UGA Football

Georgia’s secondary finishes strong after early troubles

Dominick Sanders recorded an interception against Missouri.
Dominick Sanders recorded an interception against Missouri. The Telegraph

Georgia knew Missouri quarterback Drew Lock had a big arm, and it saw his talents on display early.

On the Tigers’ second drive, wide receiver Emmanuel Hall broke down the seam and ran past Bulldogs’ safeties J.R. Reed and Aaron Davis. Fortunately for Georgia, the strike from Lock narrowly overthrew his target. But that wouldn't be the last the defensive unit would see of Hall.

Two drives later, Hall broke deep and Lock threw it up to him. Georgia had a similar miscue, but this time it was a different result. Lock pinpointed Hall, who hauled the ball in. Hall then trotted to the end zone for a 63-yard score.

“We played a sloppy game and we have to clean that up,” Reed said. “We had a lack of communication, and we’ll stop that if we do it better.”

It was the first of two 63-yard touchdown connections from Lock to Hall on the night. While it didn’t matter significantly in the final result as Georgia topped Missouri 53-28 for its seventh win of the season, it marked the first time that the Bulldogs had given up over 20 points at any point.

In fact, Georgia opened its first three games of conference play by allowing a grand total of 17 points -- only 10 of which came with the first-teamers on the field. Bulldogs’ head coach Kirby Smart made it known that Missouri’s offense could score in bunches despite its 1-4 record.

That proved to be the case and Smart told his team that it would be in good position to be victorious Saturday if it didn’t allow big plays. Luckily for Georgia, the offense picked up the slack with 696 yards.

“We play in the SEC, and guys are going to score on us,” Reed said. “For us, it’s just next play, correct what we did and have more communication. We eventually came out and stopped that.”

A majority of Missouri’s offensive production came early in the contest, and was halted when momentum changed hands.

Lock was raring up for another deep throw, but it found the hands of Georgia safety Dominick Sanders rather than his target. Sanders leaped up, hauled it in and returned it 18 yards to put Georgia in opposing territory and set up its fourth touchdown of the contest.

Sanders’ latest interception allowed him to obtain 329 return yards on his career, setting a school record. It was an accolade that Smart was “very happy” to see his senior defensive back obtain.

“It was a big swing, because they hit us with a knockout blow and we hit them with one,” Smart said. “Eventually, someone had to get a stop and Dominick made a big-time play on the ball down the middle. He’s very athletic and came down with an acrobatic interception. It kind of changed the flow of the game for us, and broke serve. We needed that.”

From that moment on, Lock was held to 83 passing yards and one touchdown on a 27-yard completion to tight end Jason Reese. Lock finished with 253 yards and four touchdowns, but Georgia may walk away pleased with its performance if it weren’t for the 126 yards and two scores on passes to Hall.

Despite the 25-point victory, the early miscues will cause Georgia’s defense to take a hit statistically. Entering Saturday’s play, the Bulldogs’ scoring defense ranked second-best nationally averaging 10 points allowed per game.

As Georgia enters its off week before traveling to face Florida on Oct. 29, Smart is looking forward to the opportunity to better his team in a period he refers to as “work week.

“We’ll learn from that, but this defense needed a wake-up call,” he said.