No. 2 Georgia clears another SEC hurdle at Missouri, 43-29
COLUMBIA (AP) — Georgia coach Kirby Smart learned plenty in his days as an assistant under Alabama's Nick Saban.
Among those lessons was a tendency to nitpick victories. After the second-ranked Bulldogs beat Missouri 43-29, Smart bemoaned his defense's inability to stop the run and some costly mistakes that turned a potential blowout into the closest game of the season.
He was finally asked if it said something about Georgia that the team could play a little sloppy and still win by two touchdowns.
"It says that we can handle some adversity on the road, and that when we're challenged, we responded well," Smart said. "But I'm not pleased with the discipline and composure we played with."
Missouri (3-1, 0-1 Southeastern Conference) entered the game ranked seventh nationally in total offense and Drew Lock had 11 touchdown passes. Georgia (4-0, 2-0 SEC) held Lock without a touchdown pass, but yielded 172 yards rushing and four TDs on the ground.
"I would have thought they would struggle to run the ball," Smart said. "We pride ourselves on not allowing people to run the ball, and if you asked me, 'What's the one most disappointing thing?', it's that they were able to run the ball."
Georgia committed seven penalties for 66 yards — not an egregious total — but Smart was upset at the nature of the penalties. He dropped face-first to the turf in the third quarter when a roughing-the-passer penalty erased a third-down stop.
The Bulldogs opened a 20-7 halftime lead without an offensive touchdown. In the first quarter, Georgia cornerback Tyson Campbell stripped Missouri tight end Albert Okwuegbunam, scooped up the ball and returned it 68 yards for a touchdown — along the way, he picked up an accidental downfield block from an official against Lock. In the second quarter, Eric Stokes burst off the left side of the Georgia line, blocked a punt and returned it 8 yards for another TD.
"They were bailing us out in the first half," Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm said of the defense. "Even with the offensive struggles, it was awesome to look up and see 20 points up on the board."
Georgia couldn't quite shake Missouri in the second half, as the offenses matched each other score for score.
Fromm threw touchdown passes of 33 yards to Riley Ridley, 61 yards to Jeremiah Holloman and 54 yards to Mecole Hardman. Fromm completed 13 of 23 passes for 260 yards. Elijah Holyfield rushed 14 times for 90 yards, and D'Andre Swift added 16 carries for 71 yards.
Missouri's Larry Rountree III, Damarea Crockett, Tyler Badie and Lock all scoring rushing touchdowns. Lock completed 23 of 48 passes for 221 yards, and Okwuegbunam had nine catches for 81 yards.
"We spotted them 14 points," Missouri coach Barry Odom said. "Defensively, we did some good things. Was it good enough? No, because we didn't win the game."
Georgia: The Bulldogs have now cleared two divisional road hurdles on their way to the SEC championship game in Atlanta. Georgia won at South Carolina in week two.
Missouri: The Tigers had won nine straight regular-season games before falling to Georgia. The task now is avoiding a losing streak as Missouri continues the season's toughest stretch with games at South Carolina and No. 1 Alabama.
Last year, Missouri wide receiver Emanuel Hall burned Georgia's secondary for two 63-yard touchdown catches. Smart said star cornerback Deandre Baker made it clear all week he wanted to cover Hall, who entered the game with 430 receiving yards on the season. Baker dominated the matchup Saturday, holding Hall without a catch.
"I give thanks to my D-line, guys like D'Andre Walker, Tyler Clark and Brenton Cox coming off the edge giving the quarterback pressure and batting balls, sacks, strip-fumbles, things like that," Baker said. "It's another day at the office for me. I don't give myself too many pats on the back."
Odom said he questioned an official about whether Okwuegbunam's forward progress was stopped before Campbell stripped the ball from him.
"They called it like they saw it," Odom said. "I've got great trust in Southeastern Conference on the officials that we have and making the right call."
On Missouri's second drive, Tucker McCann's 41-yard field goal attempt was ruled wide right. The Tigers thought it was good.
"I don't know," Odom said. "I mean, everybody thought it was good. The officials said it wasn't. Must not have been."
There isn't much room for upward mobility for the second-ranked Bulldogs. The question is whether voters will penalize them for not dominating Missouri.
Georgia: The Bulldogs return home to play Tennessee.
Missouri: The Tigers have an off week before traveling to South Carolina.