No. 1 Georgia seeks strong SEC follow-up at Miss State

Nov 9, 2022, 8:32 PM | Updated: Nov 10, 2022, 10:34 am
Mississippi State quarterback Will Rogers (2) throws a pass as Auburn defensive lineman Marcus Harr...

Mississippi State quarterback Will Rogers (2) throws a pass as Auburn defensive lineman Marcus Harris (50) is blocked during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Starkville, Miss., Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022. Mississippi State won 39-33. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

(AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

              Mississippi State coach Mike Leach confers with quarterback Will Rogers (2) during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Auburn in Starkville, Miss., Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022. Mississippi State won 39-33. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
            
              Mississippi State running back Jo'quavious Marks (7) scores in overtime during the team's NCAA college football game against Auburn in Starkville, Miss., Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022. Mississippi State won 39-33. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
            
              Mississippi State quarterback Will Rogers (2) throws a pass as Auburn defensive lineman Marcus Harris (50) is blocked during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Starkville, Miss., Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022. Mississippi State won 39-33. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
            
              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)
            
              Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett (13) throws from the pocket during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Tennessee, Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022 in Athens, Ga. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Neither top-ranked Georgia nor coach Kirby Smart buy the notion that their toughest test is behind them.

The challenges never really stop for Smart’s Bulldogs (9-0, 6-0 Southeastern Conference) — the target is always there as defending national champions and being No. 1 in the AP Top 25 and the latest College Football Playoff rankings.

So, Smart said, bring on the clanging cowbells and everything else that’ll come Saturday night at Mississippi State (6-3, 3-3) in the battle of the Bulldogs.

“If you have good DNA, it travels with you,” Smart said. “We don’t do all the exercises that you do to build composure to not use it. We anticipate it’s an opportunity to flex our composure muscle, our resiliency muscle, our connection muscle, and our toughness muscle.

“We don’t do all that lifting and preparing to not use it.”

Georgia certainly used everything to slow then-No. 2 Tennessee’s high-powered offense in last week’s 27-13 showdown. That prepared the Bulldogs for the next challenge containing MSU’s pass-happy Air Raid scheme.

Record-setting junior quarterback Will Rogers leads the SEC’s No. 2 passing attack (325.6 yards) and No. 8 unit overall (406.20), one that has incorporated more running.

Georgia counters with the league’s No. 2 passer in Stetson Bennett — who passed for two of his three scores against the Volunteers — and a top-ranked defense allowing a league-low 256.6 yards per game.

The Bulldogs are also pretty stout against the pass (179.11). But they’ll face a scheme that likes to snap it quick like Tennessee and — for a change — keep defenses guessing whether they’ll come at them through the air or on the ground.

“Of course, they throw the ball well,” sophomore inside linebacker Smael Mondon Jr. said of Mississippi State. “A part that a lot of people look over is them running the ball. They have a pretty solid run game, and they have been trying to improve over the last couple of years. It is a balance between both of those.”

MSU is coming off a 39-33 overtime victory over Auburn that began with the Bulldogs jumping to 24-3 lead against a Tigers squad adjusting to an interim coach.

Auburn rallied to lead twice in the final five minutes before the Bulldogs forced OT and won on Jo’Quavious Marks’ 6-yard TD run. The Bulldogs can’t afford to fall behind against Georgia, and as last week proved, have to stay on the gas if they manage a lead.

“We’ve just got to come out of the locker room with more energy, more urgency,” MSU safety Collin Duncan said. “We’re two teams that pride ourselves off being physical, playing hard-nosed defense. We’ve just got to go into our stadium, play hard and play for the whole 60 minutes.”

TAILBACK BY COMMITTEE

Daijun Edwards leads four Georgia running backs with 240 or more rushing yards. Edwards, Kenny McIntosh and Kendall Milton have shared the lead role. Coach Kirby Smart said Tuesday that McIntosh is “limited some” by a deep thigh contusion after rushing for 52 yards last week. Edwards had 46 while Stetson Bennett had the team’s only rushing TD last week against Tennessee. The Bulldogs out-rushed the Vols 130-94.

DON’T OVERLOOK DEFENSE

Somewhat overlooked is a MSU defense that ranks sixth in the SEC (360.8 yards) and leads the league with nine interception returns for 199 yards. Emmanuel Forbes leads the SEC with five picks, returning two for touchdowns.

