Minnesota beat Penn State Saturday afternoon, hours before Georgia hosted Missouri. LSU finished off Alabama soon after Georgia-Mizzou kicked off. That was two losses for two teams ranked ahead of the Bulldogs in the College Football Playoff rankings.
None of that mattered much for Georgia. Before this game, its CFP path meant winning out through the SEC Championship game. That’s why Georgia coach Kirby Smart wasn’t worried about what was going on with Alabama-LSU.
“We are just trying to get an opportunity to go play one of those two,” Smart said.
No. 6 Georgia stayed on track for that by beating Missouri 27-0 at Sanford Stadium. Now comes the trip to No. 11 Auburn. The Tigers are a very good team. The Bulldogs are better than Auburn when at full strength, but it's not clear that they will be by next weekend.
Four Georgia starters left the Missouri game because of injuries. Center Trey Hill went down in the first quarter and didn't return. Wide receiver Lawrence Cager left the game for good after hurting his left shoulder in the second quarter. After halftime both guard Cade Mays and right tackle Isaiah Wilson went out with injuries (Wilson returned to the game, and Mays said he's OK).
The injury to Cager is most concerning. He aggravated the same injury against South Carolina, then sat out the next week. Cager is Georgia's most reliable receiver and has become Jake Fromm's clear go-to guy. After going for 132 yards and a TD against Florida, he had six catches for 93 yards in less than a half against Missouri.
Georgia coach Kirby Smart said he thinks Cager “probably” could have returned to the game if needed. But there’s a chance that if he plays against Auburn he won’t be himself. Hill’s status is unclear, too.
“I don’t know who’s in, who’s out, who’s dinged up, who’s not,” Smart said. “But at the end of the day you play with the guys that are healthy. There is no crying over it. You’ve got a tough team to go play.”
Credit Georgia for dominating Mizzou despite all the injuries. It’s true that Missouri was limited with quarterback Taylor Powell subbing for Clemson transfer Kelly Bryant (hamstring). But a shutout is a shutout. Georgia held an opponent scoreless three times this season, including two SEC foes (Kentucky was the other).
The Tigers made it past midfield twice in 11 full possessions. They threatened to make it a game when they drove to Georgia’s 24-yard line with a 10-0 deficit. Then Georgia safety Richard LeCounte intercepted Powell’s pass and took it all the way back to Mizzou’s 18-yard line.
The Bulldogs settled for a field goal by Rodrigo Blankenship. That happened a lot. Georgia drove to Mizzou’s 31-yard line or closer seven times and Blankenship kicked five field goals (he made four).
Bulldogs running backs pounded out 166 rushing yards on 35 carries. Georgia didn’t commit a turnover against a defense that had averaged nearly two takeaways per game. It could have been a lot better.
“I think we are so close to executing on all cylinders,” Fromm said. “Sooner or later, we’re going to break out and it’s going to be fun to watch.”
That will be harder to do at Auburn if Cager is ailing. There’s talent behind him but it’s a young group that’s been inconsistent.
Freshman George Pickens has had his moments this season. He added to the list with two touchdowns against Mizzou, for 25 and 18 yards. But he also drew a penalty for lining up wrong, wiping out his 68-yard TD catch that followed.
Fromm was just 13-of-29 for 173 yards, but there were mitigating factors. He threw away a handful of passes to avoid sacks (Missouri had just one). Fromm’s receivers dropped at least two passes that would have gone for big gains.
Also, Missouri’s pass defense is stout. Just two opponents have passed for more than 200 yards (South Carolina needed 41 attempts to do it). None of Missouri’s opponents have completed more than 60 percent of their pass attempts. Coming into this game the Tigers had broken up or intercepted 20 percent of their opponents’ passes.
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It was easy to see why Mizzou doesn’t give up much through the air. Their defensive backs stayed connected to Georgia’s wide receivers. There wasn’t much space for Fromm to exploit, but he did it with some pinpoint passes.
There was a 32-yard completion to Cager down the left sideline to set up his 25-yard TD pass to Pickens. When the Bulldogs got the ball at their 37-yard line with 36 seconds until halftime, Fromm finessed a pass to Cager for 30 yards. Blankenship kicked a field goal for a 16-0 lead.
Fromm’s second TD pass to Pickens was even better than the first. Missouri cornerback Jarvis Ware had good coverage. Fromm floated a pass over him to Pickens, who made a nifty catch along the left sideline.
That score put Georgia up 27-0. The Tigers were finished well before that. LeCounte’s interception wiped out their one scoring chance in the first half. They got a first down at Georgia’s four-yard line in the fourth quarter but failed to score on four tries.
Georgia will take a great defense to Auburn next weekend. The Bulldogs will ride tailback D’Andre Swift (he was quiet against Mizzou, save for a 47-yard run). Fromm has had one bad game all season and isn’t apt to have another.
The only big question for the Bulldogs will be their health.
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