Georgia’s SEC battle at Columbia, Mo. Saturday was unlike any of the Bulldogs’ first three wins, when the team had put its opponent away before the third quarter had even ended.
Nope, due partly to their own mistakes as well as a pumped Missouri team that refused to be blown out, the Bulldogs had their offensive and defensive regulars on the field the entire game this time. That’s what it took for Georgia to defeat the Tigers 43-29 and thereby go to 4-0 on the season and to 2-0 in the SEC with Tennessee coming to town next weekend.
Following a 20-7 halftime lead, the Bulldogs got three touchdown passes from Jake Fromm in the second half to keep the Tigers at bay. Still Missouri, like Georgia 3-0 entering the game, rode a potent running game and Drew Lock’s short passes to keep the Bulldog defense reeling a bit in a second half that saw the Tigers put 22 more points on the board.
Georgia totaled 445 yards of offense compared to 393 for the home team and limited All-SEC quarterback Lock to just 221 passing yards … 133 below his season average of 354 yards per game. But Missouri clicked for 172 yards on the ground, a fact which Kirby Smart lamented in his post-game comments. And, too, the Georgia coach wasn’t happy with the Bulldogs incurring seven penalties for a total of 66 yards, several of which kept Missouri drives alive and, at the same time, stymied Georgia’s movement.
“The flow of the game was about what I thought it would be, there was a lot of emotional big plays,” Smart said. “I didn’t see us having the big plays in the turnover game with the fumble recovery and blocked punt, but they were really big plays. We struggled some to stop the run today, which is not indicative of the defense we want to have, and we struggled to run the ball. When you have that combination then you are going to struggle some and we did. Give Missouri credit, they have a good football team,” he said. “We knew that coming in. I’ve always respected them. They’ve won nine of the last 10 games and you don’t do that by accident.
“But we didn’t play with discipline, with composure, or not much physicality when you look at the run game for us,” said Smart. “I am proud of the way we competed; when they made a play we came back and we had a lot of guys step up, but we didn’t play with the discipline we needed to play with and I’m responsible for that.”
Before Fromm threw touchdown passes of 33, 61 and 54 yards, respectively, to Riley Ridley, Jeremiah Holloman and Mecole Hardman in the second half, the Georgia offense couldn’t cash a touchdown in the first two-quarters Saturday. Rather, the Bulldogs built their 20-7 lead at intermission via a 64-yard fumble recovery run by freshman cornerback Tyson Campbell, field goals of 44 and 21 yards by Rodrigo Blankenship and Eric Stokes’ block of a Missouri punt, when he scooped up the ball and ran across the goal line from eight yards out.
“We fought well as a team,” said Fromm. “This is the first time we’ve faced adversity. We talked about it at the half and came out and got some guys going in the second half. I guess were weren’t as ready as we thought we were,” Fromm said. “We play to a standard here and weren’t doing that but as I said, came out and did better in the second half. We just need to come out this week and get after it.”
Redshirt freshman cornerback Stokes, in addition to his punt block for a touchdown, saw a good bit of action in the Bulldog secondary Saturday.
“Eric’s a great competitor,” Smart said. “I told the team after the game, here’s a guy who got beat out, never whined, never cried, never pouted, he just worked. When you work, you get better. He’s not even the starter on punt return. He didn’t even take reps to do that,” Smart said. “He went in because he paid attention to the guy who is front of him, executed it for Tyler Simmons (who was injured) perfectly. He really played well today but it didn’t surprise me because he practices well. That kid had a really good camp and it paid off today.”
“Coach Smart, Coach (Mel) Tucker, they all prepared me for this type of day,” Stokes said. “They’re constantly on me, so I was ready.”
Smart was also pleased with the pass rush the Georgia defense got on Lock, who was limited to 23 completions in 48 attempts for his 221 yards with no completion going for more than 25 yards. Tae Crowder also picked off Lock once and the Deandre Baker-led UGA secondary shut down Missouri’s ace receiver, Emanuel Hall, without a catch. Senior outside linebacker D’Andre Walker was in particular in Lock’s face much of the day, recording two sacks and two forced fumbles.
“It’s hard for me to talk about him (Walker) specifically because I don’t know that I watched just one guy, but I thought as a whole our pass rush was at least able to affect him — get him out of the pocket, bat balls, cause a fumble,” Smart said. “There’s a lot of disruption there, which is what we needed to do. We haven’t really had a chance to do that. This was a game to do that because he wanted to be in the pocket and he wanted to throw the ball from the pocket and you’ve got to try to affect a pocket passer, and I thought we were able to affect him today.”
Georgia junior wide receiver Hardman perhaps summed the day up the best: “There are some things we can improve on but we’re definitely pleased with the win. It’s an SEC win, we’ve just got to go back, watch the film and get better.”