Georgia now college football’s standard after beating Tennessee

Georgia running back Kenny McIntosh, right, fends off Tennessee defensive lineman Byron Young...
Georgia running back Kenny McIntosh, right, fends off Tennessee defensive lineman Byron Young during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022 in Athens, Ga. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)(John Bazemore | AP)
Published: Nov. 7, 2022 at 5:34 PM EST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

(AP) - Georgia has aspired to be Alabama.

Not just a national champion. The Bulldogs did that last year, going through the Crimson Tide to snap a 41-year title drought.

Georgia wants to set the standard in college football, the program that contends for national titles every season and wins them routinely.

The old cliche goes: They don’t rebuild they reload. Alabama has taken that to unprecedented levels over 15 years under Nick Saban, winning six national titles. There is a long way for Georgia to go to match those accomplishments, but Kirby Smart’s top-ranked Bulldogs have never looked more like peak Alabama than against No. 2 Tennessee on Saturday. Georgia dominated the biggest game of the season, easily dispatching the team that just three weeks ago knocked off the Crimson Tide.

As a wild day in college football played out, Alabama lost again, toppled by Brian Kelly and No. 15 LSU in a Death Valley overtime, and Clemson was dispatched from the ranks of the unbeaten in emphatic fashion at Notre Dame. It all only served to re-enforce: It’s Georgia’s world now.

“We’re more hungry than ever,” Georgia cornerback Kelee Ringo said.

The Bulldogs smothered the highest-scoring offense in the country. Hendon Hooker, Jalin Hyatt and the Volunteers were getting comparisons to LSU’s 2019 team with Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase since putting 52 on Alabama. They scored one touchdown against defensive tackle Jalen Carter, cornerback Kelee Ringo and a Bulldogs’ defense that replaced five NFL first-round draft picks after last season and lost its best edge rusher, Nolan Smith, to an injury last week.

Tennessee coach Josh Heupel’s offense had become a marvel across college football, with receivers running wide-open with stunning regularity. The Bulldogs turned off the fireworks.

“I slept better as the week went on, because I felt good about the plan,” Smart said.

Yes, there has been a drop-off with Georgia’s defense. It has gone from all-time great to merely the best in the country. 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. Smart put an emphasis on explosive plays against Tennessee, and the offense delivered. Stetson 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.

Bennett, Brock Bowers, McConkey and the offense broke off big plays early to jump out to a 21-3 lead and then — much the way Alabama used to before it transformed into a quarterback and receiver factory — it bullied the Volunteers for almost three quarters.

“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.”

“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.”

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.

The Bulldogs spend the next two weeks on the road, at Mississippi State and Kentucky. They look as if they will cruise into another SEC championship game with a playoff spot all but locked up, no matter the outcome.

Ten weeks into this college football season, the Bulldogs are without peer.