ATHENS -- For most of this season, the Georgia Bulldogs’ offense bailed out the defense. The explosive playmakers were able to score enough to give Georgia wins, while allowing time for the young players on defense to gain experience.
Getting into shootouts is always dangerous in football. What if your offense has an off day? What if the other team plays its best game of the season? Or what if your skill players on offense are hurt and you’re not able to score a ton of points to keep up?
The injuries to the Georgia running backs and wide receivers were not the reason Missouri won Saturday in Athens. Sure, it might have helped the Bulldogs score more points if they had those players on the field instead of leaning on crutches.
But in the end, Georgia lost because it simply couldn’t stop Missouri when it had to.
Why should we be surprised? Georgia has allowed 41 points per game in its past two home games. Georgia has the worst scoring defense in the SEC. It was bound to catch up with the Bulldogs sooner or later.
The frustrating part of this second loss of the season is that for a while, a brief while, the defense was actually keeping Georgia in the game. Missouri’s offense scored a touchdown with 5:56 left in the second quarter. It wasn’t until 9:22 left in the final quarter that the Tigers scored again on offense.
The damage already had been done. Georgia trailed by 18 at halftime, and the deficit was too big to overcome.
“It was tough,” said defensive lineman Ray Drew, actually one of the bright spots on defense. “Coming out after halftime, knowing the position we were in, and you were fighting and clawing your way back out of the hole you had dug yourself into to come close and not being able to pull it off was tough.
“We had that stretch where we were stopping them. If we had done that in the first half, it might have turned out differently.”
And so the questions will remain about this Georgia defense. If defense wins championships, this team isn’t winning one, at least not this year. Yes, it’s a young group. Yes, there are a lot of players from last year’s defense playing on Sundays. But those excuses are getting thin.
“Any time you’ve got young guys, there’s going to be a lapse or two or a thing here that can extend a drive or create a seam or allow them to make some plays,” Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. “I’m pleased with their effort. I don’t see anything wrong with their effort. They keep competing. It’s more a matter of execution and getting some experience.”
The problem is, Georgia fans don’t want to hear anything else about players getting experience. This is the SEC, and by the middle of the season most believed, or hoped, that Georgia’s young defense would simply be better.
But this team can’t create turnovers. The tackling is poor. Too many players are inconsistent. There are reasons Georgia is giving up too many points.
Grantham is getting a lot of the heat. Some believe the 3-4 defense he employs is just too complicated for this many young players and that he should simplify it to some extent. But Grantham goes back to the inexperience of his players to explain the problems on defense.
“When you play at the level we play at, you’ve got to be on technique-wise and with your effort and with your ability to play fast. If you’re off in any of those areas, it’s going to create seams, which allow for big plays and to continue drives,” Grantham said.
Missouri continued its biggest drive of the game when it had to. In the fourth quarter, quarterback James Franklin got banged up and came out. On third-and-six from the 45, backup Maty Mauk came in and ran for 6 yards for the first down. Two plays later, Missouri threw a halfback option for a touchdown that gave it an eight-point lead with less than 10 minutes remaining.
The Tigers were 5-for-12 on third down -- just good enough to do damage.
“You’ve got to get off the field on third down,” Grantham said. “When you get them to third down, you’ve got to get off the field. Third down extends drives and extends their chances to be on the field. That’s the main thing. That’s a big issue, obviously.”
And the big issue -- the defense -- has dearly cost Georgia. The dreams of a chance at a national title are now dashed with the second loss, and if anyone puts the blame on the team being decimated by injuries on offense, they’ll be looking in the wrong direction.
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