There is no way a national championship ever meant more to a fan base than the 2021 national title did for the University of Georgia Bulldogs. The 33-18 triumph over the Alabama Crimson Tide, the roadblock for so much glory over the past decade, sent the entirety of the Bulldog Nation into an ecstatic state of euphoria and relief. The Bulldogs of 2021 are one of the most talented in college football history. That showed at the NFL Draft in Las Vegas in the spring.
Could these Bulldogs possibly contend? Yes Georgia has recruited, developed and retained talent at an all time elite level, it was a record breaking night in the other Clark County. A record 15 Georgia Bulldogs were taken in the 2022 NFL Draft, including five first round draft choices. All five of those first round picks were defensive players, an NFL Draft record. Travon Walker was the No. 1 overall pick, Jordan Davis won the Outland and Lombardi Awards, Nakobe Dean won the Butkus Award.
Georgia head coach was proud of the way his team came together in the spring, the competition for playing time across the board and the leadership, especially from Stetson Bennett and Nolan Smith. For the first time in his Georgia career, Bennett was the unquestioned starter. Getting all of the reps and snaps with the first team in spring practice and preseason camp proved to pay incredible dividends on Georgia’s repeat victory ride.
After an all-time enjoyable off season, it was time to get back to work. Well, the football team had been putting in the time since not too soon after the victory over the Crimson Tide and celebration parade and coronation. But for the Georgia fans, it was time for the countdown to the season to begin. Bulldawg Illustrated coverboy Bennett, MVP of the Orange Bowl and National Championship Game, was primed for a big season as the offense may have to take more of a lead role with so many new faces on defense.
Amongst those heir apparent players who would be tested were the inside linebackers, led by highly touted sophomores Smael Mondon and Jamon Dumas-Johnson. They were standing in for a tremendous trio of inside ‘backers who departed for the NFL. Mondon and JDJ were lights out throughout the season, a testament to Georgia’s recruiting and development. The defense would be tested out of the gate? How quickly could they grow up?
Throughout its history, most of Georgia’s greatest seasons have come with highly touted opponents scheduled for the season opener. Smart has talked about how that big early game helps grab the attention of the team in preseason camp. That was the case against Clemson and was the case again this season with the Oregon Ducks rolling to Mercedes-Benz Stadium, and doing so with a familiar face, Dan Lanning. The countdown was on as the Bulldogs were set to go championship and history hunting.
The last time Georgia played a season opener as the reigning national champions, the Bulldogs toppled Tennessee 44-0 in Athens to kick off the 1981 season. It would be ambitious for even the most confident of Georgia fans to think the Dogs could do that to one of the PAC-12’s top programs and preseason favorites, especially considering the familiarity factor of first-year head coach Dan Lanning, fresh off coordinating Georgia’s 2021 national championship defense.
It was a performance for the ages, as Georgia dominated every phase of the game in the 49-3 victory. With Stetson Bennett the unquestioned starter at quarterback, the Bulldogs offense was overwhelming and efficient. The Bulldogs scored touchdowns on their first seven possessions, distributing the football in a variety that had the Ducks bills spinning. The defense, replacing a slew of departed greats now in the NFL, kept high powered Oregon out of the end zone.
Heading into the season as the consensus No. 3 team in the country behind only Alabama and Ohio State, the nature and margin of this triumph sent notice, as National Coach of the Year Kirby Smart said in the summer, “we will not be hunted at the University of Georgia.” The Bulldogs jumped Ohio State and moved to No. 2 nationally and served notice that they would once again be the team to beat in the Southeastern Conference East Division race.
The first home game, and Georgia came in as undefeated reigning national champions. Nice sound to that. Georgia controlled the game, but got an outstanding effort from one of the top programs in Division 1-AA (FCS). Under the watch of standout head coach Chris Hatcher, who Kirby Smart worked for at Valdosta State, the Samford Bulldogs posted a 10-1 regular season, losing only to Georgia, won the Southern Conference and advanced to the FCS Playoffs.
It was an overcast rainy afternoon, not too hot for early September in the deep South. The crowd was beyond ecstatic, enjoying the national championship with hopes for contention for another buoyed by the season opening performance against Oregon. Georgia’s defense was strong the entire time. The Bulldogs offense was stopped by Samford in the red zone on the first two possessions of the game, and standout kicker Jack Podlesny delivered a pair of field goals.
Georgia then got the offense cooking and tacked on three touchdowns and another field goal to build a commanding 30-0 halftime lead. For a second straight game, Georgia got to go deep in the depth chart for snaps and playing time, including quarterback Carson Beck. The number 33 certainly rang sweet. Georgia beat Alabama 33-18 for the national championship in Indianapolis, and then won the home opener 33-0 to make it 2-0 and sharpen up for the ‘Cocks.
