I don’t know if that was the most frustrating game of the Smart era to watch, but it’s definitely on the short list. It wasn’t that Georgia was flat out awful, the way the Dawgs were in 2016 against the likes of Nicholls and Ole Miss. It’s that they were incredibly inconsistent, seemingly from play to play (or even, in the case of Milton’s first run of the night, within the same play). I mean, how do you go from burying the Tigers in a third-and-18 deep in their territory to letting them off the hook on a boneheaded pass interference penalty on a poorly thrown ball with safety help, to boot?
That kind of stuff went on all night. At least it did until somebody remembered to flick on the light switch in the fourth quarter.
This game should not have been close, but Georgia didn’t take Missouri seriously enough and was unprepared for their aggressive game plan on both sides of the ball. Add to that a couple of stupid first half turnovers and you’ve got a recipe for letting a big conference underdog have a shot at stealing a game away. That it didn’t happen is something the team deserves credit for, but living dangerously is no way to go through an SEC schedule, son.
On to the bullet points:
- I’m sure that some (most?) of y’all will argue about this with me, but Georgia’s biggest problem on offense isn’t the o-line. It’s that nobody respects the downfield passing game. I saw some of that with Kent State, but Missouri went all in on it. Their DC called more Cover 0 coverage than I’ve seen since the 2020 Mississippi State game. Georgia never called his bluff. Their d-line is good, and when you send six on plays when Georgia is sending at least one tight end out, somebody’s getting home early. Bennett got the crap beat out of him. Missouri’s penetration clogged up run plays repeatedly. More significantly, all night long there were defenders in the way of the perimeter passing game that Georgia’s made a living on all season. Smart said after the game that UGA needs to get some healthy receivers back and he ain’t kidding.
- All of which is not to say the o-line didn’t play their worst game of the season, because they clearly did. It wasn’t just the guards this time, either. Van Pran and both tackles had plays they’d rather forget. I give Graham Coffey a lot of credit for being on Georgia’s zone blocking scheme as a bad match for the personnel early on. It showed Saturday night, but Georgia went more with more gap blocking as the game went on and the o-line’s fortunes dramatically improved in the fourth quarter. It’s not a line that’s going to mash you (and, no, I don’t know why that’s the case, considering recruiting), but it’s a line with enough talent to finesse a defense into looking bad. A perfect example of that came on back to back plays during the first TD drive on the second half, the first a near sack by a blitzer on the outside that led to an incomplete pass followed by a huge run by McIntosh into the area cleared by the o-line against the same defender who was simply run out of the play. I don’t know if this is the last vesting of manball, but clearly the coaches need to do some soul searching this week about how best to run scheme with this line, because otherwise Bennett is going to get killed.
- Stetson was a little of this and a little of that. His mechanics are still off-kilter, as he continues to sail some of his passes. He again missed some of his reads downfield and didn’t take the open receiver when he had the opportunity. The fumble on the zone read was on him — although he deserves credit for having the presence of mind to tackle the Missouri defender when he picked up the ball with a lot of real estate ahead of him. (It looked like a TD if he doesn’t make the tackle.) But he deserves credit most of all for not losing his head. The Bennett of a couple of seasons ago probably takes it on himself to do more than he should. Not Saturday night. I don’t remember Stetson making a single cringeworthy throw. But he needs more help from his wideouts than he got.
- As for the running backs, Milton’s fumble hurt, but there were encouraging signs overall. The Big 3 averaged about six yards a carry and came through when the Dawgs needed them the most. The most encouraging development of the night was seeing both Milton and McIntosh break tackles in the open field to gain additional yardage.
- The tight ends? Well, Georgia doesn’t win without them. I’ve already posted to say that was the best game of Washington’s career. Blocking, receiving, yards after the catch — he’s turned into a complete player. Bowers whiffed on a tackle, shockingly, but turned in his usual big play reception and showed how quickly he gets up speed on that catch he took to the one-yard line to set up Georgia’s final score.
- The wideouts are struggling to get separation on their routes on a consistent basis, which is also adding to Bennett’s problems. There were plenty of tough receptions from Jackson, Rosemy-Jacksaint and, best of all, Blaylock, but things shouldn’t have been that hard throughout the game. Missouri’s secondary simply didn’t look intimidated if they weren’t covering the tight ends.
- The defense really had me pulling my hair. Missouri didn’t gain 300 yards on the night, but it seemed like they got the bulk of it in just a handful of plays. The long run that Starks stopped on the one-yard line was a combination of a bad run fit on the line and the ILBs overrunning the play behind them. The touchdown pass was misplayed by the safeties, which was somewhat shocking, considering how well they’ve played this season. In addition to the pass interference call, Ringo also gave up a long reception when he didn’t make an effort to play the ball. Lassiter got burned on a pass play after Nolan Smith didn’t wrap up the quarterback.
- The weird thing is that the defense really tightened up their perimeter play from the week before and did an excellent job on contain. They also got plenty of pressure (although not as much as Missouri’s defense did).
- Special teams rebounded nicely from the last two weeks. For once, it was Georgia dealing out the fake kicking play and not the other team. Podlesny was money all game long, most importantly in matching Missouri’s placekicker blow for blow.
- Monken’s worst coaching job of the season? Well, yeah. I don’t know if he took Mizzou’s defense too lightly, or what, but he clearly wasn’t ready for how aggressive their game plan was. Give him credit, though, for figuring a way out when it counted.
- I don’t know how much you can blame the DCs. My feeling is not too much. It seemed like most of the big plays were all the result of player busts. And, again, things really tightened up at crunch time.
- Kirby may not have had his team mentally ready to go when the game started, but whatever he did at halftime to right the ship worked.
You can look at a game like this in an individual setting and shrug it off as one of those nights. The problem is this was the second week in a row when Georgia played poorly enough to give an inferior opponent plenty of hope and life. You can keep calibrating the close calls closer and closer and eventually it’ll catch up to you. This is a talented team that knows it’s talented. But it also appears to lack a certain maturity and focus that last year’s team had in spades.
Auburn comes into town next. A rivalry game with a distracted rival. It’s time to start fixing things, Dawgs.