Georgia wide receiver Ladd McConkey (84) catches the ball in the end zone. Action from the first half at Vanderbilt Stadium as the Georgia Bulldogs take on the Vanderbilt Commodores on Saturday, Sep. 25, 2021. (Photo/Zachary Tate, ztate@randb.com)

Georgia tight end Brock Bowers and wide receiver Ladd McConkey both had career days against Vanderbilt on Saturday, behind similar stat lines. But it is beyond the in-game numbers that head coach Kirby Smart says is what separates these two freshmen from the rest of the competition.

They don’t just make plays in the field, but they take the time to embrace the methods of developing as a young player in a complex offense.

“They’re just real tough and hard workers that believe in the process of working hard,” Smart said. “Ladd McConkey wasn’t really heralded either, but he was a guy that we watched, and I said this guy is fast, he’s smart, he’s athletic. To me that’s a little bit of what’s missing in football. Don’t tell me how good you are, show me.”

McConkey finished the game with four receptions and scored his first two touchdowns of his collegiate career. Bowers, who already had two touchdowns entering the weekend, added two more of the passing variety on four receptions for 69 yards.

Saturday continued a trend within the Bulldog offense of utilizing the tight end position in the passing game when Bowers is in the formation. The freshman from Napa, California leads the Bulldogs in receiving yards, and has shown true explosive potential. But as impressive as his individual accolades may be, the offense’s standards are achieved as a unit.

“It’s a team effort really, we’re all out there with the same goals and same mindset, so that’s just what comes along with it,” McConkey said. “All of us are trying to do our best to know the plays and get everything done.”

Even more eye-opening was the scheme that Georgia offensive coordinator Todd Monken embraced with these playmakers. Both the tight end and wide receiver took misdirection handoffs to the house for touchdowns, a tactic that caught Vanderbilt’s defense off guard.

The first half rushing touchdowns gave each player a multi-score day and helped secure a dominant win for the Bulldogs early in the contest.

But the recent products from Bowers and McConkey are no new fad. Players and coaches have recognized their contributions to the team even before the 2021 season began. Their exploits in the stadium begin are formulated at practice.

“We always go against each other everyday, and there was a punt day during fall camp, and [Brock] stayed with me every rep,” said linebacker Nolan Smith. “I tend to work hard and kind of push the envelope, and he stayed with me and we worked through. That’s one of the stories I’ll never forget.”

As Georgia’s SEC schedule marches deeper into the fall, the Bulldogs will need contributions similar to those we saw from Bowers and McConkey, to keep pace with an usually consistent level of talented conference play.

And with Georgia’s running game still trying to find its rhythm this fall, the air attack proved to be all that more important on a weekly basis to the success of the offense.

“If you're going to be elite, you can’t be elite some of the time, you have to be elite all of the time, that’s not how elite teams play,” Smart said of the team’s overall performance on Saturday. “Our guys embraced that and I’m proud of them.”