What will it take to beat Georgia?

Mark SchlabachESPN Senior WriterNovember 3, 2023, 7:00 a.m. ET9 minutes of reading

Smart from UGA on Mizzou’s “recipe” for explosive plays

Ahead of the Week 10 matchup, Kirby Smart highlights the “three weapons” of the No. 14 Tigers’ offense and explains what the No. 1 Bulldogs need to do to slow them down.

ATHENS, Georgia — Georgia hasn’t lost a soccer game in 699 days.

The Bulldogs are undefeated in the regular season for 1,091 days. And they haven’t fallen at home in 1,483 days.

Heading into Saturday’s game against No. 12 Missouri at Sanford Stadium, two-time national champion Georgia has won 25 straight games. With a win over the Tigers, Georgia would tie the 14th longest winning streak in the AP poll era (since 1936), tied with Alabama (2015-16) and Nebraska (1994-1996).

Georgia’s last loss was a 41-24 loss to Alabama in the SEC Championship Game on Dec. 4, 2021. Its winning streak began when it beat Michigan 34-11 in the CFP semifinals at the Capital One Orange Bowl on New Year’s Eve in 2021 d. In the next game, the Bulldogs finally defeated the Crimson Tide with a 33-18 victory in the CFP National Championship to win their first national title in 41 years.

The Bulldogs have been winning ever since.

Along with the school-record 25-game winning streak, they have recorded 35 consecutive regular-season games, 24 consecutive SEC regular-season games and 23 consecutive home games. They are 41-1 in their last 42 games.

“Like I’ve said all along, it’s going to end,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “I have been a part of many series. It will end at some point and when it does we will worry about the next game. I don’t think you can get caught up in that thought process or thoughts that way. You have to think [about] what you can do to help your team win.”

So how do you beat the Bulldogs, who have been ranked No. 1 in the AP poll for 20 straight weeks, the third-longest streak ever and longest in the SEC?

Make quarterback Carson Beck uncomfortable

Carson Beck threw for 2,462 yards and 14 touchdowns this season.David Rosenbloom/Icon Sportswire

One of the biggest questions for Georgia heading into the season was how Beck would hold up as the replacement for Stetson Bennett, a former walk-on who guided the Bulldogs to national championships.

So far so good. Beck is seventh among FBS quarterbacks with a 73% completion percentage and 307.8 yards per game. He is 10th in total QBR (81.8) with 14 touchdowns and four interceptions. The junior has been sacked just five times in 283 returns.

“Everybody talks about the quarterback, but he’s extremely cool and very accurate,” said one SEC head coach whose team played Georgia this season. “No one has really been able to put the game on their shoulders and I still think that’s what you have to do to beat them because they don’t have what I would call Georgia running backs. They’re good, but not in the way you’d think of some of Georgia’s great running backs.”

In last week’s 43-20 win over Florida, the Gators pressured Beck on just four of his 30 carries (13 percent) and had just one sack, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Florida entered this game with a 42% pass rush rate, which was third-highest in the SEC and ninth-best in the FBS.

Georgia’s offensive line has allowed just six sacks in eight games, sixth-fewest in the FBS. Beck completes 78.7% of his passes when the pocket is clear, compared to just 50% when under pressure.

Beck had his biggest moment in Georgia’s first game away at Auburn on Sept. 30. After falling behind 10-0 in the first quarter, Georgia rallied to go ahead 20-17 in the fourth. The Tigers tied the game with a field goal, then Beck threw a 40-yard touchdown to Brock Bowers with 2:52 left. Beck completed 23 of 33 passes for 313 yards with one interception and one touchdown in the game.

“He might not be the runner that Bennett was when things fell apart, but you don’t get to him much either,” said an SEC assistant coach. “In that Auburn game, when the game was on the line in a hostile environment, he looked very poised.”

Defeat the Bulldogs on the road

It may be hard to believe that the Bulldogs lost three times at home during Smart’s first season as coach of his alma mater in 2016.

Georgia fell to Tennessee 34-31 after Tennessee’s Joshua Dobbs threw a 43-yard touchdown to Jawan Jennings. Special teams mistakes cost the Bulldogs a 17-16 loss at Vanderbilt, which beat them for just the third time in the last 22 meetings. Georgia then blew a 13-point lead in the fourth quarter of a 28-27 loss to Georgia Tech, which scored the game-winning touchdown with 30 seconds left.

