Bulldogs aim to finish strong

Credit: Georgia Athletics

Combined ShapeCaption
Georgia football coach Kirby Smart comments on the team’s play and conditions in 49-14 win in Columbia, Mo.

Credit: Georgia Athletics

ATHENS — Georgia has been like the proverbial “red-headed stepchild” of the college football world ever since it lost those two decisive games to No. 1 Alabama and No. 6 Florida in the middle of the season.

“They don’t belong” in the Top 25, critics decried of the College Football Playoff rankings. “They’re overrated.”

At No. 9, maybe the Bulldogs are. But they certainly didn’t look like it on Saturday as they beat No. 25 Missouri 49-14 in frigid conditions on the road. Georgia (7-2) stumbled a little with some special-teams and offensive-protection breakdowns in the second quarter. But the Bulldogs were able to regain their footing in time to mount a furious 35-0 run in the middle of the game to break Missouri’s will and remove any doubt of superiority.

ExploreMark Bradley: Bulldogs show what they are capable of

Georgia coach Kirby Smart said his team wasn’t necessarily trying to prove anything. They just wanted to win.

“I don’t know if it was a statement game,” Smart said. “I do know that our kids responded to that. They get tired of the criticism because of the two biggest games we played and we didn’t play our best. It probably had something to do with who we were playing. But I think Missouri is a good football team. I really do. And I think they’ve got a good football team that’s growing, young, getting better, and we were able to overpower them in the second half.”

Georgia will get just one more chance to display its worth. The Bulldogs (7-2) will play host Saturday to winless Vanderbilt (0-9) at Sanford Stadium. The Commodores lost to Tennessee 42-10 on Saturday.

Here are some things we learned Saturday in Columbia, Mo.:

Combined ShapeCaption
Georgia defensive lineman Jordan Davis (99) defends as Missouri running back Larry Rountree III (right) runs with the ball Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020, in Columbia, Mo. (L.G. Patterson/AP)

Credit: AP

Georgia defensive lineman Jordan Davis (99) defends as Missouri running back Larry Rountree III (right) runs with the ball Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020, in Columbia, Mo. (L.G. Patterson/AP)

Credit: AP

Combined ShapeCaption
Georgia defensive lineman Jordan Davis (99) defends as Missouri running back Larry Rountree III (right) runs with the ball Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020, in Columbia, Mo. (L.G. Patterson/AP)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

JD’s return key for defense

The Bulldogs got the long-awaited return of Jordan Davis.

The 6-foot-6, 330-pound junior noseguard started Saturday’s game after missing the last four contests over six weeks due to a fractured elbow. Davis had just one tackle on the stat sheet, but his impact on the defense was far greater as the Bulldogs limited Missouri to just 200 yards total offense, and only 22 rushing.

“JD was back!” exclaimed senior linebacker Monty Rice. “Azeez (Ojulari), Nakobe (Dean), Channing (Tindall), all those guys were showing up. We’ve got a lot of guys that can make a lot of plays.”

Cornerback Eric Stokes probably made the biggest one for Georgia’s defense. His interception and 27-yard return on Missouri’s opening possession set up the Bulldogs at the plus-23 and established the defensive tone for the game.

“It was big,” Smart said. “It started us off right and got the juice flowing.”

Stokes now has four interceptions and 94 yards in returns, while Georgia now has nine interceptions as a team, the most since 2017. The Bulldogs were unable to hold on to two other interception opportunities.

Combined ShapeCaption
Georgia defensive back Eric Stokes (27) runs with the ball after intercepting a pass intended for Missouri wide receiver Tauskie Dove (86) during the first half Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020, in Columbia, Mo. (L.G. Patterson/AP)

Credit: AP

Georgia defensive back Eric Stokes (27) runs with the ball after intercepting a pass intended for Missouri wide receiver Tauskie Dove (86) during the first half Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020, in Columbia, Mo. (L.G. Patterson/AP)

Credit: AP

Combined ShapeCaption
Georgia defensive back Eric Stokes (27) runs with the ball after intercepting a pass intended for Missouri wide receiver Tauskie Dove (86) during the first half Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020, in Columbia, Mo. (L.G. Patterson/AP)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Ericson does job at center

The Bulldogs decided to go with sophomore Warren Ericson at center on Saturday. Judging from Georgia’s offensive numbers and the fact that there were no faulty exchanges or turnovers, he did a very good job.

Georgia coaches had to decide between Ericson, a 6-4, 305-pound sophomore, and Sedrick Van Pran, a 6-4, 300-pound freshman who signed as the No. 1 center prospect in the country in 2020. But the Bulldogs went with Ericson’s overall experience, which includes a start at guard in the Sugar Bowl last January and action in all but one game this season.

