AUBURN, Ala. -- Georgia tight end Brock Bowers walked off the field at Jordan-Hare Stadium to an ovation that rivaled A-list celebrities when they arrive on the red carpet. The Bulldogs superstar from across the country in Napa, California, had just put on a performance for the ages, catching four passes for 121 yards and the game-winning score in No. 1 in the Deep South's Oldest Football Rivalry.
The performance not only solidified Bowers as a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate but also proved he's the most valuable player for a Georgia program that hasn't needed a true MVP during its current run headlined by back-to-back national title victories.
Bowers is coach Kirby Smart's "cheat code." When things weren't working through three quarters on Saturday, Smart dialed up Bowers' number and he responded with catches of 37 and 28 yards, the latter of which was of the one-handed variety. That led to a Peyton Woodring field goal that gave Georgia its first lead of the game at 20-17.
"I don't know ... it just kind of happened that way," Bowers said of the one-handed catch. "I don't really mean to. I just kinda stuck my hand out."
Or, to put it better, "effortless."
That was exactly the way it looked as Bowers hauled in a Carson Beck pass and casually strolled in the end zone for the game-winner. Just, you know, your everyday catch-and-run to win a massive rivalry game and extend Georgia's winning streak to 22 games (tied for the fifth-longest in SEC history).
What happens if you take Bowers off this team? Simple. It wouldn't be a national title contender.
Two offseasons ago, Smart prided himself as one of a select few coaches that didn't accept transfers. The end result was a team that had only one receiver -- Ladd McConkey -- among the top four pass catchers on the roster. Sure, Georgia won the national title due in large part to Bowers, but that isn't sustainable. Smart swallowed his transfer pride and lured Dominic Lovett from Missouri and RaRa Thomas from Mississippi State to try and give Bowers a little help. Did that work? Not really. Lovett had 25 receiving yards and Thomas 24 on Saturday. So it was McConkey, playing in his first game back from a back injury, there to give Beck another option.
Auburn could have put 20 guys on Bowers and he still wouldn't have been stopped. Defenders bounced off him like bumper cars on his game-winning catch-and-run. Beck targeted Bowers on 14 of his 33 pass attempts because he's the best -- and perhaps only -- consistent receiving option.
That's not the way it's supposed to be for a program that has been a recruiting machine and currently ranks No. 2 in the 247Sports team talent rankings.
There were starts abound on Georgia's 2021 national title team -- the first of the Smart era. Jordan Davis clogged up the middle of the defensive front, Stetson Bennett IV slung it all over the field and the backfield combination of Zamir White and James Cook ran wild on opposing defenders. Jalen Carter stepped in for Davis in 2022, Bennett solidified himself as a Georgia legend and the running back corps rolled essentially four deep en route to back-to-back national championships.
This team is almost the exact opposite. The Dawgs have struggled to get push along the defensive front, Beck has essentially been a game manager in his first year as a starter and the running back room has been decimated by injuries all season. Essentially everything that made the previous two title-winning teams great is noticeably absent on this squad.
It's all Bowers, all the time. The Heisman Trophy is essentially a quarterback award unless a player at another position puts up other-worldly numbers and provides enough value to a team that finds itself in the thick of the College Football Playoff race. See: DeVonta Smith at Alabama in 2020. Bowers checks all of those boxes.
Without him, Georgia is simply a really good team that will need an insane amount of luck to make it three in a row. With him, Georgia is a dynasty.