Georgia pulls away from Missouri

semerson@macon.comSeptember 9, 2012 

COLUMBIA, Mo. – As the end neared, and the old guard team of the SEC had wrested control from the rookie team, the Georgia fans in the corner of Missouri’s stands began their chant.

“Old man football,” they chanted in unison. “Old man football.”

Georgia began the week being pilloried by Missouri defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson for playing “old man football.” After a sluggish start, especially on offense, the Bulldogs finished Saturday night by playing young, energetic and eventually dominant. They pulled away for a 41-20 victory in their SEC opener, a win that it hopes will set the tone for their season.

"There were times I was starting to wonder, what was gonna happen,” head coach Mark Richt said. “And then our guys start to come through with big plays on both sides of the ball.”

And Jarvis Jones led the way.

Georgia’s All-America linebacker was a dominant force all night, and in the pivotal fourth quarter his interception set up one touchdown, and his sack and forced fumble set up the final one for Georgia.

While Richardson’s trash talk enervated plenty – some players alluded to it on the field in pregame warmups – Jones cited a different motivation: the cavalcade of analysts picking Missouri to pull the upset.

"Everyone was doubting us, (picking) us to get upset. I think it became a real big issue,” Jones said. “Not taking anything away from Mizzou. Mizzou is a real good ballclub, I respect them every bit.”

But which analysts did Jones mean?

"I don't point anybody out, but y'all know who I'm talking about," Jones said, with a sly grin.

Georgia (2-0) was actually a slight favorite in the betting lines, but many did pick Missouri based on the suspension situation. Georgia had four defensive starters suspended, and cornerback Malcolm Mitchell entered the game questionable with a sprained ankle.

Then Richt dropped this almost-bombshell after Saturday’s game: Jones played with a strained groin, and at one time the coaches were worried whether their star would play.

But he did, becoming a constant source of frustration for Missouri. Its quarterback, James Franklin, passed for 269 yards and a couple touchdowns, but he didn’t do much damage with his feet.

"We were gonna make sure of that," Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said.

Meanwhile, the Georgia offense woke up late in the first half, after struggling, particularly quarterback Aaron Murray. The Heisman trophy candidate had three touchdown passes, two of them to Marlon Brown.

Missouri (1-1) actually led 17-9 early in the third quarter. Georgia answered with a long drive, capped by Murray hitting Tavarres King on a 7-yard touchdown on a slant pattern. A two-point conversion tied it.

"You get a touchdown and it gives you a lot of confidence,” Murray said. “We just needed that little 'kick through the door,' I think. We were right there every time but shooting ourselves in the foot. We finally kicked it open, and after that, things just started opening up.”

Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said part of the team’s strategy was to spread out Missouri, borrowing the Tigers’ own four-receiver spread strategy. The idea was to get Georgia receiver Michael Bennett in a matchup with a linebacker and safety. It worked, as Bennett and Brown each caught eight passes.

"We had some opportunities in the first half, we just didn't hit them,” Bobo said. “At halftime we just said: Hey, we've gotta keep doing what we're doing and relax. The guys stayed calm. They overcame. Things weren't going great. Give credit to the guys keep playing."

Brown had a more succinct explanation for why the Bulldogs’ passing game came around.

"Probably because Coach Bobo started calling pass plays for us. And we just made plays for Aaron every time he put the ball in the air," Brown said.

Missouri led 20-17 after a field goal. At that point, the Bulldogs gained control of the game.

It was third-and-12 when Murray hit Brown on a great timing pass downfield. The next play, a receiver screen to Bennett, went down to the 11. And on the next play Murray zipped a pass to Brown, who held on while being sandwiched by two defenders. Georgia had its first lead, 24-20, with 51 seconds left in the third quarter.

The Bulldogs defense held on the next possession – and then Missouri faked a punt in its own territory. But Richard Samuel, the running back playing on punt block, threw off his man and made the tackle at Missouri’s 38.That set up another field goal by Morgan, from 41 yards, to make it 27-20.

Richt gave Samuel a big hug on the sideline after his tackle.

“Samuel's stop on the fake punt may have been the biggest play of the game,” Richt said. “It's what made me the most happy, I could tell you that."

A few minutes later, Jones picked off a Franklin pass and almost returned it 20 yards, ruled down at the 1. Gurley punched it in a play later to make it 34-20.

The “old man football” chant sprang up again in the Georgia stands. The Missouri fans began to head to the exits. Georgia still wasn’t done, however, as Jones forced a fumble, leading to a Ken Malcome touchdown run that capped the night.

"It's great to go 2-0,” Jones said. “(At) 0-2 last year we were frustrated. We had people talking all over us, jumping off the bandwagon, Georgia this, Georgia that. And earlier today probably before this game we had people saying the same thing. But it don't matter what people say, the only people who controls our season is us."

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