June 13, 2024

ATHENS, Georgia — Georgia hasn’t lost a football game in 699 days.

The Bulldogs haven’t been beaten in the regular season in 1,091 days. And they haven’t fallen at home in 1,483 days.

Heading into Saturday’s game against No. 12 Missouri at Sanford Stadium, two-time defending national champion Georgia has won 25 consecutive games. With a victory over the Tigers, Georgia would tie for the 14th-longest winning streak in the AP poll era (since 1936), matching Alabama (2015-16) and Nebraska (1994-1996).

Georgia’s last loss was a 41-24 defeat to Alabama in the SEC championship game Dec. 4, 2021. Its winning streak began when it beat Michigan 34-11 in a CFP semifinal at the Capital One Orange Bowl on New Year’s Eve in 2021. In the next game, the Bulldogs finally took down the Crimson Tide with a 33-18 win in the CFP National Championship to capture their first national title in 41 years.

The Bulldogs have been winning ever since.

Along with a school record 25 straight wins, they’ve captured 35 consecutive regular-season games, 24 straight SEC regular-season games and 23 in a row at home. They’re 41-1 in their past 42 games.

“Like I’ve said all the time, that’s going to come to an end,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “I’ve been part of a lot of streaks. That’s going to come to an end at some point, and when it does, we’ll worry about the next game. I don’t think you can be consumed with that thought process or think that way. You’ve got to think [about] what you can do to help your team win.”

So how do you beat the Bulldogs, who have been ranked No. 1 in the AP poll for 20 consecutive weeks, the third-longest streak ever and the longest in the SEC?

Make quarterback Carson Beck uncomfortable

One of the biggest questions about Georgia heading into the season was how Beck would hold up as a replacement for Stetson Bennett, a former walk-on, who guided the Bulldogs to back-to-back national championships.

So far, so good. Beck is seventh among FBS quarterbacks with a 73% completion rate and 307.8 yards per game. He is 10th in total QBR (81.8) with 14 touchdowns and four interceptions. The junior has been sacked only five times in 283 dropbacks.

“Everybody talks about the quarterback, but he’s extremely composed and very accurate,” said one SEC head coach, whose team played Georgia this season. “Nobody has really been able to put the game on his shoulders, and I still think that’s what you’ve got to do to beat them because they don’t have what I’d call Georgia running backs. They’re good, but not in the way you would think of some of the great Georgia backs.”

In last week’s 43-20 victory over Florida, the Gators pressured Beck on just four of his 30 dropbacks (13%) and had just one sack, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Florida came into that game with a 42% pressure rate, which was third highest in the SEC and ninth best in the FBS.

Georgia’s offensive line has allowed only six sacks in eight games, which is tied for sixth fewest in the FBS. Beck is completing 78.7% of his passes when the pocket is clean, compared to only 50% when he is pressured.

Beck had his biggest moment in Georgia’s first road game, at Auburn on Sept. 30. After falling behind 10-0 in the first quarter, Georgia rallied to go ahead 20-17 in the fourth. The Tigers tied the game with a field goal, then Beck threw a 40-yard touchdown to tight end Brock Bowers with 2:52 to play. Beck completed 23 of 33 passes for 313 yards with one interception and one touchdown in the game.

“He may not be the runner that Bennett was when things break down, but you don’t get to him much, either,” an SEC assistant coach said. “In that Auburn game, when the game was on the line in a hostile environment, he looked very poised.”

Beat the Bulldogs on the road

It might be hard to believe that the Bulldogs lost three times at home during Smart’s first season as his alma mater’s coach in 2016.

Georgia fell to Tennessee 34-31 after Tennessee’s Joshua Dobbs threw a 43-yard Hail Mary touchdown to Jauan Jennings. Special teams mistakes cost the Bulldogs in a 17-16 loss to Vanderbilt, which beat them for only the third time in the past 22 meetings. Then Georgia blew a 13-point lead in the fourth quarter of a 28-27 loss to Georgia Tech, which scored the winning touchdown with 30 seconds left.

Georgia has lost only once in 40 home games since the start of the 2017 season. That came against South Carolina in 2019, a 20-17 loss in double overtime, in which the Bulldogs had four turnovers and missed a 42-yard field goal in the second overtime. The Gamecocks, coached by current UGA co-defensive coordinator Will Muschamp, were 24½-point underdogs in the game.

