Maybe the luck dried up. Maybe the injuries were too much to overcome. Or, maybe Missouri was just more than a depleted and fatigued Georgia team could handle. In any event, the Bulldogs' reign of dominance in the SEC East and their streak of success against top-25 opponents came to an abrupt end on Saturday afternoon in Athens.
Following a brutal season-opening stretch that featured three top-10 opponents, the general consensus heading into last week’s matchup with Tennessee was that Georgia was entering the manageable portion of its schedule. As it turns out, once the injuries began to pile up, the Bulldogs were lucky to survive last week in Knoxville.
The Dawgs found no such luck during Missouri’s first ever trip to Sanford Stadium. Clearly, the toll of a fourth game against a ranked opponent was more than Georgia could overcome. In many ways, this game was a regression for a Georgia team that had come so far in developing since a season-opening loss in Clemson, S.C. The problems that ailed the Bulldogs against the Tigers from Clemson came right back to haunt them against the Missouri Tigers.
The defense, which has struggled all season long, failed to contain quarterback James Franklin and his prolific offense. In fact, even after Franklin left the game with an apparent shoulder injury, the Tigers were still able to reach the end zone two additional times. Young defensive backs were continually beat on the outside. On the ground, there were times when Missouri seemed capable of executing the read-option to perfection at will with very little defensive interruption.
On the other side of the ball, Georgia’s offense seemed lost without stars like Todd Gurley, Keith Marshall, Malcolm Mitchell, Michael Bennett and Justin Scott-Wesley. Fifth-year senior Aaron Murray struggled to lead a shorthanded offense. At times, his throws were inaccurate. Other well-thrown balls were dropped. But a haggard Murray could not find a consistent rhythm and he failed to maintain offensive momentum more often than not.
His problems were exacerbated by an offensive line that seemed fatigued for much of the ball game. Missouri consistently put pressure on Murray and closed off running lanes, as the Georgia offensive line showed its wear.
The devastating early-season schedule and the toll of a hard-fought overtime victory over Tennessee last week reared its ugly head and in doing so rendered Georgia’s offense largely ineffective in overcoming lackluster defensive play. The offense was even caught doing more harm than good on a few occasions. Most notably, with just under six minutes left to play in the second quarter, Murray fumbled while being sacked as Missouri defensive lineman Michael Sam scooped up the loose ball and raced in for a score.
Despite a feverish comeback, Murray threw two interceptions late in the game on two plays that were microcosmic of the Bulldogs as a whole. On both plays, Murray tried hard to make something happen. He tried to overcome the physical and emotional exhaustion that his offense was facing. He tried to overcome the crucial injuries to key playmakers. He tried to muster one last heroic comeback, but he came up short.
Make no mistake about it, this Missouri team is a force to be reckoned with. But this Georgia team is in desperate need of rest, recovery and regrouping.
Georgia now travels to Vanderbilt next week before taking an off week, and the hope moving forward is that the Bulldogs can get a few players back from injury while refocusing for a November 2 matchup with Florida.
If the Bulldogs can get healthy and find fresh legs heading into the big date with the Gators, then the wound of a loss to Missouri may soon heal.