ATLANTA — Stetson Bennett IV ordered silence and Georgia fans obeyed his order.
“Uga! Uga!” The cheers of Bulldogs fans echoed throughout Mercedes-Benz Stadium after Georgia’s seventh touchdown on Saturday – until Georgia’s quarterback flapped his arms to demand calm.
The fans obeyed, briefly pausing their cheers before continuing after Georgia converted a 2-point conversion.
Party on bulldogs. party on.
The SEC is your rule.
Georgia is not an underdog story. It has too much talent and Kirby Smart is too good a coach for such a tale to be true.
And yet, back in August, it wasn’t the expected story, with No. 1 Georgia celebrating a 50-30 win over No. 14 LSU in the SEC Championship.
LSU (9-4) certainly shouldn’t be here, and Alabama should be taking back control of the SEC after Georgia (13-0) had a record 15 NFL draft picks last spring after winning the national championship .
With apologies to Tennessee’s Josh Heupel and LSU’s Brian Kelly, Smart should be the SEC Coach of the Year for how he flawlessly positioned Georgia for continued dominance even after the departure of so much talent.
Georgia competed at No. 3 that season. Alabama and Ohio State led the national championship favorites. On Sunday, Alabama will likely be knocked out of the playoffs, OSU will be lucky enough to be considered, and Georgia will embrace the top seed as it heads towards a semifinals in which it will be a firm favorite.
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Alabama, at the height of Nick Saban’s dynastic tenure, weathered the sweeping departures of elite talent without swaying from its high spot, but not even Alabama suffered the loss of 15 draft picks.
Georgia is the new Alabama, welcoming new talent with every elite class, developing a new generation of stars, and refusing to relinquish its supremacy.
And these Bulldogs have won a prize the 2021 team didn’t have — an SEC title.
“Everyone always compares us to last year’s team,” said second linebacker Jamon Dumas-Johnson, a member of the new Georgia stars’ squad. “It felt good to do something that last year’s team didn’t do.”
Georgia joins the CFP with expectations of becoming college football’s first repeat national champion since Alabama won titles in 2011 and 2012.
A changing of the guard that took shape in Indianapolis last season has come into focus this season, with Georgia ruling the SEC. And this might just be the beginning of his reign.
Much like the best teams in Saban’s Alabama dynasty, Georgia has a solid base from all three stages, and its special teams provided the spark to rouse the Bulldogs from their first-quarter daze.
After Nazir Stackhouse blocked an LSU field goal attempt, the ball came to rest at the 4-yard line.
LSU players walked to the sidelines not knowing the game was still active.
Several teammates signaled Georgia’s Christopher Smith not to pick up the ball.
But why not?
The game was live and the opponents cleared the field, leaving nothing but space between Smith and the end zone, 96 yards away. He hovered over the ball for a few seconds as it wobbled on the grass. Eventually he grabbed the ball, ran past two high-fiving teammates who were celebrating Georgia’s stop and drove into the end zone to give the Bulldogs something better to celebrate.
Special team exploits were a hallmark of Alabama’s dynasty, while Smart was a longtime defensive coordinator on Saban’s staff. Reliable special teams are now an integral part of Georgia’s success.
Georgia’s defense was far from their best, and LSU piled up yards after halftime when backup quarterback Garrett Nussmeier connected with several deep passes.
But the defense did its best work in the second quarter as the Bulldogs took control and turned it into a loss.
Georgia’s offense took the spotlight. Kendall Milton and Daijun Edwards shot through lanes they could have trucked through thanks to a dominant performance from Georgia’s offensive line.
And Bennett demonstrated unwavering composure at every moment. His steady hand has been instrumental in Georgia’s success over the past two seasons. He’s ditched the old “Game Master” label, which no longer reflects his increased abilities.
He more than made it through this game. He owned it.
Twenty-three completions, 274 yards and four touchdowns.
Alert Heisman Trophy voters.
I could say this marks Georgia’s peak, that next season it will miss pivots like Bennett and Jalen Carter and Kelee Ringo and retire to the pack.
If this were any other program I would believe it to be true.
Smart built a red and black machine that just keeps threshing.
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