As the anticipation for the upcoming 2023 season grows, we take a moment to reflect on the remarkable plays that propelled Georgia to consecutive championships. The 2022 season was a whirlwind of dominance, euphoria, and occasional nail-biting moments. In this series, we present the ten finest plays from last season, accompanied by a few honorable mentions. Deliberating the order of this list, I carefully considered the defining moments that shaped our season and the profound impact they had on the Bulldogs moving forward. While certain plays effortlessly claim their significance, others have earned their spot due to their transformative influence on a particular series or the entire season itself.
Kirby Smart Timeout on Fourth Down Against Ohio State:
Players, analysts, and coaches all understand that there is no coach who puts in more preparation to a game plan than Coach Smart. With 8:58 left in the fourth quarter and Ohio State up 37-28, Ryan Day and the Buckeyes attempted to pull a fast one on the Bulldogs in order to steal an extra possession. Kirby Smart recognized something off about Ohio State’s special teams’ formation and raced down the sideline to call a timeout just moments before the ball was snapped. As the whistle blew, Ohio State snapped the ball to the upback who took the ball across the first down line. The play was void due to Coach Smart’s intelligence and play recognition. As the game went on, it became evident that the Bulldogs needed every possible second in that game to complete the comeback. If you needed any more reasoning to understand the significance of this play, just ask what was the very next play from scrimmage? Just a 76-yard bomb to Arian Smith to put the Dawgs within three.
Stetson Bennett Rushing Touchdown Against Tennessee:
Starting fast is always critical in big games and jumping on Tennessee early was an absolute necessity in this 1 vs 3 matchup. Tennessee had thrived against every opponent they had faced so far in the season by generating explosive plays and pulling away early in games through their relentless hurry up offense. On third and ten on the Tennessee 13-yard line, Stetson Bennett showed off his legs and evaded the Tennessee pass rush to run into the right corner of the end zone and give the Bulldogs a much-needed lead. Sanford Stadium went berserk, and Stetson Bennett showed the country yet again why his athleticism and ability to extend plays is a difference maker for the Bulldogs.
AD Mitchell Touchdown Against Ohio State:
After being injured essentially all season, Mitchell came back to play a big role in the Bulldogs receiving room in the College Football Playoff. Stetson Bennett ran a two-minute drill to absolute perfection setting the Bulldogs up with a chance to take the lead with under a minute to go. Bennett had the Bulldogs lined up at the 10-yard line and delivered a perfectly floated ball to the back left corner of the endzone. After a missed field goal virtually as time expired, this proved to be the winning play of the game, sending the Dawgs to Los Angeles for a shot at the title.
Top Ten Plays of the Season:
Number 10: Stetson Bennett’s Scramble Drill Touchdown to Ladd McConkey
Towards the conclusion of a commanding first half, the Dawgs found themselves positioned inside the 5-yard line, presenting an opportunity to secure a halftime advantage of 28-3. Taking charge, Stetson Bennett received the snap, executed a fake handoff to halfback Kenny McIntosh, and rolled out to the right while searching for Brock Bowers in the back right corner of the endzone. As the play unfolded, Stetson showcased his agility by evading four Ducks defenders in the backfield, ultimately delivering a remarkable off-balance throw to a wide-open Ladd McConkey. At this juncture, any hope of an Oregon comeback had vanished, and Stetson Bennett, in only the first game of the season, crafted a play that was worthy of an invitation to New York City for the Heisman Trophy Ceremony.
Number 9: Malaki Starks’ Interception Against Oregon
Entering the 2022 season, Malaki Starks was a player to watch for the Dawgs’ defense, which had been decimated due to NFL draft departures from the 2021 National Championship team. Starks arrived in Athens as a highly touted 5-star recruit, filling a position of need following Lewis Cine’s departure. In just the second drive of his first collegiate game, the ball-hawking safety made an acrobatic interception, giving Georgia fans a glimpse of what to expect in the future. After this play, the Dawgs swiftly marched down the field, taking command with a 14-0 lead in a top 15 matchup in Atlanta. Georgia went on to dominate the game, winning with a final score of 49-3.
Number 8: Brock Bowers’ Tip Drill Touchdown Against Florida
After a strong start in Jacksonville against our archrivals from the horrendous city of Gainesville, Florida, the Bulldogs took a 14-0 lead and were eager to tack on more. Stetson Bennett loaded up and threw a bullet pass to Brock Bowers streaking down the sideline on a wheel route. The pass was deflected off Florida linebacker Amari Burney’s hand, then helmet which led to Bowers tipping the ball to himself and running it into the endzone for a 73-yard touchdown. Bowers finished the day with 5 catches for 154 yards and a touchdown in a 42-20 route against the Gators.
Number 7: Chris Smith’s SEC Championship Blocked Field Goal Return
The Dawgs were seeking their first SEC Championship since 2017 with LSU standing in their way. Despite coming in as massive favorites, the Bulldogs and Tigers were at a stalemate towards the end of the first quarter, with the Tigers looking at a chip shot field goal to give them the lead against the defending champs. Georgia’s special teams crashed the middle of the line and Nazir Stackhouse got a hand on the football to block the kick. LSU had a mental lapse, and no player attempted to down the ball. Veteran safety Chris Smith wisely picked up the ball when no one was around him and went coast to coast for a 96-yard touchdown. The Dawgs cruised past the Tigers winning 50-30, collecting their well-deserved conference championship, and cementing their spot as the number one seed in the College Football Playoffs.
