Georgia marks return to No. 1 with 55-0 rout of Vanderbilt

Richard Hamm/USA TODAY NETWORK
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ATHENS, Ga. — Stetson Bennett grimaced when told the news.

The Atlanta Braves were knocked out of the Major League Baseball playoffs.

After No. 1 Georgia romped to a 55-0 victory over Vanderbilt, the Bulldogs’ veteran quarterback pointed to his favorite baseball team – the reigning World Series champions – as an example of how fleeting a title can be.

“Are we gonna cash our chips in after so-and-so games, or are we gonna keep going, keep going, and know this isn’t over until its over?” asked Bennett, whose team is seeking its second straight national championship.

Unlike the Braves, the Bulldogs are still on track.

Bennett threw for 289 yards and two touchdowns – his first scoring passes in nearly a month – and Georgia stamped its return to the No. 1 ranking with a blowout of the lowly Commodores.

Georgia (7-0, 4-0 Southeastern Conference) led 28-0 at halftime and shook off three straight weeks of rather lackluster performances.

Those games provided a valuable lesson in what it takes to repeat as a champion.

“It’s tough,” Bennett said. “We are not King Kong standing atop the Empire State Building. We’ve gotta work and execute each week, go out there and expect a dog fight until it’s not one.”

Bennett was nearly perfect in the first half, completing 18 of 20 for 211 yards. Darnell Washington, the 6-foot-7 tight end who usually plays a supporting role to Brock Bowers, came up big with four catches for 78 yards, including a one-handed dazzler.

“It’s like throwing to the Pacific Ocean,” Bennett quipped.

Bennett hooked up with Kenny McIntosh on an 11-yard scoring play – the quarterback’s first TD pass in four weeks – and followed with a 10-yard scoring toss to Dominick Blaylock.

“It was good to get in the end zone,” Bennett said. “But it was better to score 55.”

McIntosh added a 7-yard scoring run, while Daijun Edwards powered in from the 1 to spark a second-half exodus of red-clad Georgia fans looking to beat the traffic.

Carson Beck took over for Bennett in the final quarter, throwing two more touchdown passes that merely added to Vandy’s pain.

The Commodores (3-4, 0-3) dropped their 24th straight game in the SEC. They last won a conference game on Oct 19, 2019, beating Missouri 21-14.

At the halftime break, Georgia held a commanding 296-72 edge in total yards and 16-4 advantage in first downs.

“A very frustrating afternoon,” coach Clark Lea said. “We were never able to get a drive going. For us, it’s been this way all year It’s just where we are. It’s a recipe for disaster.”

The Bulldogs defense posted its second shutout of the season, limiting Vandy to just 45 yards rushing and 150 overall.

Georgia piled up 579 total yards.

The Bulldogs moved back to No. 1 in The Associated Press rankings this week, having spent a single week in the second spot behind Alabama.

After starting the season with three dominant victories, which led some to speculate that this team was better than last season’s national champions, the Bulldogs had a tougher time against Kent State, Missouri and Auburn.

Georgia returned to early season form in its homecoming game against the overmatched Commodores.

That was nothing new in this series. Georgia won 62-0 last year and has outscored Vandy 233-33 over the last four meetings.

The Commodores last scored a TD against Georgia in 2018. They have gone three full games since then without reaching the end zone.

BECK IMPRESSES

Beck usually gets in the game during garbage time, but there’s every reason to believe he can step into the starting role next season.

Beck completed 8 of 11 for 98 yards against the Commodores. For the season, the third-year backup is 23 of 30 for 276 yards, with four TDs and no interceptions.

“He keeps getting better,” Bennett said “He’s been in this offense the same amount of time I have. He knows it just as well as I do.”

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Georgia certainly did nothing to endanger its No. 1 ranking, but the schedule looks a lot tougher the rest of the way. Three of the last five regular-season opponents are ranked in the Top 25.

THE TAKEAWAY

Vanderbilt: Lea keeps talking optimistically about the improvement of his downtrodden program. He’s apparently the only one who can see it. The Commodores went three-and-out on six of their 11 possessions and crossed midfield only two times. One drive ended with a fumble, the other a missed field goal.

Georgia: Sure, the blowout came against the SEC’s worst program, but there wasn’t much for coach Kirby Smart to complain about. All three phases of the game were highly efficient, especially an offense that got off to a much-needed quick start. “I was really impressed with the performance early,” Smart said.

UP NEXT

Vanderbilt: Hits the road again next Saturday to face Missouri, the last SEC team to lose to the Commodores.

Georgia: Heads into an off week that will give the Bulldogs extra time to prepare for their “Cocktail Party” game in Jacksonville against the Florida Gators on Oct. 29.

