Explosive Bulldogs capture SEC title with 50-30 win
ATLANTA — The top-ranked Georgia football team produced explosive plays all over the field during the Bulldogs’ 50-30 win over No. 14 LSU in the SEC Championship Game on Saturday afternoon at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
On offense, defense and special teams, the Bulldogs (13-0) delivered en route to the program’s first SEC title since 2017. Georgia’s offense produced a gaudy 529 yards and went 5-for-5 in the red zone.
While the defense gave up a lot of yards and big plays, it also forced three turnovers and made multiple timely stops to help Georgia pull away for good. And special teams produced a touchdown early, on safety Christopher Smith’s 96-yard blocked field goal return for a touchdown for the game’s first points.
LSU (9-4) generated 549 yards of offense, 502 through the air, striking for multiple big plays against Georgia’s highly-rated defense. But the Bulldogs hunkered down when they had to. Georgia has now captured 14 SEC championships and improved to 4-6 in the SEC Championship Game.
Georgia’s first touchdown came in the most improbably of ways. On it’s second drive of the game, LSU got down to the Bulldog 5-yard line, but a third-down sack for a loss of 10 yards by linebacker Chaz Chambliss forced the Tigers to try for a short field goal. Damian Ramos’ 32-yard attempt was blocked by big defensive tackle Nazir Stackhouse, and the ball rolled to the 5.
Nobody made a move for the ball for a couple of seconds until the veteran Smith picked it and with a convoy in front of him ran untouched 95 yards for a touchdown and a 7-0 Georgia lead with 3:33 to play in the quarter. Smith famously had an interception return for a score, the game’s only touchdown, in Georgia’s 10-3 season-opening win over Clemson last season.
The Tigers answered back a little more than a minute later, scoring on a 53-yard touchdown pass from Jayden Daniels to Kayshon Boutte, who covered most of that ground after the catch.
Georgia wasted no time regaining the lead. Bennett hit Ladd McConkey for 11 yards on first down. He then hit Brock Bowers for 5, followed by a Bennett-to-Bowers 32-yard completion. Bennett followed that with a 9-yard pass to Kenny McIntosh, with an LSU personal-foul penalty tacked on, giving the Bulldogs a first down at the Tiger 4. On third down, Bennett rolled right and hit Bowers for a 3-yard score and a 14-7 lead with 3 seconds left in the first quarter.
Georgia’s next touchdown also came about improbably. On the first play of the second quarter, with LSU facing a second-and-12 at its 23, Daniel’s pass was deflected and bounced off the head of an LSU defender on the ground. Georgia linebacker Smael Mondon intercepted the pass and the Bulldogs took over at the Tiger 22.
On the first play of the ensuing drive, Bennett his McConkey for a 22-yard score and a 21-7 lead with 14:43 left in the half.
Georgia’s defense, after giving up eight first downs in the opening quarter, then stuffed the Tigers for a 1-yard loss on third-and-1 at the LSU 33, defensive tackle Tramel Walthour with the stop, and forced a punt. The Bulldogs’ offense put together some nice plays on the ensuing drive, but Georgia came away empty after Jack Podlesny’s 43-yard field-goal attempt bounced off the right upright.
The Bulldogs, after facing another punt, drove 81 yards on their next scoring drive, this one ending with a 14-yard pass from Bennett to tight end Darnell Washington in the end zone. That pushed the Georgia lead to 28-7 with 2:48 to play in the half. Twice on the drive, Bennett hit wideout Dominick Blaylock for nice gains, an 11-yarder and on third-and-8 a 12-yard completion.
Georgia continued its surge in the final minutes of the half, After the defense forced another LSU punt, thanks in part to Jaylen Carter’s 5-yard sack, the offense started at its 42 with 1:58 left in the half. Bennett hit Kearis Jackson for 19 yards, Daijun Edwards ran for 15, and then Bennett his McConkey on a screen that turned into a 22-yard gain down to the 2. McConkey was shaken up on the play and did not return.
Two plays later, Bennett connected with Dillon Bell for a 3-yard touchdown and a 35-7 lead with 32 seconds left until halftime.
The Tigers’ hurry-up offense went to work and Daniels was able to put together a few completions. As time expired, Ramos made a 42-yard attempt to cut Georgia’s lead to 35-10 at the half.
LSU took advantage of a Georgia turnover to start the second half, recovering a fumble after a botched handoff. A couple of plays later, LSU backup quarterback Garrett Nussmeier, in for the injured Daniels, hit Malik Nabers for a 34-yard touchdown to make it a 34-17 game with 10:33 left in the third.
Georgia’s defense bent but didn’t break on LSU’s next drive, giving up a couple of long passes, but when the Tigers had a first down at the UGA 14, they came away empty. On fourth-and-1 at the 5, LSU tried to run it up the middle and got nothing — Jamon Dumas-Johnson and Carter were credited with the stop for no gain.
