No single injury completely derailed the Bulldogs’ offense during No. 7 Georgia’s 41-26 loss to No. 25 Missouri in Athens on Saturday. Rather, the injuries combined to reduce the Bulldogs’ room for error to a paper-thin margin. Facing a Tigers team determined to prove it belongs in the SEC in its second year in the conference, the Dawgs couldn’t escape. Missouri captured its first road win against a top-10 team since Oct. 3, 1981.
Georgia committed four turnovers, including two late interceptions from quarterback Aaron Murray that sealed the defeat. It surrendered 38 or more points for the third time this season and allowed Missouri’s defensive line to control the game for the better part of three quarters.
But give credit to Gary Pinkel’s squad. The Tigers withstood an injury to quarterback James Franklin -- he left with a separated shoulder early in the fourth quarter -- to improve to 6-0 and 2-0 in the SEC. That was thanks largely to a momentum-shifting double pass, as backup Maty Mauk tossed the ball to wideout Bud Sasser who connected with receiver L’Damian Washington to extend the lead to 34-26. Georgia employed single coverage against the 6-foot-4 Washington -- it’s easy to guess who won.
The Tigers, who led 28-10 at one point, allowed the Bulldogs hang around even after the trick play. They missed an extra point to keep Georgia within eight points. Murray, fresh off clutch performances against LSU and Tennessee, had a chance to lead a group of second-teamers to the game-tying score. Instead, he tossed his first interception in his last 99 attempts.
Four plays later, the Tigers iced the game when running back Henry Josey (11 carries, 51 yards, one touchdown) knifed through the Bulldogs’ defense for a seven-yard score.
Missouri’s victory officially throws the SEC East wide open, with Mizzou, Florida, Georgia and South Carolina all in the hunt. With back-to-back SEC wins to open conference play, the Tigers are certainly dreaming of a December date in Atlanta. The road there, however, will only get tougher.
Mizzou hosts Florida and South Carolina in the next two weeks, pivotal division matchups that will help shake out the top of the standings. It’ll have to do so without Franklin, who Pinkel suggested after the game would be out “for the next couple of weeks.”
Although Franklin’s performance in Athens will hardly vault him into the conversation of the SEC’s top quarterbacks, he completed 18-of-27 passes for 170 yards and a touchdown and no picks. He also scrambled five yards for the Tigers’ first score.
Mauk did nothing to show that future opponents shouldn’t stack the box against him. He underthrew a 20-yard completion to Dorial Green-Beckham and completed two other passes for a total of three yards. Granted, the Tigers led for the entirety of his playing time, but he looked shaky. If he continues to show a limited ability to throw the ball downfield, Washington may be the biggest victim. He took advantage of his size on Saturday to rack up seven catches for 115 yards and two touchdowns.
The Tigers’ defense has to feel confident after limiting Georgia to a season-low 26 points. Although it hardly stopped the Bulldogs from moving the ball -- Georgia tallied 454 yards of total offense -- it frustrated Murray and the Dawgs as part of a bend-but-don’t-break performance. Defensive end Michael Sam returned a fumble 21 yards for a touchdown with just more than five minutes remaining in the first half. Though Georgia’s injuries -- which did stymie the Bulldogs’ offense, especially in regard to dropped passes -- were certainly a factor, Missouri took a huge step. It’s an SEC East contender now, and will look to make another statement next weekend against the Gators.