Commentators and fans alike have been asking for weeks whether the Georgia Bulldogs would eventually find themselves in trouble. Whether they would eventually get caught playing with their proverbial food at the wrong time, against the wrong team, and find themselves in a dog fight.
That may happen. But it definitely did not happen tonight. The Red and Black came out swinging, and kept swinging, pounding out a 50-30 win to claim the 2022 SEC football championship.
Credit should go to the LSU Tigers, who refused to give up and ended the game with 30 points, a season high for the UGA defense. Most of those came courtesy of the arm of Tiger backup Garrett Nussmeier, who came in for the injured Jaylen Daniels and threw for 502 yards as the Tigers played from behind. For the record this was the first time LSU has ever had two quarterbacks throw for over 200 yards in the same game. It’s a nifty little trivia item, but I suspect they’d rather have a win.
There’s certainly a temptation to say that LSU exposed a weakness in the Bulldog defense that some team could exploit in the playoff. I’d caution that LSU was winging it in a way that’s not really sustainable (as the two turnovers showed), and that Georgia was playing some serious prevent defense. Still it will create some nice teachable moments.
The Bulldogs secured this one in no small part due to the heroics of their own signal caller. In Nussmeier Brian Kelly has a young gun who showed he could keep the Bayou Bengals in a game like this in the future. Kirby Smart has a sixth year senior accustomed to the bright lights of big football games, and it showed. The Mailman delivered as usual, completing 23 of 29 passes for 4 touchdowns.
It was a standout performance for a guy who added an SEC crown to his impressive trophy case. Stetson Bennett will not surpass Aaron Murray as the SEC’s all-time leading passer. He won’t eclipse David Greene as the winningest QB in Bulldog history. But he’s the face of a UGA team that has taken Bulldog football not only to a national title, but to a level of consistent dominance the program has not experienced in four decades.
Though he had a lot of help. In big games you have to have strong performances from your best players. Brock Bowers needed to stretch the LSU defense and did so, catching 6 passes for a team-leading 81 yards. Ladd McConkey added 5 catches and a touchdown of his own. Darnell Washington and Dillon Bell also found the end zone, as the Mailman delivered to 10 different receivers.
On the ground Kendall Milton’s late season surge continued, with the sophomore eclipsing the century mark for the first time in his collegiate career. Milton’s 8 carries for 115 yards led all UGA rushers, but he wasn’t alone in having success. Daijun Edwards averaged 6.4 yards per carry himself (12 rushes for 77 yards) and Kenny McIntosh found the end zone twice. The Bulldogs rolled up 255 yards on the ground and 274 in the air to key a balanced effort. Despite only running 10 plays in the entire first quarter, the Athenians finished with a definitive 35:58 to 24:02 edge in time of possession.
The Bulldogs scored 50 points, but it felt like they probably could have scored 60 if they’d needed to. Critically, the Bulldogs turned 7 trips into the red zone into 6 touchdowns. That’s a ratio that puts a ton more points on the board than a bushel of Jack Podlesny field goals.
You’d think a national title would blunt the senses to this sort of thing. But I’m frankly elated to watch the Classic City Canines hoist the SEC title trophy. In a year (and a weekend) that have seen favored teams fail to deliver the Bulldogs took care of business and advanced. They’ll likely be the top seed in the College Football Playoff, and will face a 4th seed to be determined in the Peach Bowl in Atlanta on New Year’s Eve.
It feels like whoever this team plays they have the pieces to beat. There is still work to be done. But on this evening we are fans of the defending Southeastern Conference and national champions. How sweet it is.