A chilled air circulated throughout Sanford Stadium as a pitch-black night sky served as a backdrop. Fans sat in the stands with layers upon layers and rooted on Georgia as not much happened on either side.
Georgia (7-1, 4-1 SEC) prevailed over unranked Missouri, 27-0, to send over 90,000 fans home happy but with plenty of head-scratching questions — all of which pertain to a sluggish offense. Many were reminded of a game against these two SEC East foes four years ago. That scoreline read Georgia 9, Missouri 6 and told a similar tale.
Temperatures dwindled below 40 degrees; cold enough for spectators to be wrapped up in warm blankets as Saturday night drew later. Most of the game’s slow-moving sluggishness might’ve desired an early dose of shut-eye.
Nevertheless, Georgia adds another victory to its record in an effort to push toward a College Football Playoff berth. Here are eight observations from the Bulldogs’ victory in Athens.
1) Georgia faces another backup quarterback. This time, it served as the Bulldogs’ advantage. They were readying for Kelly Bryant, the graduate transfer who played at Clemson and has plenty of experience. He suffered a hamstring injury, however, and Tigers’ head coach Barry Odom had to go a different route against No. 6 Georgia. Missouri had its hope in backup Taylor Powell, and traction became hard to find. Powell finished 10 of 22 with 84 yards and an interception — which was returned 71 yards by Georgia safety Richard LeCounte.
Missouri eventually resorted to its third-string quarterback Connor Bazelak, but the Tigers found themselves in a four-score hole. The Tigers finished with 198 yards and quarterback play squandered consistency.
“Kelly’s a really good scrambler, and this guy (Powell) didn’t do it as well,” linebacker Monty Rice said. “He’s a good pocket passer, but ultimately our game plan didn’t change much. We just had to rush him differently.”
2) Missouri can apparently only run three plays per drive. I don’t make the rules, so don’t shoot the messenger. Seriously though, Georgia’s defense continued its normal string of dominance. The Tigers, with its second-string quarterback and fair share of road woes (losses at Vanderbilt and Kentucky), went 3-and-out on each of their first three drives and their first time moving the chains resulted in a punt — as you might guess.
Missouri established a run game in its near upset over Georgia last season, surprising the Bulldogs with 172 yards on 31 carries. A year later, Georgia’s run defense is formidable and its pride. As has been done numerous times this season, Georgia made Missouri a one-dimensional team as the Tigers could only accrue 50 yards. And, well, without Bryant, the passing offense went as you might expect. Georgia recorded its third shutout of the season.
Georgia flexed its defensive muscle late in the fourth quarter as Missouri smelled the end zone for a garbage-time touchdown. The Bulldogs were in danger of relinquishing their first rushing touchdown of the season — the lone team in FBS to not allow one — and then Rice went to work. He sniffed out a run play for a 3-yard loss, then Missouri turned over possession after two incompletions.
“We play hard, consistent and don’t control who they put in front of us,” Smart said. “They do what we ask and they’ve done a great job of buying in. There’s a great camaraderie, and the defensive staff has done great with putting a plan together.”
3) Is it time to build a Lawrence Cager statue? One week after having the game of his career, his performance started much the same against Missouri. It’s rather amazing how different Georgia’s offense flows with No. 15 catching deep passes from Jake Fromm. Their chemistry is undeniable. Cager recorded with 93 yards on six receptions, and that effort included completions of 32, 30 and 16 yards.
At one moment, the graduate transfer proved his worth after emerging as hero once more. But after his 30-yard grab, Cager went to the ground and Sanford Stadium went silent. Cager suffered a shoulder injury — a previous shoulder ailment held him out of the Kentucky game — and did not return. Georgia has another critical SEC test looming next Saturday at Auburn.
