KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — One of Georgia’s key receivers was limited by an injury, then another one got hurt. One of its key offensive linemen went down. It was a hostile environment with another poor start for the Georgia defense.
And then another dominant Georgia performance.
No. 1 Georgia beat a ranked team for the third straight this week, this time on the road, routing No. 18 Tennessee 38-10. It was the program’s 28th straight win and clinched the third straight unbeaten season in SEC play.
Here are my observations from Saturday’s rout:
• Georgia (11-0) continues to play its best as the postseason approaches. The Bulldogs continue to build a case for being in the College Football Playoff with a win next week at Georgia Tech, no matter what happens in the SEC championship game against Alabama. The Bulldogs may need losses in other conferences for that to happen, but Georgia is doing all it can to make that case. (And it looks very capable of beating Alabama and rendering the question moot.)
• Georgia’s offense was again dominant with Carson Beck racking up 298 passing yards and three touchdowns, including 210 passing yards in the first half, consistently hitting on explosive plays: Seven passes that went for 16 yards or longer in the first 30 minutes.
This was all with Georgia essentially down two key receivers: Ladd McConkey did play but on a limited basis and wasn’t targeted in the first half. McConkey rolled his ankle the previous week against Ole Miss, so his usage was managed. Rara Thomas left the game with a foot injury after catching an 18-yard pass in the first quarter.
But Georgia’s rich assortment of receiving options easily made up for it. Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint had 91 yards with two touchdown catches. Brock Bowers had 60 yards with a touchdown catch. But the breakout star of the game was Dillon Bell, who had 90 yards and a touchdown catch and a touchdown throw, which deserves its own paragraph.
• It was a trick play, seemingly set up by how Mike Bobo called the first two drives: a series of toss sweeps and a commitment to the run, despite limited success. Then with the ball at the Tennessee 18, Bell lined up in the backfield, took the handoff and went right. The defense was sucked in, buying the run, while Rosemy-Jacksaint floated wide open into the end zone. Bell, who played quarterback in high school, completed his first pass in college, and Georgia was up 10-7. It never trailed again.
• Georgia did trail early, thanks to a now-predictable, almost hilarious, tendency: giving up touchdowns on the opening drive. Tennessee became the fifth straight opponent to reach the end zone on its first drive, and this time Georgia got it over quickly: The Vols Jaylen Wright went 75 yards up the middle and down the field, touched maybe by someone’s pinkie.
Tennessee’s next two drives? Three-and-out, three-and-out. The run defense firmed up, Tennessee couldn’t make up for it by passing, and Georgia’s physicality was evident: Tykee Smith, the nickel back, pancaked a receiver trying to block him on an outside run.
Georgia’s defense adjusting and moving into shut-down mode is now just as predictable. Tennessee’s first play: 75 yards. The next 17 plays: 57 yards. Despite the consistent early problems, Georgia has yet to allow any opponent to score more than 21 points.
• Back to the Georgia offense: Tennessee tried to pressure Beck, throwing blitzes at him early and often. Georgia’s offensive line suffered a key injury when right guard Tate Ratledge went down in the first quarter. And despite that — and playing on the road — Beck wasn’t sacked, and the pocket got cleaner as the game went on.
It likely helped that right tackle Amarius Mims, a potential NFL first-round pick, started for the first time since he had ankle surgery in September. But the Ratledge injury caused some shuffling, with less experienced Micah Morris replacing him, and Xavier Truss and Earnest Greene alternated at left tackle. Considering everything, it might have been the most impressive game in an impressive season for Georgia’s offensive line.
• Georgia’s offense continues to take the pressure off its defense. Beck and company have taken the field 19 times while trailing, responding on those drives with 10 touchdowns and four field goals.
• Freshman kicker Peyton Woodring has made 15 straight field goals.
(Top photo of Mykel Williams: Steve Limentani / ISI Photos / Getty Images)