COLUMBIA, Mo. — The Georgia football program left Missouri on Saturday afternoon saying it didn’t live up to the team’s self-imposed championship standard.
Great team win. A standard has been set and we didn’t meet that today. Back to work on fundamentals and technique 🦍…
— Michael Barnett Jr.™ (@mjbarnettjr) September 22, 2018
The No. 2-ranked Bulldogs (4-0, 2-0 SEC) got the win, but it came at the cost of four starters getting knocked out of the game including what could be a season-ending leg injury to right guard Ben Cleveland.
Here are 5 takeaways from the 43-29 victory over the Tigers (3-1, 0-1), and what it means moving forward.
Bettors might disagree, but the most impactful part of Saturday’s outcome was Georgia’s potential loss of starting right guard Ben Cleveland (leg) for the rest of the season.
Smart’s report on injuries was preliminary, but he also said receiver Tyler Simmons could be out “two to three weeks” with an undisclosed injury.
Starting left tackle Andrew Thomas was a surprise start who didn’t appear completely healthy in practice this week. Thomas appeared to re-injure his ankle and is questionable, at best, for the Tennessee game.
Freshman cornerback Tyson Campbell suffered a shoulder subluxation and grew nauseated upon his return to the game. Smart said Campbell would be fine, but shoulder subluxations tend to be recurring, so it’s an injury that bears monitoring.
Finally, inside linebacker Monty Rice was a pregame scratch, unable to overcome a knee injury (MCL) that Smart said has been troubling him in practice since the Middle Tennessee win on Sept. 15.
The line play is something Smart is truly concerned about, particularly on defense.
“If you asked me what was the one most disappointing thing, they were able to run the ball, especially in the low-red area,” Smart said. “It’s one thing to run it in the field, but they ran it in the low-red area, which is concerning for us, because that’s not who we are.”
There were signs the defensive front seven and the running game had dropped off from last season.
But Saturday at Missouri, it became more obvious, with Smart making no excuses.
“We had everybody in the box we could have in the box,” Smart said of his team’s inability to stop Missouri’s run game in the red zone. “We just didn’t play through people. They out-manned us down there.”
Smart made it clear that, despite some short-yardage struggles in the run game, there’s no plan to modify the base offense.
“I thought we could get a yard when we had to and didn’t,” Smart said. “That’s something we’ll continue to do. That’s who we are. We’ve just got to get better at it.”
Tailbacks Brian Herrien and Elijah Holyfield were both stopped on down-and-distance situations requiring just one yard, unable to generate anything without the help of Georgia’s suddenly-hobbled offensive line.
The Bulldogs’ perimeter speed is what makes the offense elite, even without Cal transfer Demetris Robertson catching a pass or touching the ball since the opening game.
Jake Fromm finished Saturday’s game with great momentum, and Smart and offensive coordinator Jim Chaney showed they’re willing to use Justin Fields situationally.
Fromm was 7-of-9 passing for 194 yards with three touchdowns in the second half at Missouri after a slow start, adhering to Smart’s halftime team message to “wake up.”
Fields was inserted for one play in the second quarter, a first-down quarterback draw at the Missouri 7 yard line that generated 3 yards.
Smart seemed to debunk the notion that Georgia might develop a package for Fields at the start of fall camp, saying he viewed his quarterbacks as similar enough to run the same offense.
First South Carolina, then Missouri and now Kentucky is deemed by some the biggest threat to Georgia for the East Division crown.
Or georgia is the top challenger to kentucky
— The Wildcat Clause (@WildcatClause) September 23, 2018
But next, Tennessee, a program coming off a self-inflicted, six-turnover 47-21 loss to Florida.
Jeremy Pruitt’s history with Georgia is somewhat controversial, many in Athens viewing his brief stint as the Bulldogs’ defensive coordinator as beneficial, though divisive.
It’s a well-timed road trip for Pruitt’s Vols, who will arrive at Sanford Stadium with everything to gain and nothing to lose, hoping to recapture the magic that led them to wins over Georgia in 2015 and 2016.
Meanwhile it’s a long season for the Bulldogs.
With injuries adding up and a front seven that’s failing to measure up, Georgia needs to make good on Smart’s vow to improve each week if they’re to do anything more than win the SEC East Division.
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