The Bulldog offense made the most of the defensive stop, producing a 95-yard touchdown drive that ended with a 2-yard McIntosh run that pushed Georgia’s lead to 42-17 with 3:32 left in the third. Earlier in the drive, on third-and-6 at the UGA 9, Bennett hit Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint on a screen left and the wideout took advantage of a couple of great blocks to get free for 16 yards. Later, Kendall Milton ran up the left side for a 51-yard gain to the LSU 15, setting up Georgia for its sixth TD of the game.
LSU kept attacking, and having success. A 47-yard run by Josh Williams gave the Tigers a first down at the Georgia 11. A penally moved the ball to the 2. Two plays later, Noah Cain ran the ball in for a 1-yard score with 1:46 remaining in the third, cutting the Georgia advantage to 42-23. LSU went for the 2-point conversion and came away empty.
Georgia kept rolling offensively and extended its lead yet again, this time scoring on McIntosh’s 8-yard run to the right. The Bulldogs then opted to go for 2, and went with a trick play. Wideout Adonai Mitchell, out for most of the season due to injury, got the ball on a reverse and hit Washington in the end zone, giving the Bulldogs a 50-23 lead with 13:13 remaining.
Saturday’s game was just the second time this season that the Bulldogs have hit the 50-part mark. The first came in their 55-0 rout of Vanderbilt on Oct. 15.
LSU’s next drive moved into Georgia territory, which is where it ended. A deep pass on the right side was intercepted by Smith at the goal line. It was Smith’s third interception of the season and Georgia’s second of the game and 12th of the season.
The Tigers, facing a fourth-and-10 at the Georgia 33, managed to score on a touchdown pass into the end zone, cutting the UGA lead to 50-30 with 7:12 remaining. It’s the first time this season than an opponent has reached 30 points against the Bulldogs.
Up next for the Bulldogs is a spot in the College Football Playoff. The four semifinalists and the two matchups will be announced on Sunday.
Bulldogs Capture SEC Crown: Top-ranked Georgia improves to 13-0 for the first time in school history after a 50-30 victory over No. 14 LSU in the SEC Championship Game to capture its 14th SEC title in school history. The 14 titles is the second most in the SEC.
*The 2022 senior class added to its school record for wins as it now stands at 47-5.
*The Bulldogs have won 15 straight going back to last season’s CFP semifinal/Capital One Orange Bowl win over No. 2 Michigan.
*This is the 2nd SEC title in the Kirby Smart era (the first since 2017) as the Bulldogs are now 79-15 in his seven seasons at the helm.
*With today’s win, Georgia improves to 9-2 all-time as the No. 1 ranked CFP team including 4-0 in 2022.
*Senior QB Stetson Bennett becomes the 4th Bulldog to earn SEC Championship Game MVP honors (David Greene, QB-’02, D.J. Shockley, QB-’05, Roquan Smith, LB-’17). The Bulldogs are now 4-6 in the SEC Championship Game and 2-3 versus LSU.
Bulldogs Tally 50 Points: Georgia carried a 35-10 lead to halftime and won 50-30 with 529 yards of offense on 73 plays.
*The 35 points tied the mark for most in an SEC Championship Game first half as Alabama led Florida 35-17 in 2020.
*Georgia came in ranked 12th nationally in Scoring (38.2 ppg) and now outscored foes 279-67 in opening half and 115-23 in the 1st qtr.
*After an LSU TD in the first quarter to tie it at 7-all, Georgia responded with a 75-yard TD drive on seven plays to take a 14-7 lead.
*Senior QB Stetson Bennett (23-for-29 for 274 yards, 4 TDs) finished the 1st half 19-for-24 for 214 yards and 4 TDs to four different Bulldogs. (3-yarder to Brock Bowers, 22-yarder to Ladd McConkey, 14-yarder to Darnell Washington, 3-yarder to Dillon Bell).
*Bennett now has 269 completions this season which ties the single season record, also by Eric Zeier in 1993.
*Sophomore Brock Bowers posted a team-high six catches for 81 yards and a TD while RS-sophomore Ladd McConkey had five catches in the first half for 69 yards and a TD. McConkey (knee) did not return in the second half.
*Following a Red Zone stop by the defense, Georgia put together a 95-yard drive on eight plays in 4:27 to make it 42-17. A key play in the drive was a 51-yard scamper by Kendall Milton while Kenny McIntosh capped the drive with a 2-yard score, his ninth of year.
*Georgia converted a two-point play when AD Mitchell tossed one to Darnell Washington to make it 50-23 with 13:13 left in the game. It was the first successful two-point play since Bennett ran in for one against Arkansas in 2020.
