Missouri coach: Georgia better than the nation realizes

Georgia might not be getting the credit it deserves nationally. That was the assessment of Missouri coach Barry Odom after his team came out of Sanford Stadium on the short end of a 27-0 shutout.

“A really good football team in every area,” Odom said of the No. 6 Bulldogs. “We knew going in we would have some struggles moving the ball in certain situations. But they are better up close and in person. I knew they were good, but I think they’re a little better than they get credit for nationally. Georgia is as good and as solid a team as I’ve gone against in a long time.”

» MICHAEL CUNNINGHAM: Auburn looms large for Bulldogs

The Bulldogs (8-1, 5-1 SEC) are good enough to be in position to clinch an SEC Championship berth with a win over No. 11 Auburn next Saturday on the Plains. The Tigers (7-2, 4-2) had an open date Saturday.

That’s shaping up to be a matchup of two of the best defenses in the SEC. Auburn features arguably the best defensive line in the league, while Georgia just recorded a third shutout in a season for the first time since 1981.

The last time the Bulldogs had a Top 10 matchup at Jordan-Hare Stadium, the No. 10 Tigers defeated No. 2 Georgia 40-17 in the 2017. Of course, the Bulldogs got the last laugh in that season.

“Gus and I have seen a lot of each other over the years,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “I've got a lot of respect for their program, and I know they'll be ready to play coming off an off week.”

The Tigers will be the last of five teams who will play Georgia after a bye this season.

Here's some other storylines heading into that contest:

About those injuries

Smart was remarkably positive about the Bulldogs' in the aftermath of the Missouri game. In short, it sounds as though all who went down will be back up for Auburn.

Leading receiver Lawrence Cager (shoulder) and center Trey Hill (ankle) were sidelined in the first half and did not return. Then center Cade Mays (ankle) and tackle Isaiah Wilson (ankle) were sidelined in the fourth quarter.

“We think Cager will be fine,” Smart said after the game. “He bothered his shoulder again, but we think he’s going to be fine. Probably could have come back in if he had to.”

Wilson actually did come back in for one play on the punt team, and Mays did interviews after the game saying he could have gone back in. The outlook is less clear on Hill.

Georgia also played without starting outside linebacker Walter Grant. Grant also should be available next week.

Defensive stand

Georgia’s goal-line stand late in the fourth quarter didn’t mean anything to the outcome against Missouri, but it was big for the psyche of the Bulldogs’ defense.

Not only did it give UGA a third shutout in a season for the first time since 1981, but it also extended the team’s incredible streak of nine games without allowing a rushing touchdown. The Bulldogs are the only team in the country at any collegiate level to do that this year.

“It’s huge,” said linebacker Monty Rice, who was credited with a three-yard tackle for loss on Missouri’s second-and-goal play from the 2. “You don’t want anybody to score a rushing touchdown ’cause that’s the easiest way to score. You want to make them throw it over you. If they’d have caught that ball on Mark Webb, I would’ve lived with it, you know, ’cause those things happen. But it was good to not let them score, period.”

Said Smart: “You can’t say enough about the defensive staff, the game plan they put together and the buy-in from the kids. We preached all week about how much they ran on us last year. ... The defensive players kind of hung their hats on that and they were all chomping at the bit at the end to make it tough to score. I thought they showed some competitive character there at the end with that stand.”

With an average of 10.1 points a game allowed, Georgia moves up to No. 2 in the nation in scoring defense, behind Ohio State (8.6).

Richard LeCounte ignites

The biggest play Saturday night fittingly came from the defense. And it was fitting that it was made by junior safety Richard LeCounte, who finally appears to be coming into his own.

Missouri’s Taylor Powell faded back to pass with midway through the second quarter and either threw high over his target or was just trying to throw the ball away. We’ll never know as LeCounte leaped high to snag an interception, then took off down the Georgia sideline, jumping a few Tigers and out-running a few before finally getting down pulled down after a 71-yard return at the Missouri 18.

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That play stood out, but LeCounte was solid all night. He also had a tackle for loss and four stops overall.

“Richard’s a ball hawk,” Smart said. “He has really good ball skills. I didn’t think we were going to catch it. I thought it was going to be an overthrow and he went up, grabbed it, snagged it and had heck of a play on the ball and had a great return.

“Richard’s improved, he continues to get better. I was more proud of his physical tackling tonight (than) the turnover. He’s taken a lot better approach the last two weeks, really been in the game plan and making his calls. I’m really proud of him.”

‘Hot Rod’ stays hot

The scoring summary of Saturday’s game looked a little strange. In between the time and length of description two Georgia touchdowns were four lines that all began with the words “Rodrigo Blankenship field goal.”

It could have included a fifth line in the middle of all that, but Blankenship missed wide left a 43-yard try early in the third quarter. There was, of course, no complaining from the Bulldogs.

» PHOTOS: Bulldogs cruise against Tigers

“Thank goodness we've got a very consistent field goal kicker who continues to come through,” Smart said. “I thought Rod did a tremendous job tonight. Those were tough conditions for kicking. Field’s tough, it’s damp, it’s moist, it’s slippery and it’s cold. He was very consistent from good distances, long distances.”

Indeed, two of Blankenship’s makes were from 47 and 48 yards. He is 20-of-28 from 40 to 49 yards in his career and 5-of-7 in 2019.

Blankenship, who was named as a semifinalist for the Lou Groza Award last week, is a certified scoring weapon for Georgia. With 14 more points Saturday, the senior from Marietta now has 403 in his career, which ranks fourth in UGA history and fifth in SEC history. He’s also made 187 consecutive PATs without a miss, which is a Georgia record and 11 off the SEC record.

Tyson Campbell back

Georgia got a much-welcomed return from sophomore cornerback Tyson Campbell on Saturday. The 13-game starter had not played since the third game of the season due to a turf-toe injury.

“It was pumping today,” Campbell said of his adrenaline. “Being a night game, just seeing the lights flashing, being back between the hedges in this type of environment, it was just great to be back.”

Campbell did not start but came in as a backup at cornerback and played in some nickel situations. He had only one pass break-up to his credit but was on the field for a lot of plays. Junior D.J. Daniel has been starting in Campbell’s place and has played well.

Smart made it clear that it was a big deal getting back the former 5-star recruit from Miami.

"Really happy for him to get back in,” Smart said. “We feel like we've got three corners that can play for us and it allows you to kind of play matchups, put guys on certain guys, and play the hot hand. Glad he got back out there and kind of got his feet under him."