Number 6: Jalen Carter’s Sack on Jayden Daniels
Last season, Jalen Carter showcased his exceptional skills and unrivaled dominance, earning him the esteemed reputation as the preeminent college football player in the country. Under the leadership of Kirby Smart, Georgia has established itself as a hard-nosed, physical football team that staunchly prevents opponents from advancing offensively. In the SEC Championship game, Jalen Carter made a resounding statement, not only to LSU but to the entire nation. On second and eleven, he demonstrated his prowess by sacking Jayden Daniels and effortlessly lifting him up like an infant toddler, proudly raising the number one in the air. This remarkable play epitomized the strength and unity of Georgia’s defensive unit. Holding a commanding 21-point lead in the conference championship game against a historically dominant opponent, the heart of the Georgia defense exerted its physical presence, mentally breaking the opposition and extinguishing any remaining will they had to offer.
Number 5: Brett Thorson’s Punt to the 1 Yard Line
In a matchup of two heavyweights, Tennessee came to Athens in a battle of undefeated SEC East teams. Tennessee had recently been voted as the number one team in the country in the College Football Playoff’s initial rankings of the 2022 season, something the Bulldogs took exception towards as they were undefeated and the defending champs. The Bulldogs, after a three and out possession, were up just four points, set to give the ball back to Tennessee’s number one ranked offense. Brett Thorson unloaded a kick from Georgia’s own 25-yard line that was coffin cornered to Tennessee’s 1 yard line. This instigated a series of events that led to a Jalen Carter strip sack recovered for a safety which was wrongly overturned into a sack downed at the one-yard line. On the next play, Tennessee got off a short punt to just their own 37-yard line. Todd Monken then dialed up a shot on a double move by Ladd McConkey which resulted in a touchdown that had Sanford Stadium so loud you could hear the roar from St. Simons Island.
Number 4: Arian Smith’s Touchdown Against Ohio State
Arian Smith’s career has been decimated with injuries. However, a healthy Smith is lightening in a bottle and an absolute game changer as a deep threat. With the Dawgs down 38-27 in the fourth quarter, Georgia was desperate for points, and they needed it quickly. After receiving a punt down at Georgia’s 24 yard line, Todd Monken unleashed his secret weapon. Arian gave Ohio State safety Lathan Ransom a hip shake and left him on the turf as the speedster glided down the sideline for a 76-yard touchdown. After a successful two-point conversion by McConkey, the Bulldogs were just three points behind the Buckeyes, in prime position to complete the comeback.
Number 3: Keele Ringo’s Interception Against Tennessee
The Bulldogs held a 21 to 6 lead against the Volunteers midway through the second quarter. Tennessee was struggling to gain any sort of momentum offensively as the Georgia defense was proving its worth. After putting together a couple first downs, Hendon Hooker looked deep for receiver Cedric Tillman, a play that had worked so well for the UTK offense all season. Keele Ringo held up in perfect coverage to effectively box out the physical wideout and intercept the football in the bottom right corner of the end zone. This prevented the Volunteers from potentially making the contest a one score game. Meanwhile, Georgia put together a 12 play, 78-yard drive of their own which led to a field goal right before the half making the score an unreachable 24-6 in favor of the Dawgs.
Number 2: Malaki Starks’ Touchdown Saving Tackle Against Mizzou
After an abysmal offensive start, the Bulldogs found themselves on upset alert in Week 5 in Columbia, Missouri. The Dawgs’ offense had three punts and two fumbles in their first five possessions of the game. Soon after falling behind 13-3, the Tigers’ running back, Cody Schrader, took a handoff up the middle for 63 yards. However, true freshman Malaki Starks prevented him from reaching the end zone, which would have resulted in a Tiger touchdown. Such an outcome could have jeopardized the Bulldogs’ hopes for a perfect season, as well as their chances for a playoff and conference championship. Following a false start penalty that pushed the Tigers back, the Bulldogs managed to limit the damage to a field goal, maintaining a two-possession game. Despite the sloppy conditions on the brisk Missouri night, the Bulldogs were able to secure a 26-22 victory.
Number 1: Javon Bullard’s Hit Against Marvin Harrison Jr.
Late in the third quarter of the Peach Bowl, the Buckeyes were pulling away from the Bulldogs in an impressive manner. CJ Stroud, who was playing perhaps his best game in a Buckeye uniform, was firing on all cylinders against UGA’s top ranked defense. The Buckeyes held an 11-point lead and had the ball inside of Georgia’s ten-yard line with goal to go. A touchdown creates an insurmountable lead that would have surely ended Georgia’s hopes for back-to-back championships. On third and goal, the Georgia defense got into the backfield and CJ Stroud lobbed a prayer into the back of the end zone. Javon Bullard doesn’t give up on the play, breaks off his receiver and delivers a perfectly timed hit to Marvin Harrison Jr. which jawed the ball loose. Flags flew onto the field, and Bullard was ejected for targeting. However, under official review, a camera angle from just feet behind the end zone showed Bullard connected perfectly to Harrison Jr’s chest and shoulder area which caused the ball to fall to the turf. The call was correctly overturned, and the hit forced the Buckeyes to settle for a field goal, making it just a 14-point game. Following the conclusion of the game, Bullard was awarded as the Defensive Player of the Game. Without Bullard’s effort and physicality, we don’t fly another banner.