It was one of the most impressive road Southeastern Conference victories in Georgia annals. Through three weeks, it was clear, no team had two more impressive victories than the Bulldogs did against Oregon and South Carolina. The faithful at Williams-Brice Stadium were raucous, smelling an upset opportunity. But on a blazing hot day with a high noon kickoff, the mighty Bulldogs of Kirby Smart quickly extinguished those flames with another dominant performance.
Brock Bowers showed once again that he is one of the most dynamic, if not the best all around player, in all of college football. The Smooth Smasher from Napa tallied three TDs and made a wide assortment of catches. Georgia’s defense meanwhile was ferocious. Amongst the highlight plays, an interception return by freshman Malaki Starks to set up the Dogs’ second touchdown. SC scored with less than a minute remaining, the first TD of the season allowed by Georgia.
The dominating all-around performance by Georgia vaulted the Bulldogs to the top of the national rankings. The win marked the Bulldogs’ third straight over South Carolina and pushed Georgia to 1-0 in the Southeastern Conference. Under Kirby Smart’s watch, Georgia is now a perfect 4-0 at Williams-Brice Stadium. Through three games, the reigning national champions had outscored the opposition by an overwhelmingly impressive combined tally of 130-10.
Bulldogs Head Coach Kirby Smart always preaches that humility is only a week away. Georgia beat heavy underdog Kent State, but it was far from perfect. Brock Bowers raced 75 yards for a touchdown on the second play from scrimmage, as the All-American put on another impressive display. Maybe it seemed like it would be too easy. The rest of the way, Georgia struggled with the upstart Golden Flashes, who had already played at both Washington and Oklahoma.
Through the first three games, Georgia did not turn the football over. The turnover bug would bite and rear its ugly head against Kent State. The Bulldogs were plagued by three turnovers and for a second straight week, Georgia gave up a first down on a fake punt. Bowers scored a second rushing touchdown on a two yard scamper. Two carries, 77 yards, two touchdowns, plus five catches for 60 yards. The Dogs amassed four rushing scores and 257 yards on 41 carries.
Things got hairy when Kent State scored a touchdown early in the fourth quarter to cut Georgia’s lead to 10. The Bulldogs survived a two-point try that would have made it a one possession game and cut the Georgia lead to 32-24. But it was 32-22, and the offense drove 75 yards on 12 plays, eating up 6:43. Kendall Milton scored on fourth and goal from the one to put the game away. All-American Chris Smith sealed things with his second pick of the year.
This was the scariest game of the regular season for Georgia. The turnovers came again. Georgia coughed the football up three times and the Bulldogs were behind all night long. Missouri was coming off a heartbreaking loss to Auburn, which included a missed field goal by kicker Harrison Mevis, that would have won it for the Tigers. Well he came back with a tremendous performance against Georgia, nailing five field goals to put Georgia in a hole.
Mevis nailed a 56-yarder early in the fourth quarter to give the Tigers a 22-12 lead over the top-ranked Bulldogs. Jack Podlesny had provided all the Georgia scoring. One of the best kickers in Bulldog annals was four for four. Mevis and “JackPod!” would be named co-special teams players of the week in the SEC. Georgia’s running game picked up in the fourth quarter and Stetson Bennett made some clutch throws as the Bulldogs came back.
A critical fourth down conversion run by Kenny McIntosh set up Georgia’s first touchdown, a one-yard Milton rush, to cap a 10 play, 75-yard drive. Georgia then got a stop, and the Bulldogs moved 68 yards in seven plays, with Daijun Edwards scoring from a yard out. A three-and-out stop followed, then the Dogs went and won the game. Georgia ate up the final 3:39 of the contest, moving 42 yards in eight plays to escape CoMo with a gritty road win that would serve Georgia well – especially on New Year’s Eve
The underdog Tigers were aiming for the upset of now second-ranked Georgia, which fell from the top spot after the CoMo close encounter. A lot of funny things and major upsets have happened in this grand rivalry through the years. Georgia wasn’t firing on all cylinders early offensively. But the defense was gritty and tough. In the closing moments of the first quarter, the big play came on special teams, and the Bulldogs were on their way to a dominating win.
All-American Nolan Smith snuffed out an Auburn fake punt and Georgia took at the Tigers 36 yard line with just two seconds to go in the first quarter. McIntosh struck paydirt on third and goal from the Auburn one, and Georgia grabbed a 7-0 lead. The complimentary football continued. The Dogs got a three and out, and Ladd McConkey returned a punt 38 yards to the Tigers 31. On the third play of the ensuing possession, Edwards scored from a yard out.
