 points allowed — and held Tennessee to 289 yards vs. the Vols’ nation-leading 553 yards per game.

The offensive line overcame injuries to left tackle Amarius Mims and left guard Xavier Truss to allow no sacks while opening lanes for the running game.

“Georgia’s offensive line is a great offensive line,” Tennessee defensive tackle Omari Thomas said. “They played physical.”

Smart put an emphasis on explosive plays against Tennessee, and the offense delivered. Bennett threw a 37-yard touchdown pass to Ladd McConkey and added completions of 52 yards to Arian Smith and 49 yards to running back Kenny McIntosh.

“I think when we needed to slow it down we did and when we needed to take shots we did,” Bennett said. “And then, the guys outside made plays.”

___

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No. 1 Georgia boasts more balance thanks to offensive surge