ATHENS – In Georgia’s first three SEC games, it yielded an aggregate 17 points. In the first 23 ½ minutes here Saturday night, Missouri managed 21. The Bulldogs’ initial exposure to a halfway decent passer proved a shock, but only a brief one. Nothing debilitating. Nothing that should make anyone think this team can’t get where it wants to go.
Which would be the SEC championship game, where Alabama will surely await. A first half like this – at least the defensive part of it – will feed Kirby Smart a full clip of bullet points to make before the trip to Jacksonville, but we note that Smart’s men led after that half by 13 points. Georgia isn’t just a defense. Georgia is a real team.
“It was the sloppiest game we’ve had if we’re going to be the team we want to be,” Kirby Smart said, which is what he’s supposed to say. And here’s how sloppy it was: Had his Bulldogs not taken a knee on the final two snaps, they’d have broken 700 yards.
Missouri arrived having surrendered an average of 40 points – that’s correct, the big Four-Oh – over its first five games. Georgia nearly got there by halftime. With the desperate Tigers jamming the line in the attempt to blunt Nick Chubb, Jake Fromm threw for 250 yards in the first half, which bettered anything he’d done in a full collegiate game.
After 30 minutes, the Bulldogs had 407 yards to go with their 34 points. Even with the defense wobbling against Drew Lock, Georgia looked as if it could name the score, which it pretty much did. It won 53-28.
And here the Bulldogs stand, seven games played and seven won, having yet to trail against an SEC opponent or in Sanford Stadium against anybody. Alabama shouldn’t be trembling just yet – though it’s worth mentioning that almighty Bama hasn’t finished undefeated since 2009 – but through seven games Georgia has been one of the four best teams in college football. And four teams, as you know, make the playoff.
We’d also have to say that Georgia is among the nation’s four most talented teams, and this year – unlike in previous years – that talent is being applied to something approaching the max. Of those 407 first-half yards, only 33 were gained by Chubb. He finished the half as his team’s third-leading rusher, which didn’t stop his team from rushing for 157 yards. Georgia is not a one-man, or even a two-man, team. Georgia is a team, period.
A Fromm interception enabled Mizzou to tie the game at 7. Two 63-yard touchdown passes from Drew Lock to Emanuel Hall retied matters twice. All this did was make what figured to be a walkover semi-interesting. Said Smart: “Two times we took big-time shots; the offense picked us up.”
Georgia scored on its next six five possessions. Missouri didn’t score again until it trailed by 26. With 8:26 remaining in the third quarter, the Bulldogs had 40 points. They would get more.
Along the way to half-a-hundred-plus, Georgia’s conspicuous gifts rose to the level of outrageous. Chubb pulled a Knowshon – or a Gurley, take your pick – and hurdled a defender. Charlie Woerner, nephew of Scott, hurdled a defender, though this one was bent at the waist. D’Andre Swift, Georgia’s third-best tailback, broke a 71-yard run and made you wonder, not for the first time, why Swift and Lorenzo Carter have to wear the same number. Then, just for grins, Swift popped a 35-yarder that involved, of all things, a hurdled defender. (It was negated by a penalty, alas.)
Sony Michel knocked cornerback DeMarkus Acy from the game simply by running into him. Mecole Hardman scored on 35-yard jet sweep in the first half. In the second — three plays after drawing a hard hit on a kickoff return; the hitter would be ejected for targeting – he turned a simple out on third-and-8 into a 59-yard touchdown. That’s meeting force with force.
Fromm completed 18 of 26 passes for 326 yards, scored on an option keep and presided over an offense that succeeded on 13 of 18 third downs. (Smart: “He understands the game. He knows where to throw the ball … He’s putting us into the right plays.”) Linebacker Roquan Smith, who just might be the best player on this stacked roster, had eight tackles. The bespectacled folk hero Rodrigo Blankenship made four field goals. Dominick Sanders notched his 14th career interception, one-upping his coach.
We stipulate that this came against Missouri, which is lousy. But look down the rest of Georgia’s schedule. Who’s good? Three-loss Florida? South Carolina? Kentucky? Auburn, which couldn’t score a touchdown in one Death Valley or hold a 20-point lead in the other? Georgia Tech, which lost to a team the Bulldogs beat by 45? What befell Clemson in Syracuse, N.Y., is a reminder that there are no givens in this sport, but somebody will have to upset these Bulldogs to keep them from 12-0.
It would be foolish to suggest that anybody other than Alabama is the nation’s best team, but Nick Saban’s former deputy might be coaching the second-best team. The two are hurtling toward a December collision. And since you asked: Yes, Smart’s crew would absolutely have a shot.