ATHENS, Ga. — A perfect regular season isn’t good enough for Stetson Bennett and No. 1 Georgia.
Bennett threw two touchdown passes and Georgia ended a straight undefeated regular season for the first time in school history by overcoming a slow start and beating Georgia Tech 37-14 on Saturday.
“It’s special,” Bennett said of the unbeaten regular season, “but we didn’t start this season trying to win 12-0. We want to go 15-0.”
Georgia (No. 1 CFP) was 7-0 down early and only led 10-7 at halftime. Then the Bulldogs overwhelmed the Yellow Jackets (5-7) with their running play to record 37 unanswered points and earn their fifth straight win in the state rivalry.
The Bulldogs’ defending champion is in a good position to maintain his top finish in the college football playoffs and play next week’s Southeastern Conference championship game against No. 6 LSU.
Kenny McIntosh and Kendall Milton ran for touchdowns. Georgia passed Georgia Tech 264-40.
“Every drive where we ran the ball, the running backs would step up and answer the bell,” McIntosh said.
The slow start was frustrating for Bennett, but the senior had no complaints about the finish in his last home game.
“I wasn’t really happy with our start today, but we still scored 37 goals,” said Bennett. “… We let the ball run really well today.”
Mistakes in the third quarter reduced the Yellow Jackets’ chance of spoiling the Bulldogs’ historic day. After a low snap, punter David Shanahan was tackled at 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 Fumble was restored by Georgia’s Robert Beal in the Yellow Jackets’ next game by setting up a 36-yard field goal from Jack Podlesny.
“We made some mistakes in the second half and couldn’t follow through on some drives,” Georgia Tech interim coach Brent Key said. “…We can’t have those in big games like this, especially when you know it’s going to be a field possession game and they have an explosive offense.”
Georgia Tech became the first team to score a touchdown against Georgia in the first quarter this season. Zach Gibson completed a 34-yard pass against Nate McCollum in a fourth and 9 game against the Georgia 7.
Backup quarterback Taisun Phommachanhs 7-yard scoring run capped the touchdown drive.
The Bulldogs took a 10-7 lead over Bennett 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 failed in their bid to get their first bowl pick since 2018.
“As the game progressed, we started to wear ourselves down a little,” Key said. “… Credit goes to Georgia and their football team. I haven’t seen any terminations in our team.”
Tribute to Dooley
The key piece of Smart’s quick wardrobe change ahead of his post-game press conference was a tie often worn in games by former longtime coach Vince Dooley, who died on October 28 at the age of 90. After a celebration of life for Dooley on Friday night at Georgia’s Stegeman Coliseum, Smart received the tie from Dooley’s family.
“He got it right in so many games,” said Smart of Dooley, whose record stood at 201-77-10 when he coached 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 a white shirt and sweater without his normal visor — during the game because he didn’t want to distract his seniors’ attention.
THE TAKE AWAY
Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets once again showed the progress they’ve made under Key. A year ago, the team’s third straight three-win season ended in 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 against the Bulldogs for at least a half. Gibson, the Yellow Jackets’ third starting quarterback, showed a good balance against the nation’s best defense, completing 19 of 35 passes for 191 yards.
Georgia: The Bulldogs have shown resilience. Bennett avoided mistakes while McIntosh showed his versatility, posting game-leading totals of 86 rushing yards and 91 receiving yards in two catches. Bennett completed 10 of 18 passes for 140 yards and two touchdowns and had five carries for 21 yards.
Georgia should defend its No. 1 positions in the AP Top 25 and college football playoff rankings.
Georgia Tech: Opens its 2023 season against Louisville on September 2 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
Georgia: Playing in the SEC championship game for the fifth time in six years when it meets No. 6 LSU in Atlanta next Saturday.