ATHENS – There didn’t seem to be much worry about the larger meaning of this, least from Roquan Smith. This wasn’t a wake-up call for the secondary or the defense, according to J.R. Reed.
Georgia’s defense had just had its worst game of the year statistically, especially the secondary, confirming that it could be had by a good passing quarterback. But the feeling among those two players was it had as much to do with the opponent.
“It’s not a wake-up call, it’s just something that we’ve got to fix,” Reed said. “Missouri’s a great team. We knew they could throw the ball like that. We’ve just got to have more communication on the defensive side of the ball.”
Smith, the junior inside linebacker, echoed that.
“We definitely knew they had the ability to do some of the things they were doing on the offensive side of the ball,” Smith said. “They can actually score points.”
Which Missouri did, scoring more points (28) and racking up more yards (312) than Georgia’s vaunted defense had given up all year. Most of it came via the air: UGA’s secondary was burned for 253 yards, including two 63-yard touchdown passes.
Georgia entered the game ranked first in the SEC in total defense, and fourth in pass defense, yielding just 156.7 yards per game through the air.
But Missouri was second in total offense (469.8 ypg) and pass defense (294 ypg). So this wasn’t completely out of the blue.
Still, head coach Kirby Smart did use the “wake-up call” term, albeit after pointing out that his defense didn’t do too poorly.
“If you take out two plays, you really don’t play that bad a defense,” Smart said, chuckling. “A hundred twenty-six yards or something on two plays, it’s almost half their offense. And we knew before the game, we said: Don’t give up big plays and you’ve got a chance. And we gave up two big plays.
“But you know what, we’ll learn from that. We’ll get better from that. And that defense needed a wake-up call. Needed a wake-up call to get better.”
Georgia’s pass defense has been a lingering concern, even as the defense had great games this year. It had never quite been tested by a pocket quarterback like Missouri’s Drew Lock, who also had speedy receivers to throw to.
“We knew they had a good vertical passing game,” Smart said. “We felt they had the best quarterback throwing the ball that we’ve faced, along with the best combination of speed.”
Throw in good pass protection against Georgia’s rush, and Missouri hit on a number of big plays.
Reed, speaking for the secondary, wasn’t panicking.
“We played a little sloppy on the back end, so we have to correct those things,” Reed said. “But that’s a great team with great receivers. They can pass the ball.”
Smith, speaking for the front seven, said the pass rush could’ve been better.
“We could’ve put more pressure on the quarterback to let off pressure off the defensive backs,” he said. “So we can get better from that and do a lot of corrections.”
In the end, Missouri did have to punt more times (six) than it scored, and also turned the ball over on downs and was picked off once.
Georgia senior Dominick Sanders notched his 15th career interception by picking off a second-quarter pass.
“We broke serve,” Smart said, reaching into his tennis lexicon. “And we needed that.”
And ultimately Georgia did win the game easily, with the defense clamping down in the second half, yielding a fourth-quarter touchdown, but nothing in the third quarter.
“The offense definitely picked up our slack,” Smith said. “We didn’t play the way we normally play on defensive side of the ball. We’re just going to have to go into this bye week and make some adjustments, and go from there.”