Georgia upped the lead to 21-3 in the third quarter and then delivered the knockout blow. “Stet the Jet” had one of the most memorable plays of his storybook Bulldog career, racing 64 yards for a touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter to give Georgia a 28-3 lead. Georgia ascended back to the top spot in the rankings at a perfect 6-0. The victory was Georgia’s 15th in the last 18 games against Auburn in the deep south’s oldest rivalry.
Talk about just what the doctor ordered. Georgia steamrolled the Commodores for a second straight season, improving to 7-0 on the season. There was no drama, with the exception of a near miss would-be long touchdown strike by the Commodores with Georgia leading 7-0. Vandy chose twice not to come to Athens in 2020. The Bulldogs blew the ‘Dores away 62-0 in Nashville en route to the 2021 national title. The last two years, that’s 117-0 in the Dogs favor.
McIntosh scored a pair of first quarter touchdowns on an 11-yard third-down pass from Bennett and on a seven yard run. Edwards scored in the second quarter and Bennett found Dominick Blaylock for a 10-yard touchdown to make it 28-0 at the half. Podlesny kicked a pair of third quarter field goals and Carson Beck threw two fourth quarter touchdown passes. Cash Jones struck paydirt from 36 yards out to provide the final margin.
Georgia’s defense was overwhelming. The Bulldogs held Vanderbilt to 45 yards on 23 carries with a long run of eight yards. A pair of Commodore quarterbacks went 12 of 24 for 105 yards, 4.4 yards per attempt. Georgia was now 7-0 with an open date to come. There was a little time to catch your breath and get ready for the gauntlet that would follow. Florida, Tennessee and then at Mississippi State and Kentucky, then the Jackets, what a stretch for the champions.
There is nothing like the Georgia-Florida game, and the reigning national champion Bulldogs came into this one ranked No. 1, with a perfect 7-0 record. Florida, under the watch of first year head coach Billy Napier, was 4-3 and in search of that signature victory. The Bulldogs raced to a 28-3 halftime lead, highlighted by a remarkable 73-yard TD catch and run off a multi-tipped aerial. Bennett and McConkey connected for a seven-yard touchdown with just 17 seconds left in the first half.
Things turned Florida’s way in the third quarter, as the Gators made the plays and took advantage of a couple of Bulldog miscues. On a broken coverage, Florida struck for a 78-yard touchdown pass and suddenly, Georgia’s 25-point lead was down to 28-20. But the champion Dogs responded. Georgia drove 78 yards on six plays, including a clutch Bennett to Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint connection, with Edwards rushing in from 22 yards away to give Georgia a 35-20 lead with under a minute to go in the third quarter.
Georgia stopped the Gators on downs at midfield, and then went 49 yards on eight plays, with McIntosh scoring his second touchdown. Florida drove to the Georgia 15, but the Dogs again got a stop on downs, then chewed up 7:27 of clock. That makes five of six against the Gators. The first CFP ranking came out, and Georgia was third behind Tennessee and Ohio State. The Bulldogs were No. 1 in the AP Poll. The stage was set for No. 1 vs. No. 1 Between the Hedges.
In one of the most highly anticipated showdowns ever in Athens, top-ranked undefeated Georgia toppled top-ranked undefeated Tennessee to establish the Bulldogs as THE team to beat in the SEC. Tennessee was No. 1 in the first College Football Playoff Poll, with Georgia, still No. 1 in the A.P. Poll, sitting at third behind the Volunteers and Buckeyes. Ticket demand was incredible, as the high flying Volunteers were in the midst of their best season in 20 years.
After an early turnover that helped spot Tennessee a 3-0 lead, the Bulldogs responded with calm precision. A deep ball from Bennett to Arian Smith put Georgia in business. The Blackshear Bandit then scampered into the right corner of the East End Zone for (after a lengthy review) the go-ahead score. The Bulldogs would never relinquish the lead. The Bulldogs were on top 21-6 and Kelee Ringo had a clutch interception. Georgia would respond with a Podlesny field goal to end the first half up 24-6.
Georgia’s defense continued its domination as the heavens opened on a red clad raucous Sanford Stadium throng. The Bulldogs tacked on another field goal, and after a turnover exchange, turned the Vols away. Tennessee scored in the closing minutes to make it 27-13. But Georgia recovered the onsides kick and got one more stop. The return of Jalen Carter at 100% was enormous. The nation’s best defensive lineman had a game to remember, including forcing what should have been a first quarter (another review) safety.
