ATHENS, Ga. (AP) — A perfect regular season isn’t good enough for Stetson Bennett and No. 1 Georgia.
Bennett threw two touchdown passes and Georgia completed back-to-back undefeated regular seasons for the first time in school history by overcoming a slow start to beat Georgia Tech 37-14 on Saturday.
“It is special,” said Bennett of the undefeated regular season, “but we didn’t enter this season trying to go 12-0. We want to go 15-0.”
Georgia (No. 1 CFP) was down 7-0 early and led only 10-7 at halftime. Then the Bulldogs overpowered the Yellow Jackets (5-7) with their running game to score 37 unanswered points and notch their fifth consecutive win in the state rivalry.
The defending national champion Bulldogs are in good position to retain their top College Football Playoff ranking entering next week’s Southeastern Conference championship game against No. 6 LSU.
Kenny McIntosh and Kendall Milton ran for touchdowns. Georgia outrushed Georgia Tech 264-40.
“Every drive we ran the ball, the running backs stepped up and answered the bell,” McIntosh said.
The slow start was frustrating for Bennett, but the senior couldn’t complain about the finish in his final home game.
“I really wasn’t happy with the way we started today but we still scored 37,” Bennett said. “… We ran the ball really well today.”
Mistakes in the third quarter hurt the Yellow Jackets’ chance at spoiling the Bulldogs’ history-making day. Following a low snap, punter David Shanahan was tackled at the Georgia Tech 17. That set up Bennett’s second scoring pass, a 1-yarder to tight end Brock Bowers on a fourth-down play.
Georgia Tech freshman running back Jamie Felix’s fumble was recovered by Georgia’s Robert Beal on the Yellow Jackets’ next play, setting up a 36-yard field goal by Jack Podlesny.
“We made some mistakes in the second half and couldn’t sustain some drives,” Georgia Tech interim coach Brent Key said. “… We can’t have those in big games like that, especially when you know going into it that it’s going to be a field possession game and they have an explosive offense.”
Georgia pulled away in the fourth quarter. Bennett’s 83-yard pass to McIntosh — the Bulldogs’ longest pass of the season — set up McIntosh’s 2-yard scoring run. Milton added a 44-yard scoring run.
Georgia Tech became the first team to score a first-quarter touchdown against Georgia this season. Zach Gibson completed a 34-yard pass to Nate McCollum on a fourth and 9 play to the Georgia 7.
Backup quarterback Taisun Phommachanh’s 7-yard scoring run capped the touchdown drive.
The Bulldogs took a 10-7 lead on Bennett’s 5-yard scoring pass to Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint in the second quarter. It was Georgia’s only pass of a drive that included a 45-yard run by McIntosh.
Georgia Tech was 4-4 with Key after Geoff Collins was fired. The Yellow Jackets fell short in their bid to become bowl eligible for the first time since 2018.
“As the game went on, we started to wear down a little bit,” Key said. “… Credit to Georgia and their football team. I didn’t see any quit on our team.”
The key piece of Smart’s quick wardrobe change before his postgame news conference was a tie often worn in games by former longtime coach Vince Dooley, who died on Oct. 28 at the age of 90. Following a celebration of life for Dooley on Friday night at Georgia’s Stegeman Coliseum, Smart was given the tie by Dooley’s family.
“He did it right for so many games,” said Smart of Dooley, whose record was 201-77-10 while coaching the Bulldogs from 1964 to 1988, including six SEC titles and the 1980 national championship.
Smart said he didn’t wear the Dooley tribute attire — including white shirt and sweater without his normal visor — during the game because he didn’t want to take attention away from his seniors.
Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets again showed the progress they’ve made under Key. One year ago, the team’s third consecutive three-win season ended with a 45-0 loss to Georgia.
After beating two Top 25 teams — Pittsburgh and North Carolina — on the road under Key, Georgia Tech was competitive for at least one half against the Bulldogs. Gibson, the Yellow Jackets’ third starting quarterback, showed good poise against the nation’s top scoring defense, completing 19 of 35 passes for 191 yards.
Georgia: The Bulldogs demonstrated resiliency. Bennett avoided mistakes while McIntosh showed his versatility by posting game-leading totals of 86 rushing yards and 91 receiving yards on two catches. Bennett completed 10 of 18 passes for 140 yards and two touchdowns and had five carries for 21 yards.
Georgia should protect its No. 1 positions in the AP Top 25 and College Football Playoff ranking.
Georgia Tech: Opens its 2023 season against Louisville on Sept. 2 in Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
Georgia: Plays in the SEC championship game for the fifth time in six years when it faces No. 6 LSU next Saturday in Atlanta.
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