COLUMBIA, MO. – On a historic night for the Missouri Tigers, Jarvis Jones made history for the Georgia Bulldogs.
The Bulldogs’ decorated outside linebacker stepped up and intercepted the first pass of his collegiate career midway through the fourth quarter of what had been a see-saw game. Jones returned it 21 yards to the Missouri 1, only an official’s review of his dive and stretch keeping him out of the end zone.
No matter. Freshman Todd Gurley was more than happy to take a hand-off at right guard and slam the ball in the end zone, “Old Man Football” style. That gave the Bulldogs a 34-20 lead and provided an exclamation point on what would end up being a 41-20 Georgia victory.
“I actually thought it was a touchdown; they didn’t give it to me,” said Jones, mocking anger. “But you have to take what you can get and we came out of here with a big win. A lot of people thought we were going to come in here and get upset.”
If there was any doubt, Jones would erase it a minute later. His sack of James Franklin caused a fumble, which Jordan Jenkins recovered at the Missouri 5. Georgia’s Ken Malcome dotted the I-formation and ran the ball right up the gut from six yards out to set the final margin with 5:16 to play.
At the end of that flurry, Georgia had scored 24 unanswered points to seize the game in the second half. When the outcome was no longer in doubt, the Bulldogs’ boisterous contingent began chanting “Old Man Football” as the clock ticked down on this historic night. It was their retort for Missouri defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, who infamously used that phrase to mock the Bulldogs and their boring style of football.
“We were not trying to send a message,” Georgia coach Mark Richt insisted. “We were trying to win an SEC game.”
The Bulldogs were, however, bent on not letting Missouri send a message.
“We didn’t want them to make a statement on us,” sophomore cornerback Malcolm Mitchell said. “Missouri’s a great team, but we knew they were going to try to build their reputation off beating Georgia and we weren’t going to let that happen.”
Georgia’s late-in-coming domination spoiled what Missouri fans were calling the most anticipated game in their program’s history. The Tigers hadn’t played in a conference other than the Big 12 – or its previous incarnations of the Big Six and Big Eight – since 1907. But they and Texas A&M joined the SEC after last season, and SEC Commissioner Mike Slive was on hand for the coin toss of both games.
“It was real treat for me,” Slive said in the Faurot Field press box at halftime. “In both stadiums, you could just feel the energy, you could feel the euphoria, you could feel the pride and how excited everybody is. These are the third and fourth teams we’ve added to the league in 80 years. So it’s a historic day, and everybody wants to be a part of that history.”
It was a consummate team effort by Georgia. The Bulldogs gave up 371 yards, but only 91 in the fourth quarter. Aaron Murray was off-target early, but finished strong with 3 touchdowns and 242 yards on 22-of-35 passing. Georgia had a few drops, but Marlon Brown and Michael Bennett made 8 catches each, with Brown’s going for 106 yards and a pair of TDs.
Gurley wasn’t the beast he was in the opener with 65 yards rushing, but he combined with Malcome and Keith Marshall for 130 yards, and used a late 44-yard run to get the Dogs out of a hole.
“I’m proud of the boys and the job they did,” Richt said. “Two things we talk a lot about at Georgia, ‘G.A.T.A.,’ or getting after it, and finishing the drill. I thought the guys did a good job of that.”
The game turned in Georgia’s favor on what will go down as a coaching mistake by Missouri’s Gary Pinkel.
The Bulldogs had taken their first lead of the game, 24-20, on an 11-yard pass from Murray to Brown with 51 seconds remaining in the third quarter. On its ensuing possession, Missouri faced fourth-and-11 at its own 35. Pinkel got impatient and called for a fake punt. But it was sniffed out by Georgia senior Richard Samuel, who tackled punter Trey Brown after a three-yard gain.
The Bulldogs took over at the Missouri 38 and could only advance the ball 13 yards. But that was all freshman Marshall Morgan needed to convert a 41-yard field goal attempt to increase Georgia’s advantage to 27-20 with 7:33 to play. Marshall had made a career-best 52-yarder earlier in the game.
“I have been doing this a long time and a coach never calls something that he thinks will not work,” Pinkel said. “When they work, they are good calls and when they don’t they are bad calls and I will take responsibility.”
Said Richt: “Richard Samuel’s stop on the fake punt might have been the biggest play in the game. I know it was the one that made me the happiest.”