This one had scary upset potential written all over it. Georgia was coming off emotional victories over Florida and Tennessee and had the hungry Starkville Maroons with the Late Great Pirate Mike Leach in command under the lights on a chilly night. Georgia was back in the top spot in the rankings and the SEC’s lone undefeated team. This was a big step in the gauntlet. There was a little margin for error. But these Dawgs from Athens were aiming for perfection.
Georgia took control and built an early 17-3 lead. But State would come back and return a punt for a touchdown to end the first half – a sequence and play that left the Georgia faithful flummoxed and the Bulldogs head coach steaming. Georgia stopped a two-point attempt and led 17-12 at intermission. And after that stop, Georgia actually had an inch of momentum. McConkey raced 70 yards to start the third quarter, then hauled in a 17-yard scoring toss from Bennett.
State got no closer than 12 points the rest of the way. ‘The Skyscraper’ Darnell Washington caught a two-yard TD from Bennett and then Kendall Milton delivered the final blow with a 34-yard touchdown run in the closing minutes. The Bulldogs were now a perfect 10-0 and clinched the SEC East Division title for the fifth time in the last six years of Smart’s remarkable tenure. LSU clinched the SEC West this same day. Georgia had much larger goals ahead.
It was one of the coldest games the Bulldogs ever played, and Georgia hunkered, fought, persevered and took Kentucky’s best shot to pull out a 16-6 triumph on the bluegrass. This was the second of those back-to-back road games on the second half gauntlet that stood out as a stiff and dangerous challenge. But Smart’s Dawgs have avoided the letdown and lookahead. Georgia embraced the challenge of the cold and these physical Wildcats and got a big road win.
Podlesny was superb in the first half – Bennett had one particularly impressive hold – as Georgia struck for field goals on all three possessions of the first 30 minutes. Yes, possessions were limited and extra precious in this one. It was 9-0 Georgia at intermission. On the second possession of the third quarter, Kenny McIntosh struck paydirt from nine yards out to make it 16-0. The superb senior running back chalked up 143 yards on 19 carries.
Kentucky came up with a goal line stand, and then went 99 yards to make it 16-6. For a second straight week, the Bulldogs made a monster stop on a two point conversion and it remained a two score game. A late hook left (foreshadowing perhaps) of a field goal by the ‘Cats kept the lead at 10. Smart’s Bulldogs joined Steve Spurrier’s Gators (1995-1996) and Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide (2008-2009) as the only teams in the divisional era to post back to back 8-0 league records.
It was a slow start for Georgia, as the Yellow Jackets grabbed an early 7-0 first quarter lead on the strength of a long fourth down conversion. It marked the first time Georgia trailed Tech since 2016. Jack Podlesny slid in a field goal to make it 7-3. Then in the second quarter, Bennett found Rosemy-Jacksaint for a leaping touchdown grab, and Georgia led 10-7. That would be the halftime score. Costly penalties and missed opportunities kept the Jackets in the game.
Following another Podlesny field goal after a call didn’t go Georgia’s way, the Bulldogs took advantage of a Tech blunder on a punt. Bowers made a terrific catch and it was 20-7. Then Tech fumbled and Podlesny struck again. Georgia delivered the big play of the game when Bennett hit McIntosh for an 83-yard strike early in the fourth quarter, pulling the Dogs out of the shadow of their own goal. On the next play, McIntosh scored from two yards out. Milton scored on a 44-yard run on the Dogs next possession and the game was Georgia’s.
Brent Key took over as interim coach and led the Jackets to a 4-4 record after a 1-3 start under Geoff Collins, who never coached a game in Athens. Key said after accepting the job a few days later that Tech would work 365 days a year to dominate Georgia. The Bulldogs have won 18 of the last 21 meetings against the in-state foe. For the first time in school history, Georgia posted back-to-back perfect regular seasons, going 12-0 in 2021 and 2022.
The Bulldogs advanced to the SEC Championship Game for the fifth time in six years, boasting a record of either 11-1 or 12-0 each time. That put Smart and Georgia in the aforementioned company of Spurrier’s Gators and Saban’s Red Elephants. Brian Kelly became the fourth coach to make the SEC Championship Game in the first year at his new school. This was the fifth time that Georgia and LSU played in the title tilt, the second most frequent meeting behind Alabama-Florida.
Nazir Stackhouse blocked a field goal, and the All-American Chris Smith made yet another signature play – one of the smartest plays ever in a game of this magnitude. He waited to touch the football until the last gasp, the Tigers, and some Bulldogs were headed to the sidelines, and it was off to the races, 96 yards for the TD. The Bulldogs led 35-7, and 35-10 at the half. Bennett was tremendous, with Bowers and McConkey shining as his favorite targets.
