The delicate balancing act that had Georgia still in the national Top 10 almost midway through the season despite having the SEC’s worst defense and unreliable special teams was basically built on the premise that all of that didn’t matter if the Bulldogs’ prodigious offense could outscore everyone they played.
But the injuries to key playmakers suffered against LSU and Tennessee pulled the foundation away from that precarious house of cards and the results were seen Saturday at Sanford Stadium in Athens: Missouri 41, Georgia 26.
Actually, having trailed by 18 points at halftime, the scrappy Dogs fought their way back into the game in the third quarter as the defense, which in the second quarter hadn’t looked capable of stopping their own grandmothers, held the uptempo Mizzou offense scoreless. The Dogs pulled within 2 points before giving up a score on a badly defended halfback pass.
Still, you thought maybe Georgia could pull it out. But Aaron Murray, known lately for his late-game heroics in Bulldog wins, ran out of cardiac comebacks, thanks chiefly to the offensive line, which had its worst game since Clemson and allowed him to be harried and hurried all day by the Tigers’ talented pass rush. The feel-good story of Kolton Houston didn’t feel so good Saturday, as he was repeatedly pushed backward and let his man get to Murray. It wasn’t just Houston, though. The OL in general played poorly.
So it was that when Georgia got the ball back with 4:25 on the clock and Murray had a chance to lead his team down the field to possibly tie the game at 34 (assuming a successful two-point play), the pressured QB instead threw an interception on the first play of the drive. (The officials, who were inconsistent throughout the game, failed to call an obvious roughing the passer penalty on the Tigers, despite having kept a Missouri drive alive earlier by calling roughing on a less blatant infraction.)
Anyway, Mizzou got the ball at the Dogs’ 33-yard line and put the game out of reach with another score shortly after that.
It was Murray’s second turnover to result in points for the Tigers — he lost the ball while being sacked in that horrible second quarter (Georgia’s worst in many moons) and Mizzou’s Michael Sam scooped it up and returned it 21 yards for a score.
Another turnover — due in part to poor blocking, young tailback Brendan Douglas fumbled at Missouri’s 6-yard line as the Dogs were threatening — cost Georgia a touchdown of its own.
So Georgia may have outgained Missouri in the overall stats, but the Dogs’ four turnovers loomed large. The fourth turnover on another Murray interception late in the game as Georgia was racing the clock to try and make it respectable with a garbage-time score didn’t really matter, but three of the Dogs’ four turnovers provided a 21-point swing in the game, and not too many teams can overcome that.
Other contributing factors: The offense, missing the likes of big playmakers Todd Gurley, Keith Marshall, Michael Bennett and Justin Scott-Wesley, had trouble sustaining drives thanks to an inconsistent running game (despite freshmen Douglas and J.J. Green’s stout efforts) and too many dropped passes, not all of them by inexperienced receivers suddenly getting playing time. Also, the punting game continued to be a shambles, with consistently low snaps resulting in short kicks and two timeouts wasted because Georgia’s special-teams-coaching-by-committee operation couldn’t manage to get the right personnel on the field. Too many untimely penalties didn’t help, either.
But without a doubt the bulk of the blame for Georgia’s loss to Mizzou falls on the defense, specifically the young secondary. While the defensive front, especially Ray Drew, played decently most of the time (though letting Mizzou’s backup QB run for a first down was pretty inexcusable), the cornerbacks were badly outmatched by the likes of L’Damian Washington (who had seven catches for 115 yards and two touchdowns) and the clueless safeties frequently were in the wrong place at the wrong time, providing no backup. It also didn’t help that Georgia’s defenders were giving Mizzou receivers about a 10-yard cushion much of the time.
Yes, you can expect mistakes when you have to start a bunch of freshmen in the secondary, but the fact that Georgia’s defensive backs not only have shown no progress in recent games, but seem to have regressed, is really disturbing. And it’s not just the young D-backs. Veteran Damian Swann had another rough game.
I don’t know what the answer is, but Todd Grantham and his staff better come up with something soon. Otherwise, until the offense gets back to full strength just about every game on the schedule, save for Appalachian State, looks losable.
Feel free to share your own views of Saturday’s Georgia-Missouri game …
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg