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Bowers returns, No. 1 Georgia routs No. 10 Ole Miss 52-17 to punctuate another SEC East title

ATHENS, Ga. (AP) — No. 1 Georgia had plenty of reasons to celebrate before the Bulldogs even took the field.

The party never stopped.

Carson Beck threw for 306 yards, Kendall Milton ran for 127 yards and Brock Bowers made a triumphant return for the Bulldogs, who punctuated their spot in the Southeastern Conference championship game with a 52-17 demolition of No. 10 Mississippi on Saturday night.

Georgia (10-0, 7-0 SEC, No. 2 College Football Playoff) turned in its most thorough performance of the season on a cool, rainy night, seemingly peaking at just the right time to make a run at its third straight national title.

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“It’s not one guy,” coach Kirby Smart said. “There’s guys everywhere.”

Georgia scored touchdowns on its first four possessions, building a 28-14 halftime lead against Ole Miss (8-2, 5-2, No. 9) and cruising the rest of the way to its 27th consecutive victory.

Even before the kickoff, the Bulldogs knew they had clinched another SEC East title and a Dec. 2 showdown against Alabama when No. 16 Missouri blew away No. 14 Tennessee 36-7.

Then there was the return of Bowers, the star tight end who sustained a high ankle sprain that required surgery in an Oct. 14 victory over Vanderbilt. The Bulldogs beat Florida and Missouri without their most dynamic offensive weapon, but it was clear this team is even better when he’s on the field.

A huge cheer went up from the crowd when Bowers was shown on the video board as one of the starters, just 26 days after his surgical procedure. He didn’t have a huge game — three catches for 34 yards — but an 8-yard touchdown reception in the opening minute of the fourth quarter was a reminder of what he means to the offense.

Bowers’ mere presence requires defenses to lean his way, opening up the field for his teammates. Georgia averaged 10 yards per snap, piling up more than 300 yards in each half.

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“I would assume that their attention would be shifted to him,” Beck said. “If you’re gonna focus attention on him, OK, I’m gonna spread the ball around.”

Beck did just that while completing 18 of 25 passes, including a 29-yard touchdown to Ladd McConkey.

Milton and Daijun Edwards ran for two touchdowns apiece as Georgia piled up 293 yards on the ground and 610 yards overall. Milton essentially finished off the Rebels with a 33-yard scoring burst right up the middle early in the third quarter.

Eliminated from contention in the SEC West by No. 8 Alabama’s 49-21 victory over Kentucky earlier in the day, Ole Miss pulled out all the stops in hopes of becoming the first team since 2021 to beat Georgia. The Rebels went for it three times on fourth down, converting twice, and also pulled off a fake punt.

It wasn’t nearly enough against a Georgia team that is chasing history, even with Quinshon Judkins running for a pair of touchdowns early on.

“I think that (Georgia) offense is overlooked,” Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin said. “It’s a defensive-made team, people think. But that’s a really good offense.”

In a further blow to the Rebels, quarterback Jaxson Dart was knocked out of the game late in the third quarter after being sandwiched between two Georgia defenders.

Dart was cleared to return, according to Kiffin, “but I didn’t see a need at that point to put him back in.”

BOWERS THE WARRIOR

With Bowers expected to be a first-round pick in the NFL draft, some pundits suggested he’d be better off skipping the rest of his final college season.

No chance. Bowers was “hell-bent” on getting back on the field as quickly as possible, according to Smart.

“There were people who called him and told him that” he should turn his attention to the NFL, Smart said. “Those people will not be representing him. They just (ticked) him off.”

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THE TAKEAWAY

Ole Miss: After a promising start offensively, the Rebels were held to a field goal over the final three quarters. It was an especially rough night for Dart, who threw for just 112 yards with a pick. Meanwhile, the defense looked downright helpless against the reigning national champs.

Georgia: The Bulldogs are another step closer to a three-peat, which has never been done in the poll era. This group appears to be just as motivated as the two previous seasons, and is as close to full strength as it’s been all year. Good luck to anyone trying to knock off the Georgia juggernaut, though Milton issued a word of warning. “We haven’t peaked. We’re nowhere near the peak.”

NIGHT OF CHAMPIONS

In keeping with the theme of the evening, Georgia recognized several of its sporting greats during breaks in the action.

Mark Richt was honored for his selection to the College Football Hall of Fame, an especially poignant moment for the longtime Georgia coach as he battles Parkinson’s disease.

Stetson Bennett, the quarterback who guided the Bulldogs to their last two national titles, returned to Sanford Stadium to belatedly receive the Burlsworth Trophy as the top player who began his career as a walk-on. Bennett was drafted by the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams, but is apparently done for the season after leaving the team for non-football-related issues that have yet to be explained.

For good measure, British Open champion and former Georgia golfer Brian Harman was on hand with the claret jug.

UP NEXT

Ole Miss: Will look to avoid a big letdown when it hosts Louisiana-Monroe in a non-conference game next Saturday.

Georgia: Travel to Rocky Top to face No. 14 Tennessee next weekend, a matchup that lost a bit of luster after the Vols’ faceplant at Missouri.

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AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll and https://apnews.com/hub/college-football