A big day for Missouri athletics didn’t get off to the rosiest of starts.
I’m writing this before the Tiger men’s hoops team takes the court against No. 6 Illinois, but you clicked on this to read about football, so we’ll just set that aside. It would’ve certainly been a memorable day if both men’s basketball and football could secure top-10 victories on the same day in the same town, but that didn’t happen Saturday. No. 9 Georgia came into Faurot Field and knocked the Tigers around for 60 minutes on its way to a 49-14 win Saturday.
The result is certainly a disappointment for Missouri fans, but it should also be a reminder. There’s a reason why the Tigers have only beaten Georgia once since joining the SEC, and it’s a pretty simple answer. Wins against the top teams in the conference are rare to come by for programs like Missouri, and while recent success has led to a No. 25 ranking in the College Football Playoff poll, it was still going to take Missouri having one of its best days and Georgia having one of its worst to tip the scales in the Tigers’ favor. Turns out Saturday just wasn’t the right day.
Here are my Knee-Jerk Reactions to how it all played out on the field:
Georgia dominated both line-of-scrimmage battles
Sometimes, games in the SEC simply come down to the most active offensive and defensive line. From the start of this game, Georgia seemed to control the trenches on both sides. Missouri only managed 22 rushing yards as a team, with Larry Rountree (14 carries, 16 yards) unable to break free. Connor Bazelak was sacked once and hurried two more times. On the flip side, JT Daniels got plenty of time to throw, and the rushing attack of Zamir White, Kenny McIntosh and James Cook led Georgia to 316 rushing yards on the day.
Here’s the caveat to that high rushing total, though: Missouri only held Georgia to 71 rushing yards in the first half. But, while you do need to account for a slew of Georgia rushing attempts once the game got out of reach, that number in the second half skyrocketed to 245 yards. That’s a sign of Missouri’s defense just running out of gas. Georgia’s passing attack was strong, but once it realized all they needed to do was hand off to get chunk plays, they used that offensive line to keep getting that push. Missouri’s run defense, which has had a couple of rough weeks in a row now, had no answer for that.
You need big plays to upset top-10 opponents. Missouri didn’t have enough.
The Tigers did have some high-impact moments. Keke Chism’s pass to Messiah Swinson, which looked quite similar to the “Colt 45” play Missouri ran against Georgia in 2013 en route to an upset win, set up a much-needed touchdown. A blocked punt by Mason Pack that was returned to Georgia’s 1-yard line set up another. Other than that, the Tigers couldn’t find enough magic to knock off a team like Georgia. Bazelak wasn’t given enough time to find downfield receivers, and the running game was completely bottled up.
Sometimes, it can be enough, if you limit big plays defensively. But that wasn’t the case Saturday. Georgia put together 16 plays (including seven rushes) that went for 15 or more yards. By contrast, Missouri had three. It’s clear who the more talented team was going into this game, and Missouri had to make up the difference by finding big plays down the field, and maybe using some trickery to get them. But that also means your defense has to play with that “bend, don’t break” mentality all game long. While the Tigers have put together performances like that in the past, Georgia had too many punches to give.
The SEC’s best third down defense didn’t show up
Coming into the game, Missouri’s defense had worked itself to the best mark in the SEC at allowing opposing third down conversions. They’ve been doing it by forcing opponents into longer distance-to-go situations. Georgia averaged 6.8 yards on third down distance-to-go on Saturday, which you’ll certainly take if you’re Missouri. The equalizer for the Bulldogs, however, was JT Daniels. Daniels was 5-of-7 for 120 yards passing on third down alone, including two touchdown throws of 31 and 37 yards. All five of those completions came with the Bulldogs needing at least eight yards to convert.
Give a lot of credit to JT Daniels for that job he did. He certainly had good chemistry working with George Pickens, who went off for 126 yards and two touchdowns on five catches. But at the same time, the Tigers missed some huge chances to get off the field. This is where they dearly missed Jarvis Ware, who was out for injury Saturday but has been one of Missouri’s best defenders in one-on-one coverage. The pass rush also didn’t provide much of a disruption on those particular plays, and it led to some back-breaking plays down the field.
Martez Manuel played his tail off
If there’s one bright spot the defense could point to against the Bulldogs, it was the sophomore safety from Rock Bridge. Manuel had seven total tackles, two for loss and the Tigers’ lone sack on the day. As has been the case most of this season, he was one of the more active players on the defensive unit, having to worry about both the Georgia run and pass at the strong safety spot. He even got shaken up after making one tackle. That also happened to some other Missouri guys, notably Connor Bazelak (who came back into the game), and Tyree Gillespie (who did not).
Considering how Missouri is about to lose two other starting safeties (Gillespie and Josh Bledsoe), Manuel certainly becomes an important player for this defense going forward. I’m not sure if we’ll see Manuel slide into one of those other two spots in future years, but what’s clear is that he can be one of Missouri’s best tacklers on any given day. While the defense had its hands full with a revamped Georgia offensive unit, Manuel still had quite a few impactful plays for the Tigers, and should have many more to come.
There’s a huge gap between the second and third best teams in the SEC East
This shouldn’t be a surprise. Sure, Missouri had a lot of momentum from the last three weeks, and crazier things have happened. It certainly wouldn’t have been unheard of for Missouri to pull off an upset. But those that are complaining by saying “man, we should’ve beaten that team that only beat Mississippi State by 7!” really need to take a step back. Georgia is still an SEC powerhouse, despite a down year. They are still uber-talented. They are still likely to win head-to-head recruiting battles with Missouri in the future. It’s just the way it is.
With that said, Missouri can easily make a claim for being the third best team in the division. With the way Eli Drinkwitz has revitalized the program, and turned that into a run of five wins in six games during an all-SEC schedule – plus the recent recruiting wins the Tigers have landed in recent months – there’s reason to believe Missouri has hopped ahead of Tennessee, South Carolina, Vanderbilt and Kentucky in that pecking order. But Georgia and Florida are on a completely other level. Both teams proved it with how thoroughly they broke down everyone else in this division, aside from their head-to-head matchup. If Missouri wants to solidify its standing as the team closest to those two, a road win over Mississippi State and a potential bowl win would go a long way.