Playing in its rarely-used gold jerseys, the Tigers got off to an ideal start in the second half. Leading 10-9 at halftime, the Tigers had to kick off to Georgia. But the mistake-prone Bulldogs continued their bumbling ways and had to punt away after a net gain of zero.
Missouri made quick work of its good fortune. On third-and-eight at its own 32, Franklin hit L’Damian Washington over the middle on a post route in which he beat Devin Bowman to the middle without any safety help. That gave the Tigers a 17-9 lead just 3:12 into the second half.
Georgia responded with an “old man-style” offensive drive. The Bulldogs went 75 yards in 12 plays and converting on third down four times, including five yards on a touchdown pass to Tavarres King from Murray. Because Morgan missed an extra point in the first half, the Bulldogs went for two and converted on a pass to Bennett. The game was tied at 17 halfway through the third quarter.
Missouri answered with a long drive of its own. But Georgia’s defense bowed at the 7-yard line. That’s where they stopped T.J. Moe on a third-down pass. The Tigers settled for a 25-yard field goal and a 20-17 lead with 2:39 left in the third quarter.
Georgia took its first lead of the game on the ensuing possession. The Bulldogs zipped down the field, covering 73 yards in five plays, including a 40-yard reception by Brown. A 23-yard catch by Bennett was followed by and brave grab by Brown over the middle for an 11-yard touchdown. After the PAT, Georgia lead 24-20.
Both teams seemed to start the game a little tight. Missouri bobbled a couple of snaps and gave up a sack to lose 23 yards on its first possession.
Georgia did similarly. After taking over at the Missouri 37, the Bulldogs lost 12 yards in three plays, including eight on a sack of Murray given up by gimpy right tackle John Theus.
Theus got off to a rough start. Starting despite an ankle injury that kept him out of practice most of the week, Theus was called for a false start on Georgia’s second series. It basically resulted in a 40-yard penalty because it nullified a long first-down completion deep in Missouri territory.
The teams finally settled down after that and started to play some offense. Missouri used 10 plays to get down to the Georgia 8 before James Franklin and Kendial Lawrence fumbled an exchange. The ball was kicked around for 20 yards before Georgia’s Amarlo Herrera finally recovered at the 28.
The Bulldogs gave the ball right back. On first down, Missouri linebacker Donovan Bonner was not fooled on a play-action fake and intercepted Murray’s pass for Marlon Brown on a quick slant. He returned it to the Georgia 25.
Georgia’s defense stiffened and Malcolm Mitchell batted away a pass on third and five at the 20. The Tigers had to settle for a 37-yard field goal and a 3-0 lead with 12:03 left in the second quarter.
The Bulldogs blew an opportunity to answer on their ensuing possession. Murray hit Michael Bennett in the hands inside the Missouri on what would have been a first-down pass. Then, on third-and-five, Bennett was called for a false start, which nullified a first-down run by Gurley. Georgia lost five more yards on third and long and had to punt.
The Bulldogs would finally get on the board on their next possession. It came after the officials on the field ruled Franklin had fumbled when Jarvis Jones grabbed his arm on a pass play. The call was overturned via replay, but Missouri still had to punt and Georgia took over at the 41, about 10 yards further away than it would have been.
The Bulldogs managed just six yards. But that was enough for freshman place-kicker Marshall Morgan, who boomed through a career long 52-yard field goal to tie the game at 3-all with 5:52 remaining in the first half.
The game cranked up considerably in the last two minutes.
Taking over at their own 37 with 2:02 left in the first half, the Tigers needed just three plays to score. Franklin hit Marcus Lucas with a 41-yard touchdown over the middle. The PAT with 1:31 to go put Missouri ahead 10-3.
Turns out that was plenty time for Georgia to answer. The Bulldogs went 71 yards in five plays, scoring on a 2-yard pass to Brown. King had set up the Bulldogs with a 34-yard reception. But Morgan missed the point-after kick wide right and Georgia trailed 10-9 at halftime.
“I feel like after that first touchdown, everybody just calmed down, settled down,” Brown said. “We thought, ‘OK, it’s going to be a four-quarter game. We started playing well and, on the defensive side [for Missouri], they started looking kind of sluggish, not moving around so much like in the first quarter when they were all hyped up. We kept grinding and grinding, and I think we just wore them out.”