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

Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett (13) reacts to the crowd as he leaves the field following...
Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett (13) reacts to the crowd as he leaves the field following Georgia's victory over Tennessee in an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022 in Athens, Ga. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)(John Bazemore | AP)
Published: Nov. 10, 2022 at 2:18 PM EST
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(AP) - 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.”