BANGED UP

Georgia last week lost linebacker Nolan Smith, one of only three returning starters on defense, for the season with a torn pectoral muscle. His replacement, Robert Beal, left last week’s game in the third quarter with a neck injury. Smart said Tuesday that Beal’s injury was a “stinger” and that he hoped for his return this week. Chaz Chambliss took over for Beal against the Vols.

TURN UP THE PRESSURE

After having 10 sacks through eight games, the Georgia defense recorded six sacks in the win over Tennessee. Defensive back Javon Bullard had the first two sacks of his career.

FACING THE BEST

Mississippi State faces Georgia as the No. 1 team for the first time and seeking only its second win against the nation’s top team in 12 chances. The Bulldogs have faced Alabama eight times — winning 6-3 in 1980 — Tennessee twice and LSU once. They are 6-19 against the “other” Bulldogs and dropped the previous meeting 31-24 in Athens, Georgia, two years ago. Coach Mike Leach has a win against No. 1, topping Texas in 2008 while at Texas Tech.

___

AP Sports Writer Charles Odum in Athens, Georgia, contributed to this report.

___

AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://twitter.com/ap_top25. Sign up for the AP’s college football newsletter: https://tinyurl.com/mrxhe6f2

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

United States' Mikaela Shiffrin speeds down the course during an alpine ski, women's World Cup slal...
Associated Press

US skier Shiffrin leads slalom in pursuit of record 86th win

SPINDLERUV MLYN, Czech Republic (AP) — American skier Mikaela Shiffrin had what she called a “perfect run” to lead a women’s World Cup slalom after the opening leg Sunday as she approached the all-time record for the most career wins with 86. If Shiffrin wins the race, she matches Swedish great Ingemar Stenmark’s best mark […]
1 day ago
Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece plays a backhand return to Novak Djokovic of Serbia during the men's s...
Associated Press

Djokovic wins 1st set of Australian Open final vs Tsitsipas

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Novak Djokovic has won the opening set 6-3 against Stefanos Tsitsipas in the Australian Open men’s singles final on Sunday. Djokovic broke Tsitsipas’ serve in the fourth game of the opening set to take a 3-1 lead and maintained the advantage. In addition to the championship, the winner will claim the […]
1 day ago
Arizona Coyotes defenseman Troy Stecher, left, taunts Anaheim Ducks center Trevor Zegras after Zebr...
Associated Press

Zegras scores in OT, Ducks beat Coyotes for 3rd win a row

ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — Trevor Zegras scored at 3:34 of overtime and the Anaheim Ducks beat the Arizona Coyotes 2-1 on Saturday night for their first three-game winning streak of the season. John Klingberg stole the puck from Matias Maccelli in the offensive zone and found Zegras in the slot for a wrist shot for […]
1 day ago
Edmonton Oilers' Connor McDavid (97) and Cody Ceci (5) celebrate a goal against the Chicago Blackha...
Associated Press

Oilers head into All-Star break with win over Blackhawks

EDMONTON, Alberta (AP) — Tyson Barrie scored twice, Connor McDavid had his NHL-best 41st goal and the Edmonton Oilers headed into their All-Star break with a 7-3 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday night. McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Zach Hyman each had a goal and two assists, and Evander Kane and Ryan McLeod also […]
1 day ago
Seattle Kraken center Ryan Donato, rear, watches as the puck rests behind Columbus Blue Jackets goa...
Associated Press

Wennberg scores against former team, Kraken top Blue Jackets

SEATTLE (AP) — Alex Wennberg scored midway through the second period against his former team to help the Seattle Kraken beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 3-1 on Saturday night. Wennberg, who was drafted by the Blue Jackets in the first round in 2013, had his 10th goal of the season in his 600th career game. […]
1 day ago
Toronto Raptors forward Pascal Siakam drives to the basket past Portland Trail Blazers forward Jera...
Associated Press

Achiuwa leads Raptors to 123-105 win over Trail Blazers

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Precious Achiuwa scored 27 points and grabbed 13 rebounds in place of the injured OG Anunoby to lead the Toronto Raptors to a 123-105 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Saturday night. Pascal Siakam scored 24 points and Gary Trent Jr. added 19 against his former team for the Raptors, […]
1 day ago
No. 1 Georgia seeks strong SEC follow-up at Miss State