ExploreJT Daniels shows more third-down magic

Hill took over for Trey Hill, who is out for the rest of the season following arthroscopic surgery on both knees last week.

The Bulldogs did experience some protection issues in the second quarter as Missouri brought all-out blitzes on quarterback JT Daniels. Daniels was sacked twice in that frame, raising his total in three games to seven.

Georgia and Ericson adjusted their protections in the second half and Daniels stayed upright the rest of the game.

Special teams break down

For just the second time all season, Georgia was clearly out-played by its opponent in the area of special teams. Among the Bulldogs’ breakdowns were a blocked punt that led to a Missouri touchdown, a muffed punt return and a missed field goal attempt.

Smart added the Georgia also missed some opportunities on returns. But, overall, it wasn’t what the Bulldogs’ fans are accustomed to seeing by the six units under the direction of first-year coordinator Scott Cochran.

“They created some adversity for us, and Eli (Drinkwitz, Missouri’s first-year coach) is doing an unbelievable job here,” Smart said.

ExploreGeorgia flips momentum late in first half

The first two breakdowns came in succession as normally sure-handed punt returner Kearis Jackson misjudged the ball in the blustery conditions. Ultimately, Zamir White recovered the ball for the Bulldogs, but only after it had bounded 12 yards further down the field to the 18.

Georgia was three-and-out on offense, setting up Jake Camarda to punt with his heels near the goal line. Missouri was able to breach Georgia’s protection in the middle of the line, and Mason Pack blocked the punt just as it came off Camarda’s foot. Will Norris scooped up the loose ball at the 5 and returned it 4 yards to the Georgia 1. The Tigers scored three plays later to tie the game at 14-all.

Midway through the fourth quarter, Georgia’s Jack Podlesny pushed a 43-yard field goal attempt wide right. It was inconsequential with the Bulldogs leading by 35 at the time. Podlesny, a walk-on who won the job in preseason camp, is 10-for-13 on the season.

Handling business

Georgia had to execute some last-minute adjustments on its trip to Columbia, Mo. The Bulldogs found out their regular hotel could not accommodate the entire traveling party, so they had to scramble to find a hotel that could. They ended up pretty much taking over a Hilton Garden Inn.

Trouble was, the hotel didn’t have the grand ballrooms in which the Bulldogs are accustomed to using to conduct Friday night walk-throughs. So, they improvised by walking about a football field away to an abandoned retail mall next door to assume their night-before routine.

“(The hotel) didn’t have the facilities to host us, but they did have a strip mall adjacent that was vacant,” Smart said. “They had some air-walls put up. We used it to eat. We used it for walk-through. But it was probably 75 yards away from the hotel, so every time we had to go use it to eat, walk-through, do meetings, we had to go through the elements. In the end may have helped us some, because it exposed us to the elements the entire time we were here yesterday and today.

“It brought me back to my Valdosta State days,” Smart continued. “Sometimes you’ve got to eat Beanie Weenies to go play a good game, and it doesn’t matter where you’re at or what you’ve got to do. You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do and go handle your business.”

Combined ShapeCaption
Georgia running back Zamir White (3) runs with the ball during the first half against Missouri Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020, in Columbia, Mo. (L.G. Patterson/AP)

Credit: AP

Georgia running back Zamir White (3) runs with the ball during the first half against Missouri Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020, in Columbia, Mo. (L.G. Patterson/AP)

Credit: AP

Combined ShapeCaption
Georgia running back Zamir White (3) runs with the ball during the first half against Missouri Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020, in Columbia, Mo. (L.G. Patterson/AP)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Running the rock

The Bulldogs had a respectable 71 rushing yards on 19 attempts in the first half, but tripled that in the second half to finish with 316 yards for the game, thanks to Zamir White and Daijun Edwards.

White, the redshirt sophomore starter, got 44 yards on his first two carries of the second half and led Georgia with 126 yards on 12 attempts. White passed the century mark with a 43-yard TD scamper to make it 35-14 in the third quarter. It was his third career game of 100 or more yards.

Daijun Edwards finished things off for the Bulldogs. Entering the game late in the third quarter and playing all the fourth, Edwards recorded the first 100-yard game of his career with 103 on 11 carries. He also scored his first career touchdown a 6-yard run 14 seconds into the fourth quarter.

It marked the first time since the 2018 Kentucky game that the Bulldogs had a pair of backs go over 100 yards. That day it was D’Andre Swift (157) and Elijah Holyfield (117).

Sophomore Kenny McIntosh also got in on the act with 58 yards on 11 attempts, including a 2-yard TD run in the first quarter.

James Cook became the first Georgia back since D’Andre Swift in 2018 to have both a TD catch and run in the same game. He had a nine-yard run to go with a 37-yard scoring reception in the first quarter.