Missouri spent much of the offseason taking a lot of grief for their lackluster SEC debut in 2012. Even a 5-0 start against a lightweight schedule didn’t do much to move the needle. No more. A win on Saturday in Athens over a top 10 Georgia team that hadn’t lost a home game in 2 seasons has the Tigers sitting undefeated and alone atop the SEC East. They took control of the game in the second quarter with contributions from both their offense and defense, withstood a Georgia comeback, rallied behind their backup quarterback, and they deserved the win.
For Georgia’s part, Seth Emerson has it right. The game proved what we had sensed for a while: Georgia isn’t a national title contender. Yes, it’s the inexperience. Yes, it’s the injuries. But it’s mostly about a team that just doesn’t do the little things right. It’s not just blocking/tackling/coverage. Details like special teams operations, personnel groupings, and sideline communication have caused and continue to cause problems. So far in the season, they’d more or less gotten away with it. So long as you had Aaron Murray and a few minutes on the clock, you could have inconsistent offensive line play, disorganization on the defense, or special teams breakdowns. When Missouri missed their late extra point, there was supreme confidence that Georgia could go to that well again and count on Murray to bail the team out again. But Murray, sensing the weight on his shoulders, forced a pass into tight coverage. There would be no miracle escape, and Georgia is left in the position of needing some help to repeat as SEC East champs.
There are many moments from the game you can single out, but one sticks out to me. Following the score that brought Georgia to within two points, the defense that had come to life in the second half kept it up on Missouri’s first two downs. The Tigers faced a 3rd-and-9, and the crowd was at full throat anticipating another stop. For whatever reason, Georgia called timeout. I’m still not sure why. There wasn’t a numbers issue; 11 Dawgs were out there. I guess someone saw something they didn’t like. The timeout gave Missouri a chance to gather itself after two unsuccessful downs, and the crowd was half of what it was before the timeout. Missouri converted, and they were on their way to another score.
It’s not that this moment was some larger metaphor for the way the season has gone. It’s just that with things finally going well on defense, some little thing – confusion about where to line up, a question about who was covering whom, or some other personnel issue – derailed a great chance to make a stand deep in Missouri’s end that would’ve given the ball back to Georgia’s rejuvenated offense with good field position and only down two.
And the defense badly needed something to go well. They struggled to stop Missouri in the first half but had strung together enough stops in the third quarter to bring Georgia to the brink of tying the game. They held Missouri around 100 yards below their season average on the ground. They notched four sacks. They held a good third down offense under 50%. But given a chance to help a gutted offense turn the game around in the fourth quarter, the floodgates opened again.
Shawn Williams isn’t walking through that door. Last year it took a public challenge by one of their own to light a fire under an under-performing defense loaded with NFL talent. That’s not likely this year; there’s a lot more to it than an attitude adjustment. It’s unfair to the offense, but the performance of the defense means that every mistake, turnover, and penalty by the offense are magnified. Every drive without points feels like a service break in tennis.
Yet as dire as things seem, many of Georgia’s goals remain. South Carolina, Missouri, and Florida must all play each other. There’s still some shaking out to do. Of Georgia’s first four SEC opponents, only one (Tennessee) isn’t among the top half of SEC scoring offenses. Only one remaining opponent (Auburn) is. It’s not reasonable to expect some huge awakening on defense, but the schedule lends itself to some marginal improvement. The offense will soon add some important pieces. It will be a challenge each week, but this is still a potential champion – just not a national one.
- If all he were asked to do is defend the flats, Shaq Wiggins would be an all-American. He’s a solid tackler, aggressive to the ball, and still has a lot to work on in coverage. Once that comes around, he’ll be a very solid corner.
- I doubt we’ll ever get a straight answer, but the Dawson/Bowman disappearance in the secondary annoys me probably more than it should. I get if true freshman like Langley and Wiggins are better options, but something stinks there.
- Injuries and youth do have their place in this discussion, but this loss got contributions from the veterans too. Gates and Lynch combined to miss the block that led to Murray’s fumble. Herrera’s dumb late hit ended another chance for a late stop. Swann…we’re all pulling for him to become the leader that the secondary needs.
- Douglas and Green did fairly well. Douglas’s fumble hurt, but I can’t fault a guy for fighting for yards. Georgia actually gained more yards on the ground Saturday than they did at Missouri a year ago with a healthy backfield. Missouri’s large lead forced Georgia to throw the ball more than they wanted, but the comeback featured some key runs by both tailbacks. Missouri’s coverage forced Murray to check down often, and Douglas in particular made some nice plays to get extra yards on short passes.
- I also liked seeing Murray keep it a time or two on the read option. It doesn’t need to happen often, but it’s enough to give defenses something to think about, and it makes use of a skill Murray has.
- Even with all of the turnovers and defensive woes, Georgia’s offense hurt itself by not cashing out in the red zone on two of the day’s biggest plays. The first half strike to Wooten was a shoestring away from being a touchdown, but Georgia had to settle for a field goal. When the teams were trading touchdowns, that put them behind the pace. Same thing on the first drive of the second half. Green’s creative long run gave Georgia a chance to start their comeback in grand style with little time off the clock. Again they settled for the field goal.
- Finally, a tip of the cap to Missouri’s Maty Mauk. He’s the redshirt freshman stuck into a tight SEC road game in the fourth quarter and asked to manage a two-point lead with momentum on Georgia’s side. His first play was a keeper on 3rd and 6. He shook off first contact (Herrera I believe) and fell forward to move the chains. Mauk didn’t have to do much more, though he had a nice pass to Green-Beckham to set up Missouri’s final score. Still, he held the team together in a tight spot and the offense put up two game-clinching scores under his direction.