Dawgs happy to have a healthy McConkey for taxing stretch run

Georgia photo by Kari Hodges / Georgia redshirt junior receiver Ladd McConkey had six catches for 135 yards and a 41-yard touchdown during Saturday's 43-20 thrashing of Florida in Jacksonville.
Georgia photo by Kari Hodges / Georgia redshirt junior receiver Ladd McConkey had six catches for 135 yards and a 41-yard touchdown during Saturday's 43-20 thrashing of Florida in Jacksonville.

Georgia's first game this season without the services of All-American tight end Brock Bowers yielded 486 yards, 7.4 yards per play and a 43-20 throttling of Florida on Saturday that was 36-7 through three quarters.

It was quite the group effort.

"The whole mindset is that it's not one person," Bulldogs redshirt junior receiver Ladd McConkey told reporters afterward. "Not one person is going to fill Brock Bowers' role. Everyone is stepping up 5% to try and contribute and kind of fill that void.

"For one person to say they're going to take over for Brock Bowers is silly, so I feel like the whole offense had to step up."

At 6-foot and 185 pounds, McConkey will never be mistaken for the 6-4, 230-pound Bowers, but the former North Murray High School standout stepped up and then some with six receptions for 135 yards. His catches and yardage matched career highs, and his 41-yard touchdown from Carson Beck late in the first quarter put the Bulldogs ahead to stay at 10-7.

McConkey's stellar showing occurred in just his fourth game of the season due to a nagging back issue.

"I think it came at the right time," Georgia coach Kirby Smart said Saturday in a news conference. "With Brock out and for Ladd to step up and make plays — we've got to keep him healthy."

The Southeastern Conference on Monday recognized McConkey as its offensive player of the week, and Smart was asked during his weekly news conference what makes him so special.

"His explosiveness. His quickness," Smart said. "Separation is one of the number one qualities — a guy can be straight-line fast, but if he doesn't separate — and that was the first thing that we saw in Ladd when we looked at him. He's quicker than he is fast, but he's fast.

"When you're quick and fast is when you're good."

Georgia improved to 8-0 overall and 5-0 in SEC play after defeating Florida for the sixth time in seven seasons, but the Bulldogs now face three consecutive ranked foes with No. 14 Missouri, No. 11 Ole Miss and No. 19 Tennessee. The next two games will be inside Sanford Stadium, with this Saturday afternoon's contest with Mizzou (7-1, 3-1) set for 3:30 on CBS.

Having McConkey healthy for such a stretch run would be an obvious plus.

After redshirting in 2020, McConkey earned All-SEC freshman honors in 2021 with 31 catches for 447 yards and five touchdowns. He would top that last season with 58 receptions for 762 yards and seven scores, earning All-SEC second-team status.

McConkey received All-SEC preseason recognition this past summer, but his back didn't comply, and he actually got shut down from practice for a couple of weeks in September.

"It was definitely frustrating at the beginning of the year," McConkey said. "I would feel good and then feel bad, but now I've stacked a couple of weeks together consistently, and I'm staying with the same program that I've been doing. The training staff has been huge in getting me back right.

"I'm feeling a lot better. It's been great. It's been solid."

On to Mizzou

The closest call by far of Georgia's 12-0 regular season last year was its 26-22 win at Missouri, a game the Tigers led 16-3 late in the second quarter and 22-12 early in the fourth.

"We thought they were really good last year when we went to play them, and that proved to be true," Smart said Monday. "They've gotten better. Their quarterback (Brady Cook) is very experienced, which is the number one quality you look for. They're using his legs and his ability to run really well. He's playing at a high level, and he has some weapons.

"They're really good defensively and extremely aggressive. They're one of the best defenses we've played against since we've been here, and I love the style of play that they have. They could easily be undefeated, because their game with LSU was back and forth."

Switching sides

Missouri's leading receiver in last year's game was Dominic Lovett, who had six catches for 84 yards.

Lovett transferred after last season to Georgia and has amassed 35 receptions for 365 yards and a touchdown. Smart was asked Monday if he was concerned the 5-10, 187-pounder, from Belleville, Illinois, might be too fired up in facing his former team.

"I think he's fired up about every game," Smart said. "Dom is a great kid and a quality young man. He has busted his butt since he's been here and has been very humble. He's tried to improve his game as a blocker, which is one of the things he had to work on, but I'm not overly concerned about that.

"As much as that is a story for you guys, it's not for him."

Lovett is six catches shy of Bowers for the team lead, with Bowers currently sidelined for multiple weeks with an ankle injury that recently required tightrope surgery.

Bulldogs bites

Georgia holds an 11-1 series advantage over Missouri that includes nine straight victories. ... Smart said Monday that sophomore outside linebacker Darris Smith is focusing on academics and is "not necessarily with us." ... Freshman inside linebacker C.J. Allen is questionable for Saturday with a tweaked hamstring. ... Smart on junior right tackle Amarius Mims, who underwent tightrope surgery on his ankle in late September: "At the end of the day, he's got to be confident to go out there and play, and he's much closer to that today than he was last week." ... CBS has used a six-day option for next week's games and will pick among Ole Miss at Georgia, Tennessee at Missouri and Florida at LSU.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com

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