ATLANTA — No. 1 Georgia made its case to stay atop the Faculty Soccer Playoff Rankings because the Bulldogs crushed No. 14 LSU 50-30 within the 2022 SEC Championship Sport. The Dawgs improved to 13-0 for the primary time in program historical past forward of Sunday’s launch of the ultimate CFP Rankings. The reigning nationwide champions by no means trailed as Georgia captured this system’s fourth SEC championship and first since 2017.
Even final season’s Georgia staff with its traditionally dominant protection didn’t win the SEC crown. This marks the primary time the Dawgs have emerged from the SEC title recreation with an unbeaten report; the 2002 and 2017 groups every suffered one regular-season loss, whereas the 2005 staff misplaced twice within the earlier than successful the convention.
The regular hand of sixth-year senior quarterback Stetson Bennett IV — coupled with some horrific breaks for LSU — helped the Bulldogs open a 35-10 halftime lead. Specifically, a 95-yard landing return from Christopher Smith on a blocked subject aim and an interception that deflected off the helmet of an LSU participant helped sparked Georgia within the first half.
After the break, UGA withstood a cost from a resilient LSU squad. Tigers QB Jayden Daniels left the sport at halftime after showing to worsen an ankle damage. With backup Garrett Nussmeier within the recreation, LSU pulled inside 35-17 and have been threatening to attract even nearer when the Dawgs got here up with a vital cease on fourth-and-1 to maintain LSU out of the top zone halfway by way of the third quarter.
Georgia shut the door from there with scoring drives of 95 and 75 yards for its twelfth double-digit victory in 13 video games this season getting into the playoff.
Dangerous breaks for the Tigers
LSU appeared poised to attain the primary factors of the sport because the Tigers drove deep into Georgia territory on its second possession. Then got here a weird play that flipped the momentum and set the tone for the primary half. Georgia defensive sort out Nazir Stackhouse blocked a 32-yard subject aim try from LSU kicker Damian Ramos, sending the ball dribbling towards the goal-line. Earlier than the ball stopped shifting, Georgia’s Christopher Smith picked it up and ran 95 yards for a shocking landing.
Later within the half, Georgia benefitted from a equally peculiar interception as linebacker Smael Mondon Jr. got here up with a decide after the soccer deflected off the helmet of LSU receiver Jack Bech. On the primary play of Georgia’s ensuing possession, Bennett discovered Ladd McConkey for a 22-yard landing strike that put the Bulldogs up 21-7.
Mixed, the 2 performs amounted to crippling blows for an LSU staff that entered as a 17.5-point underdog.
Bennett’s unfinished enterprise
There may be little that Bennett has not achieved in his storybook profession. The undersized former walk-on can now add an SEC championship to his record. Bennett threw 4 landing passes — all within the first half — and unfold the soccer round to 10 totally different targets through the recreation. Within the SEC Championship Sport period, quarterbacks equivalent to Eric Zeier, Quincy Carter, David Greene, D.J. Shockley, Matthew Stafford, Aaron Murray and Jake Fromm have come by way of Georgia and gone on to grow to be NFL Draft picks. Every engineered their share of staff success, however none can boast a legacy like what Bennett’s in his winding journey to program lore.
With an SEC title now on his resume together with final season’s nationwide title and one other CFP efficiency forthcoming, Bennett’s physique of labor as Georgia’s quarterback compares favorably to any of his predecessors. Even when he is not drafted and by no means performs a down within the NFL, he is cemented his place in Georgia soccer — and SEC soccer — historical past.
Undisputed No. 1?
Tennessee ranked No. 1 and Georgia ranked No. 3 within the first CFP Rankings of the season. The Bulldogs promptly modified that with a convincing 27-13 win over the Volunteers on Nov. 5. They’ve ranked No. 1 in every version of the rankings since and made an emphatic case to remain there with their efficiency towards LSU. If Georgia is certainly ranked No. 1 in Sunday’s last launch of the CFP rankings, it will mark the primary time within the CFP period that the Bulldogs have entered the playoff within the prime spot. The 2017 staff was ranked No. 3 and misplaced a basic nationwide championship recreation to Alabama, whereas final 12 months’s squad was ranked No. 3 behind Alabama and Michigan earlier than happening to beat the Crimson Tide for the title.
LSU reveals promise underneath Brian Kelly
It has been a peculiar debut season for LSU coach Brian Kelly. The Tigers started with a loss to Florida State and that was adopted with some ugly moments, equivalent to a 40-13 residence loss to Tennessee and a stunning loss at Texas A&M final week. However LSU made apparent strides from final season and received what many regard as school soccer’s hardest division. Whereas the ultimate rating of the SEC Championship Sport suggests LSU was dominated, the Tigers additionally confirmed flashes that maybe they are not distant from contending within the nationwide image. Had Daniels been absolutely wholesome, his dual-threat dynamic might have given Georgia complications, and if the 2 unusual performs talked about above had gone their method, it undoubtedly would have led to a extra aggressive recreation. Nonetheless, the play of Nussmeier within the second half and the general resilience of LSU, which put up 549 yards towards one of many nation’s prime defenses. Nussmeier was 15-of-27 passing for 294 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.
Georgia’s well being shifting forward
One thing to look at shifting ahead would be the standing of receiver Ladd McConkey and offensive lineman Warren McClendon. Each are key cogs for the staff who missed the second half resulting from knee injures. McConkey has emerged as Georgia’s prime extensive receiver and McClendon has began each recreation this season at proper sort out. Their well being will loom giant for the Bulldogs shifting into the Faculty Soccer Playoff.