Georgia has won 23 straight games at Sanford Stadium since then. It has defeated 11 straight opponents ranked in the Top 25 of the AP poll at home, winning by an average of 19.4 points. Only three of the 11 games were decided by fewer than 14 points.

Sanford Stadium can get loud, especially when there’s a ranked opponent in town. In Georgia’s 23-17 victory over Notre Dame in 2019, the Fighting Irish were whistled for six false-start penalties. Arkansas had false starts on its first two plays in a 37-0 loss at Georgia in 2021. Last season, No. 1 Tennessee had seven false starts in a 27-13 loss to the Bulldogs.

Don’t make mistakes

Last season, Missouri unexpectedly gave Georgia its biggest challenge in the regular season. After defeating each of their first four opponents by 17 points or more, the Bulldogs faced a pair of 13-point deficits in the first half and trailed by 10 going into the fourth quarter. The Bulldogs lost two fumbles in the first half and went just 4-for-13 on third down in the game. Georgia rallied, however, and won 26-22 after scoring two touchdowns in the final two minutes.

Missouri is one of only three teams since 2021 to lead the Bulldogs through three quarters, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Only Alabama managed to win in the 2021 SEC championship game. Each of those three opponents won the turnover battle through the first three quarters: Bama and Missouri were plus-2. Ohio State was plus-1 through three quarters of a CFP semifinal at the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl last season.

Georgia turned it on in the fourth quarter of the two games it won. It outgained Missouri by 155 yards in the fourth quarter; it had 90 more yards than Ohio in a 42-41 victory.

The Bulldogs don’t make many mistakes. This season, they’re the least-penalized team in the SEC with 38.1 yards per game.

“I mean, when you don’t beat yourself, you’ve got a chance,” former Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “When you don’t turn it over, you’ve got a chance. And when you don’t have foolish penalties, you’ve got a chance. A lot of games are given away by just self-inflicted wounds and there hasn’t been a lot of that going on, obviously.”

Hit some big plays

Although Georgia’s defense might not have the star power of the previous two editions — there were a record five Bulldog defenders selected in the first round of the 2022 NFL draft and two more this year — it’s still pretty stingy. Georgia ranks seventh in the FBS in scoring defense (14.8 points), eighth in total defense (272.1 yards) and 12th in run defense (93.6 yards).

One area where the Bulldogs have excelled this season is third-down defense. Opponents have converted only 25% of 100 third-down plays. It’s going to be difficult to drive the ball down the field.

“Where they’re always dangerous on defense is getting you in bad down-and-distance situations,” an SEC head coach said. “It seems like when you play them, that’s always the case. If you can run the ball just a little bit against them, then it obviously gets a little easier. But how many people have been able to do that?

“I still think that’s the first thing you’ve got to do — stay patient, commit to running the ball and mix it up enough in the pass game to keep them honest. You’ve also got to make some explosive plays on them.”

Since the start of the 2021 season, only five opponents have held a halftime lead against Georgia (Alabama did it twice). The two teams that had 10 plays of 10 yards or more in the first half either defeated the Bulldogs or took them all the way down to the wire, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Ohio State had 11 such plays in the first half of last season’s CFP semifinal. The Crimson Tide had 15 in the first two quarters of their victory over Georgia in the 2021 SEC championship game.

This season, Georgia unexpectedly trailed South Carolina 14-3 at halftime at home. The Gamecocks hit nine plays of 10 yards or more in the first half but were shut out in the final two quarters.

“They’re not as good up front [defensively] as they were last year,” an SEC assistant said. “They’re still good, but don’t have as many pros up there as Kirby has had in the past. They don’t run NFL guys in and out like they used to. So that gives you a chance to have some success on offense if you can get the game to the second half.”

How long will Georgia’s winning streak last? It’s about to face one of its most difficult stretches of any of the past three regular seasons. After hosting the Tigers, the Bulldogs play No. 10 Ole Miss at home and No. 17 Tennessee and surging Georgia Tech on the road to close the regular season.

“Listen, they’re still talented, probably as talented as anybody,” an SEC head coach said. “But I do think they’re beatable. I’m not saying they’ll get beat, but it wouldn’t surprise me like it would have a year ago.”

ESPN reporter Chris Low contributed to this report.

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