Georgia shaking off adulation with trip to MSU looming

Staff photo by Matt Hamilton / Georgia receiver Ladd McConkey hauls in a 37-yard touchdown catch during last Saturday’s 27-13 victory over Tennessee inside Neyland Stadium.

The Georgia Bulldogs will be transitioning later this week from the Southeastern Conference to the NFC South.

Or so the praise goes following last Saturday's 27-13 whipping of Tennessee, which entered Sanford Stadium No. 1 in the College Football Playoff rankings. Georgia improved to 9-0 overall and 6-0 in SEC play, and the Bulldogs will look to duck the adulation this week as they prepare for Saturday night's trip to Mississippi State.

"I think everybody sees it, whether it's good or bad," Bulldogs redshirt sophomore receiver Ladd McConkey said Monday during a news conference. "You're going to see it either way, but it's something they tell us not to really focus on. We enjoy the win on Saturday night, but once Sunday rolls around, we flip the switch.

"At times you see it, but you've got to block it out. If it's good, they'll praise you, and if it's bad, they'll hate on you.

Georgia's first win ever at home over a No. 1 opponent is certain to propel the Bulldogs to the top spot in Tuesday night's latest reveal of the CFP standings, but that's not the topic at the forefront of Kirby Smart's conversation list.

"We just don't talk about it much," Smart said. "They understand it's wasted energy when you talk about it, and you guys want to write about it and do all that. We just have to focus on Mississippi State and, 'What do we have to do to play well against them? What do we have to do to play well on the road in the SEC?' That is the focus.

"That's nothing but a number and a distraction, and it's irrelevant. It just really doesn't matter. They see it, but it doesn't get discussed around here, because the more you talk about it, the more attention you bring to it."

Or as redshirt sophomore cornerback Kelee Ringo put it, "We're going to focus on Mississippi State more this week, honestly more than we ever have."

The SEC's two Bulldogs are colliding for the first time since their 2020 matchup in Athens, when JT Daniels made his first career start for Georgia and threw for 401 yards and four touchdowns in a 31-24 win. Starting for the guests that night was Will Rogers, who completed 41 of 52 attempts (78.8%) for 336 yards and a score.

Rogers, now a junior, is Mississippi State's all-time leader with 9,627 passing yards and 73 aerial touchdowns.

"He played really well in that game and kind of got a lot of confidence playing against us," Smart said. "I don't know how many games he's played since then, but it's a lot. He's broken a lot of records. He's very intelligent. He doesn't make mistakes. He uses Coach (Mike) Leach's offense to his strength, and they know who they are.

"They're usually one step ahead in their answer than you are because you don't play against them but once a year and they do it all the time, so they have exposure to everything every defense has tried on them."

Smart added that Georgia took one day during its open week to work on Mississippi State, which is 6-3 following last weekend's 39-33 overtime topping of Auburn.

"People would probably think they're similar to Tennessee, but they're really not similar to Tennessee," Smart said, "so it has become a third week of facing a different kind of offense in terms of what they do offensively."

Sixth-year senior outside linebacker Robert Beal suffered a "stinger" against the Volunteers but feels fine and is likely to play in Starkville. When asked about receiver Adonai Mitchell and offensive linemen Amarius Mims and Xavier Truss, Smart said he's hopeful each of them return this week.


Keeping level head

McConkey, who battled drops and turnover issues earlier this season, had a stout performance Saturday, hauling in a team-high five catches for a game-high 94 yards and a 37-yard score late in the first quarter.

"Really it was just staying locked in and not letting one play affect another one," McConkey said. "It's something I've been working on, just staying level-headed throughout the game. You've got to lock in on the ball, because you can't do anything without the ball."


Bulldogs bites

Georgia's game next week at Kentucky will be televised by CBS with a kickoff shortly after 3:30 p.m. ... The Bulldogs cleaned house Monday as far as the SEC weekly awards, with quarterback Stetson Bennett sharing offensive player of the week, defensive back Malachi Starks sharing freshman of the week, and Jalen Carter being named defensive lineman of the week.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com.