Defense Faces Aerial Attack: Georgia came in ranked 1st nationally in Scoring Defense, allowing just 11.3 points a game. LSU managed to post 30 points, gaining a season-high 549 yards (502-passing; 47-rushing) on 72 plays. The passing yards was the second most ever by a Bulldog opponent, trailing only the 528 put up by Kenucky in the Wildcats 34-30 loss in Lexington in 2000.
*Following LSU’s TD to make it 7-all, the Tigers next four possesssions resulted in Zero yards on 11 plays with three punts and an INT as Georgia built a 35-7 advantage. On their final possession of the first half, LSU notched a field goal, going 51 yards on seven plays.
*The Tigers became only the second team to score a first quarter TD against Georgia as Ga. Tech did it last week. After Tech scored, Georgia outscored Tech 37-0 until allowing a TD with 2:55 left in the contest. Today for the rest of the half, Georgia outscored LSU 28-3.
*The leading tacklers were sophomores Javon Bullard and Smael Mondon each with six. Also, the Bulldogs had four sacks by junior Jalen Carter, sophomore Chaz Chambliss, senior Tramel Walthour and senior Robert Beal with a forced fumble by Beal.
Special Teams Summary: Junior Nazir Stackhouse blocked a 32-yard field goal attempt and Chris Smith returned it 96 yards for a score and a 7-0 lead. It marked Georgia’s first special teams TD of the year and first blocked FG return for a TD since the 2012 SEC Championship Game when Alec Ogletree returned one blocked by Cornelius Washington 55 yards for a score versus Alabama.
*For Smith, it was his second career TD after having a pick-six for 74 yards in the ‘21 season opening 10-3 win over Clemson.
*There have been five blocked field goals in SEC Championship Game history and four of them by Georgia. Before tonight, the last one here came in 2017 by DaQuan Hawkins-Muckle on Auburn’s Daniel Carlson’s 31-yard attempt.
*Today marked the 27th defense or special teams score in the Kirby Smart era. Georgia has scored 41 points on special teams in the Smart era. Earlier this year, they had a blocked punt for a safety versus Kent State.
*Senior PK Jack Podlesny registered 6 points, going 0-for-1 in FG (miss 43-yarder) with 6 PATs. He had made 11 straight field goals before tonight’s miss going back to the Vanderbilt game. He is now 23-for-26. He has a team-high 130 points. He handled kickoffs too.
Red Zone Review: Georgia finished 5-for-5 in the Red Zone with 5 TDs while LSU finished 1-for-3 with one TD.
*Georgia came in today ranked 1st nationally in the Red Zone at 97 percent. They have now scored 69-for-71 times including 48 TDs, 21 FGs and twice coming up empty. The Bulldogs came in No. 1 in Scoring Defense and now opponents are only 17-of-28. Today, Georgia blocked a field goal and returned it for a TD on the Tigers first trip. On 4th-and-1 at the UGA 5, the Tigers were stopped for no gain. The third trip resulted in a TD.
Points Off Turnovers: Georgia is now Even in Turnover Margin on the year after forcing three turnovers and having one today.
Georgia has scored 54 points off 16 turnovers while opponents have 50 points off 17 turnovers.
*Georgia got an INT by Smael Mondon after a pass break up by Chris Smith and a tip by Javon Bullard to Mondon. It led to a TD and a 21-7 advantage. The Tigers recovered a fumble at the LSU 43 on the opening possession of the 2nd half. It led to a TD.
*Smith added an INT in the 4th quarter, and it was his team-high third and 10th overall by the Bulldogs this year.
*Warren Brinson recovered a fumble caused on sack by Robert Beal, Jr. With 3:21 left, Georgia ran out the clock.
Captains, Coin Toss and For Starters: Senior Chris Smith (FS), junior Warren McClendon (RT), redshirt sophomore Sedrick Van Pran (C) and sophomore Jamon Dumas-Johnson (MLB) served as the captains. LSU won the toss elected to receive the ball.
*Six Bulldogs started their second straight SEC Championship Game in Stetson Bennett (QB), Sedrick Van Pran (C), Warren McClendon (RT), Darnell Washington (TE), Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint (WR) and Kelee Ringo (DB). Kearis Jackson (WR) started tonight after starting the 2019 SEC Championship Game too.
Up Next: No.1 Georgia (13-0) will tune in Sunday at noon (ESPN) for the CFP Selection Show to learn its seed and opponent.
*The CFP semifinals will be played Dec. 31 on ESPN in Atlanta (Chick-fil-a Bowl) and Glendale, Ariz. (VRBO Fiesta Bowl). Game times are either 4 pm ET or 8 pm ET. Georgia is 4-2 all-time in the Chick-fil-A/Peach Bowl and has never played in the Fiesta Bowl.
*Georgia will be making its third appearance in the CFP and extend the nation’s longest active bowl streak to 26 straight years.
*The Bulldogs are 35-21-3 all-time in bowls, and the appearances and victories rank second nationally.