Bulldogs seeking to create new memories at SEC championship

Georgia photo by Tony Walsh / Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett scrambles as Alabama outside linebacker Will Anderson applies pressure during the Crimson Tide’s 41-24 victory over the Bulldogs in last year’s Southeastern Conference championship game.

To recall Georgia's most recent college football national championship, one needs to travel only back to January.

The most recent Southeastern Conference title for the Bulldogs? That requires a trip to 2017, when current quarterback Stetson Bennett and outside linebacker Robert Beal were freshman scout-team members.

Since that 28-7 win over Auburn in the first SEC championship game inside the $1.6 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the Bulldogs have returned to Atlanta on December's first Saturday only to succumb to Alabama in 2018, LSU in 2019 and Alabama again last season. The last two setbacks transpired by 44 combined points.

"I don't have too many great memories," Bulldogs fifth-year senior safety Christopher Smith said on Monday, "because every time I've played in it, I've had an 'L,' but it's always good to be able to get to this point and be able to compete against another great team. There is definitely a lot of motivation coming from me and also the rest of our team, especially the guys who have been here for a lot of those losses.

"It's a tough game to get to, and it's an even tougher game to be able to win, so we're going to do everything we can to put it all on the line."

The top-ranked Bulldogs completed their second consecutive 12-0 regular season with this past weekend's 37-14 win over Georgia Tech in their Sanford Stadium season finale, and this Saturday's meeting against No. 11 LSU will give them the opportunity for their first 13-0 mark in program history. Alabama denied Georgia that last year with a 41-24 triumph, though the Bulldogs would exact revenge several weeks later with a 33-18 win in the title game of the College Football Playoff.

Georgia seventh-year coach Kirby Smart has made it clear that this week's contest is not about avenging last year's SEC title outcome against Nick Saban's Crimson Tide.

"I think it's more about checking a box and not about last year's team or a comparison," Smart said. "It's about the next step and having an opportunity to put a number on the wall that stays there forever. It's an SEC championship, and you don't belittle those. They are hard to come by.

"There is such a respect, especially in this part of the country, for the Southeastern Conference that winning a Southeastern Conference championship is extremely impressive given the quality of football and the number of NFL players who come out of our conference."

The Bulldogs dropped from No. 1 to No. 3 in the CFP rankings after losing last December, and they are assured of being in this year's field regardless of Saturday's outcome. Not that the topic is being discussed much this week by Georgia players.

"We're just locking in and taking it week by week and just being where our feet are," redshirt junior right tackle Warren McClendon said. "Our feet are here, so we're here preparing and practicing and getting ready for this weekend."

Georgia's ultimate goal is to add a second consecutive national championship trophy to its expanding hardware case, but a first SEC title trophy since 2017 and just the second league crown in 17 seasons would be welcome.

"We know what it takes," redshirt sophomore receiver Ladd McConkey said. "We've been in this position before. We've just got to make the most of it, go play our game and let the rest of it take care of itself."

Said McClendon: "We've won the East and we've won the big one, but we haven't won the SEC championship. There is definitely some motivation for this one."

Scoring goals

With Saturday's downing of Georgia Tech, the Bulldogs improved to 55-1 under Smart when scoring 30 or more points.

The lone loss transpired during Smart's first season in 2016, when Tennessee used a 43-yard "Hail Mary" from Josh Dobbs to Jauan Jennings on the final play to subdue the Bulldogs 34-31 inside Sanford Stadium.

"I think our goal is either 35 or 38, but that's just based on the course of time," Smart said, "I want to say we want to score right at 38 points a game. We base that on college football history. You want to be No. 1 in scoring offense, and if you can do that, you're usually going to be near it.

"In most recent years, you wouldn't be first, because the numbers have gone up, up, up and away."

Tennessee leads the nation through 12 games with 47.3 points per contest, while Georgia's average of 38.3 ranks 12th.

Williams injury

Not only is LSU starting quarterback Jayden Daniels nursing a sore ankle this week, but top Tigers tailback Josh Williams didn't even play in Saturday night's loss at Texas A&M due to a knee injury.

"The training staff basically said that it's based on how I feel and how I want to go forward with it," Williams said Monday. "I'm doing better than I did last week, and I'm progressing every day. I started running last week, and I'm doing well. I'm excited, and we'll see how well I progress.

"I'm pretty confident I'll make an appearance in the game. I'm just going to put it in God's hands and see how it goes."

Williams has rushed for 477 yards and 5.2 yards per carry this season.

Bulldog bites

Georgia trails its series against LSU 18-13-1 and has lost both meetings under Smart. ... The Bulldogs have amassed 35 rushing touchdowns this season and are seven shy of matching their single-season program record.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com.