4) There’s the validation for George Pickens’ hype. The freshman became a well-liked figure after his acrobatic grabs against Arkansas State and Murray State, but has gone rather silent ever since. Against Missouri, he hauled in five passes for 67 yards and two touchdowns. He nearly had a 67-yard reception in the fourth quarter as he streaked down the sideline, but then the Bulldogs were called for illegal formation and his third touchdown was nullified.
“He does it almost everyday,” offensive lineman Cade Mays said. “When I’m on the sideline, I just watch him and am like ‘wow, that kid’s special.’”
5) At long last, Georgia’s starting cornerback returns. Sophomore cornerback Tyson Campbell hasn’t played in 35 years. OK, that’s an exaggeration, but his turf toe injury suffered against Arkansas State seems like decades ago. Campbell didn’t start at cornerback, but made his first appearance on kickoff coverage. He rotated with DJ Daniel — who had filled in and performed well in place of the former five-star — and had a pass break-up early on in his appearance.
“I struggled with confidence,” Campbell said. “We went through all of these practices working on my foot, and I felt like I was good once we got through it. It was a painful injury, but with work in the training room, I’m better than I was before.”
6) You must wonder how offensive coordinator James Coley picks his ice cream flavors. He walked through the frozen aisle in Jacksonville and must’ve found chocolate chip cookie dough. His offense had a new life against previously-playoff contending Florida, but then his local go-to grocery must’ve tempted Coley to revert back to vanilla.
That’s what his offense was, especially in the first half. Georgia found itself in a run-run-pass rut offensively and sent out place-kicker Rodrigo Blankenship for an assortment of field-goal opportunities as the offense stalled. Georgia had only 164 yards at the intermission and 27 in the second quarter. Some adjustments allowed Georgia to have some offensive freedom as D’Andre Swift, Pickens and Brian Herrien each had chunk plays. The Bulldogs finished with an acceptable 27 points and 339 yards.
“We have to do some things better and play better in the red area,” Smart said. “I swear we’ve had 28 field goals in three years. I don’t know what the total is, but it’s ridiculous. We have to find ways to score touchdowns when it matters most.”
7) Georgia’s injury bug returns, and at the worst time, too. Center Trey Hill (left ankle) was the first to fall to injury, and Cade Mays replaced him. Mays had played at every position except for center entering the game, so he’s got that accomplishment. Georgia had trouble with center-to-quarterback exchange as Fromm fumbled one of Mays’ snaps and it resulted in a 12-yard loss. Then, making matters worse, Mays went down to injury and didn’t return. Jamaree Salyer became the third Bulldog to play center against Missouri.
Mays appeared for postgame interviews, indicating a favorable injury status and Smart said that he could’ve returned if needed. Hill will be “fine,” according to Smart, but that’s a blanket term to describe a shorter post-injury recovery. Hill’s status for Auburn is unknown at this time.
8) Blankenship sure is making that case for the Lou Groza Award. He’s getting plenty of opportunities, at least. Blankenship finished 4 of 5 on field goals with makes from 48, 47, 29 and 20 yards.
Blankenship is meticulous in his approach toward his success on Saturdays. He has a routine with special teams’ coach Scott Fountain, and Georgia ensures he’s rested enough after taking repetitions on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Blankenship said he doesn’t want to ‘kick 2,000 balls during the week,’ but has found an ideal balance. The award semifinalist is now 19-for-22 on the season.
“It’s an honor that they think I’ve done some good things this season,” Blankenship said. “I want to come out and help this team win. I want to put the team above myself, and anything I do is because it’s good for them.”
- Fromm: 13-for-29, 173 yards and two touchdowns
- Georgia linebacker Tae Crowder: seven tackles
- Georgia freshman linebacker Nakobe Dean: three tackles
- Missouri linebacker Nick Bolton: nine tackles, one sack, two tackles for loss
- Missouri tight end Albert Okwuegbunam: four receptions for 30 yards
“I knew they were good, but I think they’re a little bit better than they may get credit for nationally. Georgia is as good and as solid as a team as I’ve gone against in a long time.” — Missouri head coach Barry Odom