COLUMBIA, Mo. — Kirby Smart knows better than anyone that wasn’t the best Georgia football display, but he also knows it was a better victory than most realize.
“It says we can handle some adversity on the road, [and] when we were challenged we responded well,” Smart said after the No. 2-ranked Bulldogs beat Missouri 43-29 in a half-slugfest, half-shootout game.
“It’s not like I think we didn’t play physical. We played physical, but Missouri’s a good football team,” Smart said. “They won nine out of 10 games, and I think we’ll look back on this game and say they’ve got a pretty good team in a few weeks.”
The upset-minded Tigers (3-1, 0-1 SEC) matched Georgia (4-0, 2-0) virtually blow-for-blow on the ground, each team averaging 4.6 yards per rushing attempt.
The Bulldogs finished a shade better overall with 185 net yards to Missouri’s 172, mostly because the Tigers turned to the pass in the fourth quarter while in catch-up mode.
Missouri stayed within relative striking distance despite Georgia’s secondary bottling up projected first-round NFL draft pick Drew Lock, holding him without a touchdown pass. He finished the afternoon 23 of 48 passing, with 221 yards and one interception.
“I didn’t exactly expect it to go that way; thought it might become a shootout but not in that form,” Smart said. “If not for the turnovers and the blocked punt, that game’s a whole lot different.”
Indeed, the Bulldogs were held without an offensive touchdown in the first half, their 20-7 halftime lead coming on a Tyson Campell strip-and-score 64-yard fumble return, and Eric Stokes’ blocked punt and 8-yard return for a touchdown.
The message at halftime?
“Wake up,” Smart said. “Show better composure, discipline. Be who we are. Execute. You know, it wasn’t the things we were doing weren’t right. We just weren’t executing a lot of them. We had a couple of RPOs batted down. We had a couple of holding calls that set us back.
“We just had to overcome a lot. But that’s one thing we’ve been able to do so far on offense is have some explosive plays. We had some today in the passing game.”
Quarterback Jake Fromm had scoring strikes of 33, 61 and 54 yards in the second half. Those plays helpled the Bulldogs keep Lock and the dangerous Missouri offense at arm’s length.
It was the first time this season Fromm played in the fourth quarter of a football game, as Georgia had substituted liberally in blow out wins over Austin Peay (45-0), South Carolina (41-17) and Middle Tennessee (49-7).
The Tigers proved a much more formidable — and physical — opponent.
“We’ve got a team that’s banged up, had guys beat up, banged up,” Smart said. “Lost some guys in the game but other guys stepped up and played.”