KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Nobody needs to remind Georgia that the postseason is just around the corner.
The No. 1 Bulldogs are playing their best football of the season and made it look easy Saturday night in a 38-10 romp over No. 18 Tennessee at Neyland Stadium, a victory that tied the SEC’s all-time winning streak for one of its teams at 28 straight games.
Georgia (11-0, 8-0 in the SEC) can break the record next week against Georgia Tech, a record that was set two different times by Alabama from 1978 to 1980 and 1991 to 1993. The second time Alabama won 28 in a row, though, the Crimson Tide were later forced to forfeit eight wins from the 1993 regular season because of NCAA sanctions.
The Bulldogs have a chance to break a record that has stood for more than 40 years, but nobody in and around the Georgia locker room, especially coach Kirby Smart, was interested in putting into perspective what the streak or any other records the Bulldogs have broken mean.
“I’ve got to go play [Georgia] Tech next week. That’s the perspective that I’ve got,” said Smart, whose Bulldogs have strung together three straight 8-0 seasons in SEC play, the first time in history that’s happened. “I mean there will be a time to look back on that and there will be a time to celebrate that, but it’s not right now.”
What Smart did want to talk about was the culture surrounding Georgia’s program, and the way the Bulldogs are never satisfied and are always “trying to be the best version of ourselves.” During their 28-game winning streak, their average margin of victory is 25.6 points, and 24 of their 28 victories have been by double digits.
Earlier in the season, Smart wasn’t ready to say where his team was elite. But 11 games in, he has no doubt.
“Taking a punch,” Smart said. “It’s way, way, way more indicative of who you are, your ability to take a punch, than to get one. The knockout fighters … they get knocked out if they can’t take a punch. This group’s proven again and again that they can take jabs and punches with the best of them and hang around until they can throw one.”
The first punch Saturday came via Tennessee on the first play from scrimmage when running back Jaylen Wright ripped off a 75-yard touchdown run. It was about the only highlight for the Vols, who snapped their 14-game home winning streak.
After that long run, Tennessee managed just 202 yards of total offense the rest of the way. Not even Tennessee country music icon Dolly Parton could save the Vols (7-4, 3-4 in the SEC). She was on hand to sing “Rocky Top” at the end of the first quarter, but she had a difficult time hearing the band and it wasn’t the most rousing rendition of the Vols’ beloved anthem.
And from there, it was all Georgia — and all Carson Beck. The Bulldogs’ junior quarterback was in complete command the whole way. He finished 24-of-30 for 298 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. He completed passes to eight different receivers.
Star tight end Brock Bowers, back in the lineup a little more than a month after undergoing ankle surgery, summed it up this way: “We’ve got a bunch of dudes that can make a bunch of plays.”
There was a time, back in September, when there might have been some questions about this Georgia offense. But not any longer. The Bulldogs have scored 30 or more points in six straight games. They’ve now won three straight over nationally ranked foes, the past two over Tennessee and Ole Miss by a combined margin of 63 points.
“This team has continued to get better throughout the course of this season,” said Tennessee coach Josh Heupel, whose Vols were just 2-of-11 on third down. “I don’t know how many first-round draft picks they will have. They’re so big, long, athletic and physical, play with great fundamentals and technique. It’s good football.
“To do what they’ve done, you have to be a good team.”
As Beck has elevated his game, so has the entire Georgia team. In his past four outings, Beck has completed 71.3% of his passes for 1,173 yards, nine touchdowns and one interception. One of his top receivers, Ladd McConkey, played only a few snaps in the game after injuring his ankle last week.
“I try to bring energy to the table,” Beck said. “I try to lead the guys, but it’s a team effort and if we continue to execute, the sky’s the limit.”
Smart isn’t into lobbying for his players, especially when it comes to the Heisman Trophy, but said: “It’s easy to sit back and say, ‘Look at what this kid has done.'”
Georgia hasn’t allowed more than 21 points in a game all season and has held teams below 20 points six times. Smart said Georgia’s defensive prowess probably works against Beck when it comes to individual awards.
“It makes you not want to sit there and just run it up,” Smart said. “I mean, some of these other guys, they get an opportunity. They’ve got to score 40 a game. … I don’t think we as an offensive staff think we’ve got to score 40 a game. I don’t think we have to. We may have to, but we don’t think we have to. So you’re able to call the game differently as an offensive coordinator.”
Either way, Beck looks more like a third-year starter than a first-year starter, and he’s spreading the ball around to an array of playmakers.
“It all comes down to preparation,” Beck said. “Obviously each defense is going to try to throw something different at us, whether it’s different pressures or different coverages. I’m seeing [the field] pretty well right now.”
Georgia has already clinched a spot in the SEC championship game Dec. 2 and will face Alabama in Atlanta. But the only game in Atlanta that Smart was thinking about Saturday night was the one against Georgia Tech this coming weekend. He understands how much the Jackets would love to knock off his Bulldogs.
“Who wouldn’t? Yeah, who wouldn’t? They’re all coming for us, so that’s what it is,” Smart said. “I mean, we’re not concerned with who’s coming after us. We’re concerned with who we’re coming after.”