Georgia has lost just once in 40 home games since the start of the 2017 season. That came against South Carolina in 2019, a 20-17 double-overtime loss in which the Bulldogs had four turnovers and missed a 42-yard field goal in the second overtime. The Gamecocks, coached by current UGA co-defensive coordinator Will Muschamp, were underdogs by 24½ points in the game.

Since then, Georgia has won 23 straight games at Sanford Stadium. It has defeated 11 straight opponents ranked in the AP Poll’s Top 25 at home, winning by an average of 19.4 points. Only three of the 11 games were decided by less than 14 points.

Sanford Stadium can get loud, especially when a ranked opponent is in town. In Georgia’s 23-17 win over Notre Dame in 2019, the Fighting Irish were whistled for six false start penalties. Arkansas had a false start in its first two games in a 37-0 loss to Georgia in 2021. Last season, No. 1 Tennessee had seven false starts in a 27-13 loss to the Bulldogs.

Don’t make mistakes

Georgia has been ranked No. 1 in the AP poll for 20 consecutive weeks.Dale Zanin-USA TODAY Sports

Last season, Missouri unexpectedly gave Georgia its biggest challenge of the regular season. After beating each of their first four opponents by 17 or more points, the Bulldogs faced two 13-point deficits in the first half and trailed by 10 going into the fourth quarter. The Bulldogs lost two fumbles in the first half and went just 4-for-13 on third down in the game. However, Georgia rallied to win 26-22 after scoring two touchdowns in the final 10 minutes.

Missouri is one of just three teams since 2021 to lead the Bulldogs in three quarters, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Only Alabama managed a win in the 2021 SEC Championship Game. Each of those three opponents won the turnover battle in the first three quarters: Bama and Missouri were plus-2. Ohio State was a plus-1 through three quarters of the CFP semifinal at the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl last season.

Georgia has turned around in the fourth quarter of the two games it has won. He outgained Missouri by 155 yards in the fourth quarter; had 90 more yards than Ohio in a 42-41 win.

Bulldogs don’t make many mistakes. This season, they are the least penalized team in the SEC at 38.1 yards per game.

“I mean, when you don’t beat yourself, you have a chance,” former Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “When you don’t turn it over, you have a chance. And when you don’t have stupid penalties, you have a chance. A lot of games are given away just by self-injury and there hasn’t been a lot of that going on.”

Hit some big plays

While Georgia’s defense may not have the star power of the previous two editions — it had a record five Bulldog defensive backs selected in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft and two more this year — it’s still pretty sparse. Georgia ranks seventh in the FBS in scoring defense (14.8 ppg), eighth in total defense (272.1 yards) and 12th in run defense (93.6 yards).

One area where the Bulldogs have excelled this season is third down defense. Opponents have converted just 25% of 100 third down plays. It will be difficult to drive the ball down the field.

“Where they’re always dangerous on defense is putting you in bad down and distance situations,” the SEC head coach said. “It seems like when you play them, that’s always the case. If you can manage the ball just a little bit against them, then obviously it becomes a little bit easier. But how many people have managed to do this?

“I still think that’s the first thing you have to do — stay patient, commit to running the ball and mixing it up enough in the passing game to keep them honest. You also have to make some explosive plays with them.”

Since the start of the 2021 season, only five opponents have held a halftime lead against Georgia (Alabama did it twice). The two teams that had 10 plays of 10 yards or more in the first half either beat the Bulldogs or took them all the way to the wire, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Ohio State had 11 such plays in the first half of last season’s CFP semifinals. The Crimson Tide had 15 in the first two quarters of its win over Georgia in the 2021 SEC Championship Game.

This season, Georgia unexpectedly trailed South Carolina 14-3 at halftime at home. The Gamecocks had nine plays of 10 yards or more in the first half, but were shut out in the final two quarters.

“They’re not that good up front [defensively] like they were last year,” an SEC assistant said. “They’re still good, but they don’t have as many pros there as Kirby had in the past. They don’t let NFL guys in and out like they used to. So that gives you a chance to have some success offensively if you can take the game to the second half.”

How long will Georgia’s streak last? He faces one of the toughest stretches of any of the last three regular seasons. After hosting the Tigers, the Bulldogs play No. 10 Ole Miss at home and No. 17 Tennessee and take on Georgia Tech on the road to close out the regular season.

“Listen, they’re still talented, probably as talented as anybody,” an SEC head coach said. “But I think they are beatable. I’m not saying they’re going to be beaten, but it wouldn’t surprise me like it would have a year ago.”

ESPN reporter Chris Lowe contributed to this report.

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