No. 1 Georgia gains steam on offense with the return of Bowers and Mims from injuries

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The injury list for No. 1 Georgia's offense this season could have been lifted from a preseason summary of the team's all-star candidates.

Right tackle Amarius Mims, one of the nation's top offensive line NFL prospects, missed six games.

Ladd McConkey, the Bulldogs' leading wide receiver from 2022, missed four games. Brock Bowers, last year's Mackey Award winner as the nation's top tight end, was held out two games. Top running backs Daijun Edwards and Kendall Milton also missed games.

Somehow, two-time defending national champion Georgia kept plugging the holes and extending its school-record winning streak. That success made it easy to overlook how much more productive the offense might be with all its top players on the field.

Finally, with Bowers making a dramatic comeback sooner than expected following ankle surgery and Mims returning to the O-line, Georgia's offense was close to full strength for last week's 52-17 runaway win over then-No. 10 Mississippi. The result was a season-high 611 total yards and impressive momentum for Saturday's visit to No. 21 Tennessee.

A replenished offensive line helped Georgia run for 300 yards with five touchdowns against Ole Miss. Coaches rolled in fresh linemen during the game.

“I thought it helped us a lot,” left guard Dylan Fairchild said Monday. "I think we do a really good job of playing for each other. Being able to do that with guys splitting time, I think that speaks a lot about our line as a unit. We’re really connected.”

Georgia (10-0, 7-0 Southeastern Conference, No. 2 CFP) already has secured its SEC championship game matchup against No. 8 Alabama on Dec. 2 in Atlanta. The Bulldogs will be playing to protect their hopes for a third straight national championship, as well as extend their 27-game winning streak, against Tennessee.

Georgia also will be trying to become the first team to post three straight 8-0 records in SEC play since the conference moved to an eight-game schedule in 1992.

Milton and Edwards each ran for two touchdowns and Carson Beck passed for 306 yards with two touchdowns against the Rebels.

“Offensively, they've got dynamic playmakers,” Tennessee coach Josh Heupel said Monday. “A few of those guys are just getting back and getting truly healthy right now. (Beck) is playing extremely well. Really efficient, been accurate. He's done a really nice job.”

The barrage of yards was so impressive that Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin challenged the popular belief that the 2023 Bulldogs, like the last two championship teams, rely first on defense.

“I think that offense is overlooked,” Kiffin said.

The statistics support Kiffin's claim.

Even with coach Kirby Smart and his staff having to plug holes most of the season, Georgia ranks fifth in the nation in total offense and sixth in passing and scoring, averaging 40.6 points.

Mims, who also had surgery on an injured ankle, returned for Georgia's second possession against Ole Miss, allowing Xavier Truss to move to left tackle. Mims, Truss and freshman Earnest Greene III rotated at the two tackle spots.

“Our O-line has gotten better with the year,” Smart said Monday. “We’ve had games we’ve played better than others, but sometimes that has to do with the opponent you play. We’re healthier. So, with health comes depth and the ability to play more guys. I think we stayed fresher in terms of the guys we rolled in and played.”

Bowers had three catches for 34 yards, including an 8-yard scoring reception.

“I’m sure he had more snaps in other games,” Smart said. "But he’s in good shape. He’s conditioned. I don’t know that he’s 100%, but he’s healthy and safe enough to play. And we’re going to allow him to play as long as he wants to. And he wanted to go out there and compete and play. I don’t think it’s a matter of how many snaps he can take. I think he’ll be fine.”

McConkey had four catches for 81 yards, including a 39-yard touchdown catch. Milton ran for a career-high 127 yards on only nine carries.

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