COLUMBIA, Mo. — Georgia wins by two touchdowns on the road and the primary discussion after the game was what’s wrong with the Bulldogs.
This is where Georgia is in year three under Kirby Smart. The No. 2-ranked Bulldogs beat Missouri 43-29 on Saturday at Faurot Field and did so with relative indifference. For sure, there were brief periods of angst and even a moment or two where the outcome was in doubt.
But in the grander scheme, the Bulldogs didn’t come close to playing their best football and still won. There were penalties, missed kicks, missed blocks, blocked kicks and squandered opportunities. Yet, there Georgia was late in the fourth quarter, running out the clock and taking a knee deep in Missouri territory as time expired on a 43-29 victory.
And yet, “We didn’t play with discipline, composure, really not much physicality when you look at the run game for us and stopping the run defensively,” Smart said. “But I am proud of the way we competed, proud of the way we were resilient. When they made a play, we came back and made a play. A lot of guys stepped up today.”
A lot of guys had to step up because a lot of Bulldogs went down. Four starters left the game with injuries or illness — Andrew Thomas, Ben Cleveland, Tyson Campebell and Tyler Simmons — and yet Georgia never wavered and never trailed. It went ahead 27-7 early in the third quarter and the lead was never seriously threatened again. And this came against a team that may or not be the second-best in the division.
Still, the Bulldogs were emphatic in the notion they can play much better. They can, and will need to remain in the playoff discussion.
On to the grades:
It feels too generous to give the offense a good grade based on the team’s comments and remarks after the game. Quarterback Jake Fromm and his cohorts were extremely critical of their own work in the immediate aftermath. There were penalties, an interception, 10 incompletions and the most pedestrian ground game we’ve witnessed since last year’s regular-season game at Auburn.
But then there was the good stuff, too. Like the three long scoring plays in the second half and Fromm’s 20-yard average per pass completion. Like Elijah Holyfield’s 90 yards on 14 carries. Like Riley Ridley’s 5 receptions for 87 yards. And most of this came with starting offensive linemen Andrew Thomas (ankle) and Ben Cleveland (lower leg) out of the game with leg injuries.
Georgia’s final numbers were where they’ve been at the end of games all season, but just slightly skewed toward the pass: 443 total yards, 185 rushing, 260 passing. But that’s not particularly encouraging seeing what Purdue did against the same defense a week earlier (614 yards, 572 passing).
Again, 393 yards was a season high allowed by the Bulldogs, as was Missouri’s 26 first downs. But Georgia’s defenders also put another 7 spot on the scoreboard with a fumble-return touchdown by Campbell in the first quarter. And the Bulldogs kept heralded senior quarterback Drew Lock from throwing a touchdown pass for the first time in 13 games. Lock passed for an SEC record 44 touchdown passes last year.
As for all those folks wondering aloud a “where’s the pressure,” Georgia’s defense answered emphatically with two sacks, three hurries and two forced fumbles. Senior outside linebacker D’Andre Walker had a hand in most of that, but so did interior linemen Julian Rochester, Jonathan Ledbetter and Tyler Clark.
Meanwhile, playing without Campbell (shoulder, dehydration) for much of the game, Georgia’s secondary held its own against the best receiver corps it has seen so far. Redshirt freshman Eric Stokes stepped in for Campbell at corner and had four pass break-ups. Fellow corner Deandre Baker also shut out Missouri big-play wideout Emanuel Hall.
Smart was not pleased with the Tigers’ 172 rushing yards and their general success on first down. And Missouri went 4-for-4 with four touchdowns in the red zone.
Special teams: C
Returner Mecole Hardman got the rare opportunity to bring a few kickoffs out of the end zone. He returned three of for 91 yards and added 23 yards on one punt return. Also, the Bulldogs landed the special teams’ holy grail — a blocked-kick touchdown. Eric Stokes blocked a punt with his facemask and returned the ball eight yards for a score.
Meanwhile, place-kicker Rodrigo Blankenship had three more field goals and recorded his resident seven touchbacks on kickoffs. But Blankenship also missed a 49-yard kick wide right and had another field-goal attempt blocked. Blankenship had his consecutive touchback streak of 23 in a row this season end.
Jake Camarda averaged 41 yards on two punts, but he got away with one skied shank, which ended on a favorable roll.
Overall, not bad, but average for a group that usually dominates the opponent.
Georgia seemed to have a good game plan for Missouri. The Bulldogs wanted to be aggressive in every way and were. They won the opening coin toss and elected to receive, which was out of character. Then they took risks, throwing more deep balls on offense and occasionally blitzing to get pressure on Lock.
Georgia did not record a first-half offensive touchdown, however, and was 0-for-3 getting in the end zone from the red zone. On first-and-goal from the 7, the Bulldogs brought in quarterback Justin Fields, who ran a quarterback draw for three yards on first down and then left the game for good. And then Jake Fromm was asked to throw on two straight deep corner patterns, which failed.
Once again, halftime adjustments resulted in second-half dividends. The Bulldogs scored touchdowns on their first two possessions of the third quarter and again on the first play of the fourth quarter. But Missouri matched them with two third-quarter scores as well.
The Bulldogs were flagged for seven times for 66 yards in penalties. Smart bemoaned Georgia’s lack of “discipline and composure” Saturday and said, “that’s on me.”
Again, it’s good any time you can win a divisional conference game by two touchdowns on the road. But with a No. 2 national ranking and early College Football Playoff projections, the Bulldogs are now going to be compared to the best the teams in the country. Right now the No. 1 team is Alabama, and Georgia hasn’t looked like it could compete with the Crimson Tide.
The good news is Georgia has yet to play at peak level and the Bulldogs’ coaches will return to Athens with many “teaching moments” to go over. This remains the SEC’s youngest team and the 15th youngest in the country, with 68.2 percent freshmen and sophomores. So there is certainly time and opportunity for continued improvement.
DawgNation coverage of Georgia-Missouri:
- Georgia QB Jake admittedly pleased to get edge on buddy Drew Lock
- Postgame Injury Report: 4 starters have to leave game with injuries
- INSTANT ANALYSIS: Another 2nd-half surge for Bulldogs puts away Missouri, 43-29
- Bulldogs’ Deandre Baker shuts out SEC’s top receiver
- Heads-up play by Eric Stokes benefits Georgia on defense, special teams
- Stock Report: Georgia cashes in on Missouri turnovers
- Georgia coach Kirby Smart shares halftime message vs. Missouri
- WATCH: Georgia’s D’Andre Walker doubles down on sacks
- DawgNation Pregame: Georgia fans turn out big at Missouri’s Memorial Stadium