Georgia extends contract for AD Josh Brooks, plans two new football practice fields

Joshua L. Jones / USA TODAY NETWORK
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ATHENS, Ga. – On the heels of a second straight national football championship, Georgia has rewarded athletic director Josh Brooks a contract extension that ties him to the Bulldogs through at least 2029.

The athletic association board, wrapping up its annual spring meeting Friday at a resort on Lake Oconee, also announced plans for a new track and field facility that will free up space for two more football practice fields.

Brooks’ new contract will increase his salary to $1.025 million a year, with annual raises of $100,000.

The 42-year-old Brooks, who took over the athletic department in 2021 after Greg McGarity retired, called the Georgia job “a dream for me” and said he hopes to spend the rest of his career in Athens.

“I am extremely grateful,” Brooks said. “I got into this business 20-plus years ago as a student equipment manager. My first job at Louisiana-Monroe was making $20,000 a year in football operations.”

The Georgia board approved a fiscal 2024 budget of $175.2 million, a nearly 8% increase from the most recent budget of $162.2 million and the sign of a prosperous program that is flush with money after its success on the gridiron.

The school received approval to move forward with its preliminary plans for a new track and field facility, which will be built across the street from the complex hosting the soccer and and softball teams.

The current track stadium is located adjacent to the Butts-Mehre athletic facility, which hosts the practice fields and training facilities for the football program.

Georgia lost a chunk of its outdoor fields when it built a new indoor practice facility. After the new track and field stadium is completed, the current space will be converted to two full-length, grass football practice fields at the request of coach Kirby Smart.

“He wants to find efficient ways to practice, and there is a lot of truth to the issues we’ve had with our current practice fields,” Brooks said. “There is a lot of strain on our turf facilities staff to keep that field in great shape when half the day it is getting shade, so that has been a challenge as well. For our football program, it is better to practice on grass fields than (artificial) turf, so to be able to have two side-by-side grass fields is huge. It makes for a much more efficient practice.”

The new track and field complex, which will continue to be named Spec Towns Track, will also include an indoor facility, the first of its kind in the state of Georgia.

Iowa AD Gary Barta announces retirement after 17 years at Big Ten school

Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK
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IOWA CITY, Iowa – Iowa athletic director Gary Barta will retire on August 1 after 17 years at the university, the school announced Friday.

Barta, 59, is one of the longest-tenured athletic directors in a Power Five conference. He was hired by Iowa in 2006 after being the AD at Wyoming.

An interim director will be announced next week, Iowa said.

In September, Iowa hired former Ball State athletic director Beth Goetz to be deputy director of athletics and chief operating officer, putting her in position to possibly succeed Barta.

“It has been an absolute privilege and honor to serve in this role the past 17 years,” Barta said in a statement. “This decision didn’t come suddenly, nor did it come without significant thought, discussion, and prayer.”

“That said, I’m confident this is the right time for me and for my family.”

Iowa won four NCAA national team titles and 27 Big Ten team titles during Barta’s tenure. The women’s basketball team is coming off an appearance in the national championship game and the wrestling team is coming off a second-place finish at the NCAA championships.

Barta served as the chairman of the College Football Playoff committee in 2020 and 2021.

He faced heavy criticism over more than $11 million in settlements for lawsuits in recent years alleging racial and sexual discrimination within the athletic department.

Lawsuits filed by former field hockey coach Tracey Griesbaum and associate athletics director Jane Meyer led to a $6.5 million payout.

Iowa had to pay $400,000 as part of a Title IX lawsuit brought by athletes after it cut four sports in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of the agreement, Iowa reinstated the women’s swimming and diving program and add another women’s sport.

Iowa added women’s wrestling, the first among Power Five schools to compete this year.

A lawsuit brought by former football players alleging racial discrimination within the program was settled for $4.2 million last March, which prompted state auditor Rob Sand to call for Barta’s ouster.

“Gary Barta’s departure is a long time coming given the four different lawsuits for discrimination that cost Iowa more than $11 million,” Sand posted on Twitter.

The university did not allow taxpayer money to be used for the settlement with the former players.

Barta led Iowa through $380 million of facility upgrades, including renovation of Kinnick Stadium, the construction of a new football facility, a basketball practice facility and a training center for the wrestling teams.

Under Barta, Iowa has had just one head football coach (Kirk Ferentz), women’s basketball coach (Lisa Bluder) and wrestling coach (Tom Brands). All were in place when he arrived.

Barta has also come under scrutiny for allowing Ferentz to employee his son, Brian Ferentz, as offensive coordinator. To comply with the university’s nepotism policy, Brian Ferentz reports to Barta.