Georgia knew that it was going to be cold and knew Missouri was going to be tough. But the No. 9-ranked Bulldogs were tougher Saturday, surging in the second half for a statement-making 49-14 victory over the No. 25 Tigers in frigid Columbia, Mo.
Georgia coach Kirby Smart, usually reserved in both his praise and criticism after games, was effusive in commending for his team for its resilient display. He used the word “proud” five times in the first sentence of his postgame news conference.
“Some really tough conditions to play in today, and it just goes to show you that not everybody across the country loves football the way our kids do,” Smart said. “They love it at Georgia. The leaders on this team said they wanted to play well. They practiced really hard this week. I thought Monday and Tuesday were our two best practices of the entire year. We had a lot of juice and energy, and that carried over into the game.”
Georgia was particularly energetic on third downs, making the majority of their big plays on that critical down. Quarterback JT Daniels continued to be a magician in those situations, helping the Bulldogs to convert of eight of the 11 times while he was in the game against a Missouri defense that led the SEC on that down. What’s more, with two more third-down touchdown passes, Daniels improved to 16-of-19 passing for 270 yards and six touchdowns passing on third downs since becoming Georgia’s quarterback three games ago.
Overall, Daniels would finish his day 14 seconds into the fourth quarter with 299 yards and three touchdowns on 16-of-27 passing. He and receiver George Pickens proved to be a particularly effective pair, hooking up five times for 126 yards and two scores.
“That was the first look you really got where nobody’s really playing help on George,” Daniels said. “That meant George one-on-one, and that’s what it looks like when it’s George one-on-one.”
That duo provided the exclamation point on a remarkable surge that turned a tight contest into a blowout. After playing to a 14-14 tie with less than a minute remaining in the first half, the Bulldogs outscored Missouri 35-0 from then until the first few seconds of the fourth quarter. When freshman running back Daijun Edwards scored the first touchdown of his career with 14:46 to play, Georgia’s starters went to the sidelines, and the Bulldogs’ backups played out the string.
The victory moves the Bulldogs to 7-2 in this truncated, pandemic-played season, and assured them of finishing second in the SEC East. Georgia is scheduled to finish the regular season at noon Saturday with Senior Day at Sanford Stadium.
Missouri, in its first season under coach Eli Drinkwitz, falls to 5-4. The Tigers close the season on the road against Mississippi State next week.
The Bulldogs rolled up 615 yards of offense, including 316 on the ground. Zamir White finished with 126 yards rushing on 12 carries and a touchdown while the game was still undecided, while Edwards finished the game with 103 yards, all but a few of it coming in the fourth quarter.
Missouri running back Larry Rountree, the SEC’s second-leading rusher, finished with 16 yards on 14 carries. Georgia’s defense limited Missouri, which had scored 91 points in the past two games, to 200 total yards.
The game turned in the matter of 3½ minutes spanning the first and second halves.
Missouri’s Mason Pack blocked the punt of Georgia’s Jake Camarda with 2:14 remaining in the second quarter. Will Norris recovered at the Bulldogs’ 1, and it took the Tigers three plays to get into the end zone from there. That tied the score at 14-14 with 1:20 to go until halftime.
Georgia needed only 37 seconds to answer the score. After facing third-and-10 at Georgia’s 25, Daniels completed four consecutive passes, the last of which Pickens high-pointed in the end zone. With 43 seconds still remaining in the half, the Bulldogs were back ahead 21-14.
That was crucial as Georgia was set to get the ball to start the second half. Again, Daniels found Pickens in a critical situation. He hit the 6-foot-3, 200-pound sophomore in stride on a slant pass on third-and-10, and Pickens took it 31 yards for another score. Just 2:11 into the third quarter, the Bulldogs now led 28-14.
Making the momentous swing possible was Smart’s decision to call timeout with Missouri at the Georgia 1 with 1:24 remaining.
“I’m calling that timeout to make sure that Eli doesn’t milk it for 40 seconds,” Smart said. “We were able to get the ball back and able to have enough time on the clock to go down and score. That made it a two-for-one starting with possession in the second half and that was the biggest difference in the game, a 14-point swing.”
Georgia’s defense seemed to ramp it up at that point as well. The Bulldogs forced short-possession punts on Missouri’s next four offensive series and turned converted them into more three touchdowns. The result was a 35-0 run over the course of 15:57, and a slobber-knocker was converted into a rout.
“They really didn’t do much the whole game, to be honest,” said senior linebacker Monty Rice, one of 24 UGA defenders to record tackles in Saturday’s game. “We just kept doing what we’ve done the whole year. We really wanted to stop the run because 34 had been hot coming in.”
No. 34 is Missouri senior Larry Rountree, the second-leading rusher in the SEC. He finished with 16 yards on 14 carries, an average 1.1-yard per attempt. Missouri finished with only 200 yards of offense.
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