Carter had one of the big defensive plays, and famously held up Tiger quarterback Jayden Daniels with his left arm, while extending his right hand signifying Georgia is No. 1. That’s a tee-shirt and likely a statue. The SEC title is Georgia’s 14th, putting the Bulldogs alone for the second most ever behind only Alabama. Tennessee has 13 and LSU 12. The victory sent Georgia to the College Football Playoff as the No. 1 seed, followed by TCU, Michigan and Ohio State.
Georgia was in the playoff for a second straight year and the third time in six years under Smart’s watch. Ryan Day had the Buckeyes, who lost their regular season finale to arch-rival Michigan, in the CFP for the third time in the last four years. This was just the second ever meeting between the Bulldogs and Buckeyes. Georgia defeated Ohio State 21-14 in the Florida Citrus Bowl on New Year’s Day, 1993. Earlier in the day, TCU upset Michigan 51-45 in the Fiesta Bowl.
Ohio State led by 14 in the first half and in the fourth quarter. Georgia led for just 1:49 of the game. In a game of this magnitude played at such a high level, any single play can be the difference maker. Bennett and C.J. Stroud, both finalists for the Heisman Trophy, were exceptional. Smart called a savvy timeout to stymie a fake punt. Bennett hit a wide open Arian Smith for a 76-yard score, and subsequent two-pointer to McConkey. On the go ahead drive, Bennett was five for five through the air.
This was the greatest day of the College Football Playoff era, with two instant classics. Georgia’s win over Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day 2018 was unquestionably the best semifinal ever. Now it’s between that one and this one, with TCU-Michigan No. 3. Bennett was the Most Valuable Player and Georgia made it a perfect 3-0 on the season at Mercedes Benz Stadium, where the clock struck midnight on New Year’s Eve as the 50-yard field goal hooked wide left.
Georgia made history in so many ways with the 65-7 victory over TCU. The Bulldogs became the first team in the CFP era, which began in 2014, to win back-to-back national championships. The margin of victory was staggering, far and away the biggest of any game of any era. Nebraska beat Florida 62-24 to win the 1995 national title, and that’s 20 points shy of the Bulldogs 58-point victory. The largest margin in a Super Bowl was the 1990 Super Bowl when the 49ers beat the Broncos 55-10. Perhaps Tiger Woods 15-stroke victory at Pebble Beach in the 2000 U.S. Open is the closest comparison to such dominance on such a stage.
Georgia grabbed a 10-0 lead, then the Horned Frogs scored their lone touchdown. Georgia answered quickly to go up by 10 at the end of the first quarter. The Bulldogs picked off a couple of passes after Bennett ran for his second score, and cashed in with touchdowns. At the half it was 38-7. Georgia scored two touchdowns in both the third and fourth quarters.
Here are the drive charts:
Georgia 1st Half; TD, FG, TD, TD, TD, TD.
TCU 1st Half: Punt, fumble, TD, punt, Int., Int., End of Half.
Georgia 2nd Half: Punt, TD, TD, TD, TD, Victory kneel.
TCU 2nd Half: Punt, Punt, Downs, Downs, Punt.
Georgia’s 17-game winning streak matches the longest in school history, and the Bulldogs have won 33 of the last 34 games. The Georgia Bulldogs are now the two-time reigning national champions of college football. Over the last two seasons, Georgia’s back-to-back national champions are a cumulative 29-1 with 26 of the victories coming by 10 or more points. The Bulldogs beat three of the other top six teams in the final national rankings – defeating Tennessee, Ohio State and TCU.
The 1980, 2021 and 2022 Bulldogs are undisputed, unanimous national champions. Georgia was also voted No. 1 in at least one poll in 1927, 1946 and 1968. BI voted the Bulldogs No. 1 in 2007. In the final AP Top 25 College Football Poll of 2022, the Bulldogs beat seven teams: TCU (2), Ohio State (4), Tennessee (6), Oregon (15), LSU (16), Mississippi State (20) and South Carolina (24). Georgia bookended the 2022 campaign with a 49-3 win over Oregon and 65-7 triumph over TCU, while running the table in the SEC, defeating the Jackets, LSU and Ohio State.
Stetson Bennett IV leaves Athens as a Heisman Trophy finalist and was voted MVP of all four playoff games Georgia won the last two years, and this season’s SEC Championship Game. He also was selected as the winner of the 2022 Manning Award, presented by the Allstate Sugar Bowl to the top quarterback in the nation.
The Mailman delivered … period ++