ATHENS — This was no show of force. It was, however, a precious victory at a needed moment. Georgia beat Missouri 9-6 in a game not graced with a touchdown, which on its face made this a motley exhibition. But a month from now, we might be saying this was the night the Bulldogs took a big step toward the Georgia Dome.
If Georgia can beat Florida in Jacksonville two weeks hence, it figures to be in position to win the SEC East. (Assuming Tennessee loses to Alabama next week, which it should.) Coming off consecutive losses and the injury to Nick Chubb, the Bulldogs didn’t figure to dazzle anyone with footwork — especially against Mizzou — and they didn’t. But they won.
The game might have turned on its first snap. Greyson Lambert’s pass clanged off the hands of linebacker Michael Scherer. Missouri safety Ian Simon seized the deflection and fled goalward. He came very close to scoring a touchdown – closer than either side would come the rest of the half – but was halted at the 1 by Georgia’s Kenneth Towns. That tackle saved four points. The final margin was three, we note.
The Tigers’ flying start was grounded forthwith. Quarterback Drew Lock fumbled the snap on first-and-goal and lost two yards. Two Russell Hansbrough runs brought Mizzou only to the 2. Gary Pinkel, whose coaching modus operandi is to play tight games and win most of them, opted for a field goal. Rarely has Georgia been happier to concede points.
Not that the Bulldogs could do much with their bounty. They would outgain Missouri by 50 yards in the half but trail 6-3 after two quarters. Their first drive fizzled when Brendan Douglas, who started the season as the No. 4 tailback and has moved to No. 3 in Chubb’s absence, was handed the ball on third-and-13 at the Mizzou 40. He gained nothing, meaning Georgia not only didn’t get the first down but couldn’t even try a field goal.
(A run on third-and-13? Come back, Mike Bobo – all is forgiven.)
Douglas again got the ball on the play that ended Georgia’s next possession. Fourth-and-1 at the Mizzou 45: Give it to the No. 3 tailback, right? Uh, no. Douglas was met in the backfield by, as they say, a host of tacklers.
Lambert, who has had an odd season, had an odd half. He completed 13 of 19 passes, which isn’t bad. Those 13 completions gained only 132 yards, which isn’t good. Three more of his passes were touched by defenders – two coulda/shoulda been intercepted – and near half’s end some among the homecoming throng were heard to boo Georgia’s quarterback.
That Missouri’s offense was doing next to nothing came as no shock. The Tigers ranked last in the SEC and 121st among FBS teams in yardage. In Lock, they’re working with their second-string quarterback, Maty Mauk having been suspended. In a 21-3 home loss to Florida on Oct. 10, Mizzou mustered 257 yards and three points. A week later, it gathered itself enough to drive 84 yards to the go-ahead field goal seven seconds before halftime.
Missouri 6, Georgia 3. Old-time hockey! (Well, we couldn’t deem it newfangled football, could we?)
The Bulldogs tied the game with 33 seconds left in the third quarter. Missouri’s Cam Hilton should have called a fair catch on Collin Barber’s punt but didn’t. Malcolm Mitchell forced the fumble. Malkom Parrish recovered it at the Tigers’ 43.
Behind the inside surges of Douglas — hey, maybe he should be getting the ball after all — Georgia drove to a first-and-goal at the 5. A slip screen to Mitchell lost five yards (more boos) and Lambert’s third-down pass appeared to have been intercepted by Anthony Sherrils. Replay overturned the turnover. Given a reprieve, Marshall Morgan connected from 24 yards.
The same Marshall Morgan would miss from 26 with 5:40 remaining. Georgia had played for a field goal: On third-and-7, Lambert handed off to Sony Michel. At that moment, it appeared the Bulldogs’ coaches didn’t trust Lambert enough to let him throw with three points waiting to be counted. Those three points weren’t counted, but Morgan would hit from 34 yards with 1:44 left. That was enough to carry the night.
It wasn’t the prettiest victory Mark Richt has had at Georgia — on the contrary, it might have been the homeliest — but sometimes winning is enough. With Florida awaiting on Halloween, this seemed such a time.