COLUMBIA, MO. – It had been a laborious night for Tyler Catalina. He was beaten by Charles Harris for sacks – twice. He and Georgia’s other linemen were fighting like mad to move Missouri’s 900-pound front to open holes for Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, but found the sledding tough. Yet there Catalina stood outside UGA’s locker room afterward, covered in sweat and grime with a Chesire Cat grin. He was one happy Bulldog.
“It’s a tremendous learning experience,” said Catalina, a 6-foot-6, 330-pound tackle from Worcester, Mass. “This is why I came here. I wanted to play against this talent that these guys bring week in and week out. Every week it’s going to get tougher and tougher. Credit goes to those guys; they’re an incredible defense and opponent. But we wanted it more.”
At the end of the day, Georgia got what it wanted here at Missouri’s Faurot Field. The Bulldogs came away with the coveted SEC road victory, 28-27.
But they didn’t get it like they wanted to. They weren’t able to establish the type of powerful run game that really makes their pro-style offense go. For the second consecutive week Chubb was held to fewer than 100 yards. He’d rushed for more than 100 in 14 consecutive games as the Bulldogs’ starter until he managed only 80 on 20 carries last week against Nicholls State. Missouri held him to 63 on 19 carries, a career-low 3.3 per-carry average.
Michel managed only 37 yards on nine carries. Georgia had 101 yards as a team, on 38 attempts for a 1.7-yard average.
“It’s not the running backs that struggled,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “It’s the movement of those two 330-pound (Missouri) men. We have to find other ways to run the ball because right now we can’t run the ball with the style of run we want to do. So it’s frustrating because that’s what we want our identity to be. If you can’t do that, you struggle. It’s real simple in football. We can’t be one-dimensional, so we’ve got to find creative ways to do it.”
Georgia’s most effective ways of advancing the ball on the ground were with flanker Isaiah McKenzie on jet sweeps. He had two runs for 19 yards on those and two others for significant gains on play that are considered passes because the ball is lateraled forward.
But for the Bulldogs’ offense to work at its best, it has to establish effective runs between the tackles. Neither Chubb nor Michel could find any room there despite repeated attempts.
“It doesn’t matter, as long you win the game,” Chubb said of the struggle. “Missouri did a great job of stopping the run. It kind of limited us in what we were doing. But we won the game, and that’s all that matters.”
Asked where the breakdowns were, Chubb said: “That’s just Missouri. They always come out against us and play (well). It’s all Missouri. They did a great job.”
And that was pretty much the feedback of everybody involved with Georgia’s offense Saturday night. The Bulldogs were tipping their caps to the Tigers, but doing so with the knowledge that they won and are going to continue to get better.
“You know, that’s obviously on the offensive line,” said Catalina, a graduate who transferred from to Georgia after playing three seasons at Rhode Island. “We’ve got to be more physical; we’ve got to be more downhill. We need to get our pads down. That’s something we’re working on every day in practice, and we’re going to continue to work on it.”
Jacob Eason’s ability to sling the ball around is going to help, too. The Bulldogs ended up attempting 55 passes Saturday night, in part because they were behind and in part because they couldn’t run it.
“We can’t be one-dimensional, so we’ve got to find creative ways to do it,” Smart said of rushing the football. We’ve done all we can with Isaiah (McKenzie). It’s a matter of opening some holes. And the more they respect Jacob and we hit those plays, it’ll loosen up.”