Georgia’s Smart: ‘Our offensive identity is to do what it takes’

University of Georgia photo by Tony Walsh / Georgia junior tight end Brock Bowers had eight catches for 157 yards and the deciding touchdown during Saturday's 27-20 win at Auburn.
University of Georgia photo by Tony Walsh / Georgia junior tight end Brock Bowers had eight catches for 157 yards and the deciding touchdown during Saturday's 27-20 win at Auburn.

Georgia's current 22-game winning streak that began with the College Football Playoff after the 2021 season, encompassed all 15 games last season as well as the first five this year contains just three contests that were decided by a single possession.

The first two of those occurred last season, when the Bulldogs prevailed 26-22 at Missouri and 42-41 over Ohio State in last December's Peach Bowl national semifinal. The third took place this past Saturday, when Georgia continued its most successful surge in the Deep South's Oldest Rivalry with a 27-20 triumph at Auburn.

"Especially with the game last year at Missouri, we learned a lot about our team and how we would respond when things got tough," Bulldogs right guard Tate Ratledge said Monday in a news conference. "We figured that out early this year, which I think is a really good thing. You don't really want that to happen, because you want to execute like you think you should.

"Sometimes things don't go to plan."

A lot of things haven't gone to plan for this season's Bulldogs, who are 5-0 overall, 2-0 in Southeastern Conference play and ranked No. 1 entering Saturday's showdown (7 on ESPN) against No. 20 Kentucky (5-0, 2-0) inside Sanford Stadium. Georgia's first league victory came at the expense of South Carolina, 24-14 on Sept. 16, but not before the Bulldogs had to climb out of a 14-3 halftime hole.

There have been times during Georgia's streak in which the Bulldogs have humiliated opponents from the jump, most notably last season's 49-3 opening rout of Oregon and the 65-7 closing conquest of TCU in the national championship game. This season, however, Georgia has played its first five foes to a 17-17 standstill after the first quarter, with UT Martin, Ball State and UAB comprising 60% of those opponents.

So, just who is Georgia nearing the midway mark of the regular season?

"Our offensive identity is to do what it takes," Bulldogs eighth-year coach Kirby Smart said Monday. "I mean, that's essentially what it always comes down to, right? You would like to have this defined where we're just going to bully you and run it through you, and nobody really does that. Kentucky did it this past week against Florida, but they haven't done that every single game that way.

"If you have one identity, that's probably going to be what other teams try to stop. You want balance, and I think Kentucky right now has the exact same number of explosive runs as explosive passes. We've been up and down in the red area and pretty good on third down. We just have a lot of things that we can work on."

That Georgia ranks 16th nationally and third in the league behind LSU and Ole Miss in total offense with 481.2 yards per game could be viewed as an underrated accomplishment given that Carson Beck is a first-year starting quarterback and that the Bulldogs have been battered by injuries that have sidelined receiver Ladd McConkey, right tackle Amarius Mims and what seems like the entire running back room.

Star tight end Brock Bowers has managed to avoid any serious setbacks, with his eight catches for 157 yards and a touchdown proving to be the difference in Jordan-Hare Stadium. The Bulldogs will enter the Kentucky game averaging 332.6 passing yards a game, ranking 10th nationally.

"I knew we had playmakers, and I knew we would find a way to get it to them," Ratledge said. "I thought we had a chance of being explosive in the pass game."


Praising Davis

Kentucky running back Ray Davis is coming off a 26-carry, 280-yard performance in Saturday's 33-14 thumping of Florida.

Davis transferred to Lexington after last season from Vanderbilt, where he had 12 carries for 29 yards in the Commodores' 55-0 loss to the Bulldogs in Athens.

"He's an exceptional back and as good of a back as I've seen in a long time," Smart said. "This guy is smooth and explosive, and he pass protects really well. He reminds me of (D'Andre) Swift. He's just a little bigger, but he has a lot of the same cuts.

"It seems like Kentucky has always had a back, right? They had Benny (Snell), and he was unbelievable. They had the kid (Chris Rodriguez) from Georgia the last couple of years. Their backs always run really physical, and they are committed to running the ball."


McConkey update

McConkey had four catches for 38 yards at Auburn, which was his first action of the season due to recurring back discomfort.

"We don't know if it's going to come back," Smart said. "He feels like he's recovered. He feels good. He had to progress last week to the point of going full speed, and it didn't bother him, so I was pleased with that part of it.

"The biggest thing for him now is the conditioning level and all."


Man in the middle

Smart expects to see Kentucky's mammoth sophomore defensive lineman Deone Walker on the move Saturday night.

"He's extremely athletic for a large man," Smart said. "They do more with him than we probably did with Jordan (Davis). They don't play him at the zero nose. They move him out to the 5 technique. They dropped him against Florida on the interception play.

"It's amazing to see a human being at 6-6, 350 dropping."


Bulldogs bites

Georgia holds a 62-12-2 series edge over Kentucky and has won 13 straight. ... Ratledge on the Bulldogs not having any pre-snap penalties at Auburn: "It was having the crowd noise blared at us all week." ... Kentucky has held each of its first five opponents under 100 rushing yards for the first time in program history.

Contact David Paschall at [email protected].

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