Georgia completes unbeaten regular season, downs Georgia Tech. Here are 5 takeaways

Georgia wide receiver Ladd McConkey (84) returns the ball during the first half of a NCAA college football game between Georgia Tech and Georgia in Athens, Ga., on Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022.
Georgia wide receiver Ladd McConkey (84) returns the ball during the first half of a NCAA college football game between Georgia Tech and Georgia in Athens, Ga., on Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022.

It’s as much of a part of Thanksgiving weekend as leftovers of turkey and mac and cheese.

The Bulldogs’ road to the SEC championship game under coach Kirby Smart includes closing out the regular season with a stomping of rival Georgia Tech.

Georgia’s 37-14 win over the Yellow Jackets Saturday looked the part in the final score, but the unranked Yellow Jackets took the fight to the nation’s No. 1 team, outgaining the Bulldogs in the first half and trailing by just a field goal.

Then the Bulldogs broke the game open with 27 straight second-half points in Sanford Stadium before a Yellow Jackets touchdown with under 3 minutes to go.

For the second year in a row, the win moved the Bulldogs even closer to a spot in the College Football Playoff.

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Even a loss to LSU in Mercedes-Benz Stadium next Saturday on championship weekend in the SEC title game is unlikely to keep Georgia out of the four-team field.

The Bulldogs (12-0) completed an unbeaten regular season while Georgia Tech (5-7) under interim coach Brent Key lost to its in-state rival for the fifth time in a row.

“It is special," quarterback Stetson Benntt said of finishing the regular season unbeaten again. "We know it’s cool. We work for it. Coaches work for it. Players work for it. We didn’t come to this season trying to go 12-0. We tried to go 15-0."

Here are five takeaways as Georgia extended its school record with its 27th straight regular season win:

The Governor’s Cup will remain in Athens

Georgia Tech became the first team to score a touchdown in the first quarter against Georgia all season and outgained the Bulldogs 187-153 in the first half, but the end result was similar to recent games in the rivalry.

Since losing two of three against Georgia Tech from 2014-16, Georgia has drilled the Yellow Jackets.

Recap: Georgia Football Final: Bulldogs beat Georgia Tech to end regular season, SEC championship next

It won by an average of 36 points the previous four games entering Saturday and won its 70th game in the series Saturday.

It was Georgia Tech’s first game in Athens since the naming of Dooley Field in 2019.

As Georgia broadcaster Jeff Dantzler noted in a celebration of Vince Dooley’s life Friday night at an event that featured SEC commissioner Greg Sankey and Gov. Brian Kemp, Dooley went “19-6 against the enemy.”

Kirby Smart improved to 5-1 vs. the Yellow Jackets.

Georgia’s radio crew pregame Saturday reeled off name after name of players who never lost to Georgia Tech during their careers.

“We are Georgia Tech’s Daddy,” sideline reporter D.J. Shockley said.

Georgia became the first SEC team to go 12-0 in the regular season in back-to-back years since Alabama in 2008 and 2009. It’s the sixth unbeaten regular season in program history and first in back-to-back years.

This senior class, in their final home game. set the school record for the most career wins. It improved to 46-5. The 2021 class finished 45-8.

Bennett was among 22 honored in pregame ceremonies.

"I'm not a really big fan of Senior Day, honestly," Bennett said. "It is hard to play. I had to freaking do it twice now. ...Trying to not let it be a deal and almost making it a deal. It kind of takes the focus off that we're playing Georgia Tech in a rivalry game at home and they're trying to mess up our season and get to a bowl game and I'm jogging out there with a white ball."

Bulldogs get in this time near goal line

Georgia couldn’t convert on a fourth-and-goal at the 1-yard line at Kentucky a week earlier.

This time, the Bulldogs managed to walk away with six points after sweating it out in the red zone in the third quarter.

Bennett dove on second-and-goal at the 3 but was ruled down at the 1-yard line. On third-and-goal a designed run was snuffed out by linebacker Ayinde Eley.

Georgia lined up defensive tackle Jalen Carter as the fullback in the I-formation and sent him out in the end zone to the right side, but Bennett’s low pass to the end zone was scooped up by tight end Brock Bowers for what was ruled a 1-yard touchdown catch.

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That pushed Georgia up 20-7 with 5:51 to go in the third quarter.

"I know the offensive line wanted it to be a run," center Sedrick Van Pran-Granger said. "I think Coach (Todd) Monken did what was best for the offense and we were perfectly fine with that. We trust coach Monken to the umpth degree."

The Bulldogs scored touchdowns on three of their five red zone trips, but Smart said he was "kind of indifferent," about the red zone and goal-line showing on offense.

"There was times that I thought we did some good things, some time that the execution was there and a poor decision by one or two players affected us," he said. "But I was pleased with our field-goal kicking."

