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.

Washington QB Michael Penix Jr. returning for 2023 season

James Snook-USA TODAY Sports
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SEATTLE – Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr. said Sunday he will return to the school for his sixth and final season of eligibility in 2023.

Penix announced his decision on social media and it was a surprising one at that. Penix was the national leader in passing this season, throwing for 4,354 yards and led Washington’s turnaround. The No. 12-ranked Huskies went 10-2 in the regular season, finished tied for second in the Pac-12 and will face No. 21 Texas in the Alamo Bowl.

Penix will have a chance at setting Washington’s single-season record for yards passing in the bowl game. He also threw 29 touchdowns this season. Because of his performance this season, Penix saw his NFL draft stock rise to where he was being expected to be a second-day pick at the latest.

In his announcement, Penix wrote, “As I look back on this special season we had, I realized there were so many great moments and things to celebrate, but I KNOW there is so much for out there for this team and the job is still not finished. I can’t wait to be playing in Husky Stadium for the 2023 season!”

Penix started his career at Indiana and showed flashes of stardom while also battling injuries. He transferred to Washington after the 2021 season, a move that reunited him with new Huskies’ coach Kalen DeBoer, who was Penix’s offensive coordinator for one season at Indiana.

North Texas fires Littrell after .500 record over 7 years

Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports
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DENTON, Texas – Bowl-bound North Texas has fired coach Seth Littrell, who went 44-44 over seven seasons.

University president Neal Smatresk said Sunday night that the decision to make the move came after a thorough assessment of the program.

The Mean Green are 7-6 this season after losing 48-27 to UTSA in the Conference USA championship game Friday night.

Phil Bennett, their defensive coordinator the past two seasons, was named interim head coach. North Texas plays Boise State in the Frisco Bowl on Dec. 17.

The 44-year-old Littrell had one year left on his contract in what was his first head coaching job. He was the youngest coach in Conference USA and one of the youngest at the FBS level when he arrived after two seasons as offensive coordinator at North Carolina with UNT coming off a 1-11 season at the time.

While the Mean Green are going to their sixth bowl since Littrell first got there, they haven’t won any of those yet. The bowl in his debut season came after only five wins since there weren’t enough bowl-eligible teams to fill all of the slots. Consecutive nine-win seasons followed in 2017 and 2018, but they then had three consecutive losing records before this year.

North Texas also has an interim athletic director after Wren Baker was named as West Virginia’s AD last week.

Smatresk said Jared Mosley, the chief operating officer of UNT athletics, will serve as interim AD. The university is working with a search firm to find Baker’s successor.