Georgia's quest for a three-peat rides on the arm of Carson Beck

If you’ve seen it once, you’ve seen it a dozen times this season: Georgia, backed into a third-and-long situation, looking — just for a brief instant — like a normal football team that has to actually work for yardage. And then Carson Beck drops back, reads the field faster than you can read these four words, and zips a pass to a receiver so open it seems like the defense forgot to cover him. First down, Dawgs, and Georgia rolls inexorably onward.

There's a growing sense of inevitability to these Georgia Bulldogs. Obstacles that the media threw in their way — No team has three-peated in the modern era! They've got to fight a tough late-season schedule! Carson Beck has to have a bad game sometime! — whisk away like leaves in a high wind.

It’s true that no dynasty since World War II has won three in a row — not Alabama, not Florida, not Nebraska or Miami — but none of those teams were built quite like this Georgia one. The Bulldogs stomped through their three-game November stretch against ranked opponents — Missouri (14), Ole Miss (10), Tennessee (21) — by a combined score of 120-48.

And then there’s Beck, the gangly, whip-armed junior who embodies the entire ethos of this program: Wait your turn, prepare without expectation, and then seize the moment and glory. He has the sleepy-eyed, all-elbows look of a guy who ought to be in the stands, the “I” in the collection of red-painted GEORGIA students. He doesn’t pass the eye test as a college quarterback … as long as you give the test before the game begins.

Georgia head coach Kirby Smart has said that the Dawgs’ offensive identity is “Do what it takes,” and Beck embodies that. His statistics show a sharp divide between individual skill metrics and simple accumulation. For instance, he ranks ninth in passer rating and sixth in completion percentage, with the usual Heisman suspects — Bo Nix, Michael Penix Jr., Caleb Williams, Jayden Daniels — ranked ahead of him.

But he also ranks 16th in completions, 26th in touchdowns, metrics that show how varied the Georgia attack is. Beck averages 32 passing attempts per game; Penix averages 36 and Williams, 35. His 9.5-yards-per-completion average is more than a yard behind Jalen Milroe and more than two yards behind Daniels.

In fact, the most significant reason why Beck isn’t at the center of more Heisman conversations is … his own team’s defense.

“The worst thing for Beck individually is he plays with a good defense,” Smart said earlier this week. “It makes you not want to sit there and just run it up. Some of these other guys, they get opportunities and have to score 40 a game. With Carson Beck, I don’t think we as an offensive staff think we have to score 40 a game.”

Georgia, it should be noted, has not yet needed to score 40 a game this season. The Bulldogs have barely needed to score 20 a game; only three opponents have even put 21 points on the board against Georgia.

Beck’s finest game — not statistically, but spiritually — is the September victory against Auburn. Georgia trailed in that game deep into the third quarter, and the game was tied with less than three minutes remaining. It ended the way these things always seem to end — Beck found Brock Bowers, touchdown, upset averted — but the fact that Beck was able to step up and make throws in the most hostile environment possible is a testament to his ability, and his evolution that happened behind the scenes.

“His evolution was two years ago when he was out there at practice and he was getting blitzed by eight first-rounders,” Smart said, dismissing the idea that Beck had a lot to learn this year. “His evolution was already happening.”

Smart compared Beck favorably to another Georgia quarterback of recent vintage — two-time national championship winner Stetson Bennett. “I still remember when Stetson came up here two years ago, running around like a crazy man and making plays,” Smart said. “He grew up by going on the road, Stetson did. That’s what we had to see Carson do. Go to Auburn. And go to Tennessee and grow up.”

Beck and the Bulldogs now get two straight weekends in Atlanta — this weekend, facing rival Georgia Tech, and next, facing Alabama in the SEC championship. While the Jackets likely won’t pose much of a challenge — Georgia is a 24.5-point favorite — Alabama is, by far, the toughest defense Georgia has yet faced. At that point, Georgia will get to see just how grown up Carson Beck is.

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