Georgia scored touchdowns on just one of five red zone trips in the 16-6 win at Kentucky a week earlier, dropping them to 52nd in the nation in touchdown percentage in the red zone at 65.5.

Georgia had to settle for a 30-yard Jack Podlesny field goal after a first-and-goal at the 4-yard line in the second quarter in its first foray into the red zone Saturday.

A first down pass to Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint went incomplete and Georgia tried different ways to run it, going with a pitch to Daijun Edwards after a fake sweep to Ladd McConkey for a 3-yard loss.

A false start penalty on Darnell Washington pushed it back five more yards and Georgia got flagged for a pass interference call on a third-down pass in the end zone to Brock Bowers that was declined. Bowers was calling for a defensive pass interference penalty.

Georgia big plays blow game open

In a span of four plays over two drives, Georgia’s lackluster production on offense suddenly became explosive in the fourth quarter.

Bennett (10 of 18 for 135 yards and 2 TDs) had thrown for only 57 yards as Georgia held a 23-7 lead before he hit Kenny McIntosh out of the backfield on a wheel route down the sideline for an 82-yard gain. McIntosh hauled it in at the Georgia 42 and raced downfield to set up his own 2-yard touchdown run. That was Bennett's last pass of the game.

"Kenny's special with the ball in his hands," Bennett said. "The safety came down a little too far and I just threw it over his head. He kept going and got horse collared. He's a weapon out of the backfield."

The 4-play, 99-yard scoring drive was the longest in Smart’s seven seasons.

On the second play of Georgia’s next possession, the offensive line opened up a huge hole for Kendall Milton who jumped through the open space and went 44 yards for a touchdown and a 37-7 lead.

Georgia rushed for 251 yards on 40 carries, the second week in a row it topped 200 yards rushing and third largest rushing output of the season.

"Every time it's time to run the ball, the running backs want to step up and answer the bell," said McIntosh, who topped the Bulldogs with 86 rushing yards on 12 carries. "We knew we had to come out strong and get the ball moving on the ground."

Slow start on offense

Coming off a season-low in total offense with 363 yards, yards per play at 5.6 and passing yards with 116, the Bulldogs mustered just 125 yards in the first half.

Georgia only had one pass play over 13 yards at Kentucky.

Its longest in the first half went for just 11 yards to Darnell Washington.

Bennett was 5 of 10 for 28 yards He was behind Kearis Jackson on a third down pass on Georgia’s first possession and behind Dillon Bell on a second-quarter throw.

"We probably didn’t start as fast today as we have in the past," Smart said. "You’re not going to start every game guns a blazing, and we had to respond to some adversity again. We probably should have had a bigger lead at half, but the way things fell it just didn’t happen. They actually did a good job of shrinking the game as well."

Georgia Tech controlled the clock—nearly 17 minutes to 13 in the first half—but Georgia held the lead on a 5-yard Bennett touchdown pass to Rosemy-Jacksaint..

The wide receiver jumped up on the left side and snatched the pass over Clayton Powell-Lee for a 10-7 lead with 7:59 to go in the second quarter.

Bennett hit McIntosh on a third-and-3 for 13 yards to keep the chains moving on the first drive of third quarter. He threw a well-placed ball for Arian Smith to get under on the right side of the end zone. Officials ruled that he didn’t have possession for what would have been a 33-yard touchdown.

Podlesny booted a 50-yard field goal to make it 13-7, his long this season.

"There were a few penalties, a few decisions on my part that kind of slowed us down," Bennett said. " That can’t happen.”

Specials teams a difference maker

On a day when Georgia had some costly penalties—six for 70 total—and its offense wasn’t anything to write home about for much of the game, the Bulldogs’ special teams play helped carry them this day.

"One of the staples of Georgia has been to play complementary football," Van Pran-Granger said.

Said Smart: I thought special teams came through today. And it's the first game in quite a while that we made some plays in special teams to kind of give us some momentum and get us rolling."

McConkey read a bouncing ball well on a second-quarter punt and took it 39 yards for the Bulldogs’ longest punt return of the season. The junior then did his job as a gunner jumping up and downing a Brett Thorson punt with his right hand at the 2-yard line.

"There's three phases of the game, offense, defense and special teams," said the versatile McConkey also left Ayinde Ealey in his tracks on a 14-yard run on an end around. "Our coaches harp on that just like they do on the other phases. It can win you games and can lose you games and I feel like we did it well this week."

Georgia’s punt team gave the Bulldogs the ball at the Georgia Tech 17 in the third quarter when punter when David Shannahan couldn’t handle snap and Smael Mondon and Trezman Marshall swarmed him for a 13-yard loss to set up a Georgia touchdown.

Podlesny booted field goals of 30, 50 and 36. That 50-yarder was a season-long and he’s now 22 of 25 for the season on field goals.

This article originally appeared on Athens Banner-Herald: Georgia football pulls away from Georgia Tech. Here are five takeaways