Vols facing Beck, Georgia offense ramping up 'at the right time’

University of Georgia photo by Tony Walsh / Georgia redshirt junior quarterback Carson Beck guided the top-ranked Bulldogs to 611 yards of total offense during last weekend's 52-17 thrashing of No. 10 Ole Miss inside Sanford Stadium.
University of Georgia photo by Tony Walsh / Georgia redshirt junior quarterback Carson Beck guided the top-ranked Bulldogs to 611 yards of total offense during last weekend's 52-17 thrashing of No. 10 Ole Miss inside Sanford Stadium.

The gang is all here, and Carson Beck is loving it.

After playing significant chunks of this season without running back Kendall Milton, receiver Ladd McConkey, tight end Brock Bowers and offensive linemen Amarius Mims and Xavier Truss, the redshirt junior quarterback of the top-ranked Georgia Bulldogs was asked after last Saturday night's 52-17 dismantling of No. 10 Ole Miss if this was the offense he envisioned.

"It certainly looks like it," a smiling Beck told reporters. "There are always things we can go back and improve on, even though today seemed like it was perfect. We'll just try and come back next week and be even better."

Next week, of course, would be this Saturday's matchup (3:30 p.m. on CBS) against No. 21 Tennessee inside Neyland Stadium.

The Bulldogs were absolutely brilliant against the Rebels, racking up 611 yards with the impressive balance of 311 through the air and 300 on the ground. They averaged a first down every snap with a 10.0-yard clip.

Beck did his part by completing 18 of 25 passes for 306 yards and two touchdowns, and the 6-foot-4, 220-pounder from Jacksonville, Florida, is heading to Knoxville with the growing possibility of earning an invitation to the Heisman Trophy ceremony, which predecessor Stetson Bennett IV accomplished last year as the Bulldogs were winning a second consecutive national championship.

"He is very good with the ball in his hands, and he knows when to get rid of it," Tennessee linebackers coach Brian Jean-Mary said. "He recognizes pressures, and he's athletic enough to get out of the pocket and extend plays. He recognizes the intentions of defenses pre-snap, so I think it all starts with him."

Beck has completed 231 of 320 passes this season for 3,022 yards with 18 touchdowns and five interceptions. His 72.2% accuracy rate is on pace to break Georgia's single-season mark of 68.3% set by Bennett last season.

Among quarterbacks nationally, Beck ranks ninth with 302.2 aerial yards per game and 11th with an efficiency rating of 166.95, but it's not the numbers that are impressing coach Kirby Smart most.

"His leadership to continue to improve and exert his confidence and put his touch on his personality with those guys is something," Smart said. "He could be cleaner on some things in the pocket. He could be cleaner on some protection things, but he's going to make mistakes because we put him in a position to make three to four decisions every play.

"So he's not going to be perfect, but I can accept that. I just want him to continue to grow as a leader and commanding of the offense."

The biggest story of Georgia's lopsided triumph last week was the sooner-than-expected return of Bowers, who had three catches for 34 yards and a touchdown. Beck is thrilled to have Bowers back, just as he was with McConkey, the former North Murray High School standout who missed the first four games but has amassed 17 catches for 311 yards and two touchdowns in the past three contests.

"Week in and week out, Ladd just keeps stepping up and makes plays," Beck said. "He seems to be always open. When you have all the weapons that we have when it comes to running backs and wide receivers, if you're going to focus your attention on Brock, I'm going to spread the ball around.

"That's something we've done really well all season."

Which obviously was reflected in a five-touchdown drubbing of a top-10 team.

"To be able to go out and execute the way we did, I would definitely say that we're starting to try to ramp it up at the right time," Beck said.

Linebacker thinning

Tennessee is now without two promising linebackers from the start of the season, with sixth-year senior and Brigham Young transfer Keenan Pili going down in the opening win over Virginia and with freshman Arion Carter having recently been shelved with a shoulder injury.

Carter played in the first eight contests.

"I certainly wish we had those two guys with us during this journey this year," Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel said Wednesday. "They're two really good football players, and it's unfortunate with KP that it happened so early in the season. AC's injury was an old injury that just kind of snuck up on him, and I'm looking forward to getting AC healthy.

"I like the guys we still have inside of that room. They've been urgent in their preparation, and there are some things that we've got to continue to get better at. We're going to need all those guys on Saturday afternoon, because this will be a really physical football game."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com.

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