My middle brother Jonathan, the family optimist, who in the midst of all the woe-is-us reaction to Todd Gurley’s suspension this week preferred to see the road game against Missouri as “an opportunity” for the Dawgs, texted me shortly after Saturday’s final whistle:
Fortunately, Mark Richt’s Bulldogs were of the same mind as Jon, with young tailbacks Nick Chubb and Brendan Douglas, quarterback Hutson Mason and, especially, the much-maligned Georgia defense stepping up big in the absence of Heisman candidate Gurley.
Me, I thought the Bulldogs might be able to pull a close one out, maybe by a field goal, if they pressured Mizzou QB Maty Mauk and got a decent showing from what was left of Georgia’s previously overstuffed tailback corps. But I never expected the kind of dominating performance that the Dawgs put on in the other Columbia against the defending SEC East champions.
34-0? That score had to raise a lot of eyebrows nationally in the wake of the Gurley headlines. As Richt said after the game, “you just don’t expect that coming in here to Missouri.”
Plus, Douglas, Georgia’s fifth-string tailback at the season’s start, gave ESPN one of those “SportsCenter” moments when he went airborn with his own Gurley-esque flip into the end zone on a 15-yard run that put the Bulldogs up 27-0.
The temptation was to headline this game “No Gurley? No Problem!” but that wasn’t really the case. The Dogs’ running game proved more than enough without No. 3, but it took a while to get going as the Mizzou defense crowded the box and consistently penetrated into the Georgia backfield early in the game.
Quite frequently Georgia found itself facing third-and-long, but that’s where Mason’s incrementally improved passing came into play, as the Dogs converted 12 of 20 third-down attempts (seven of 10 in the first half).
Mason was 22-of-28 passing (78 percent) for 156 yards and a touchdown on a perfectly thrown 9-yard fade to Michael Bennett.
Kudos are also due to Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo, who didn’t let the Tigers’ early success defending the run (forcing Georgia to go for field goals for its first couple of scores), deter him. He stuck with his game plan and smartly went hurry-up for most of the first half, which obviously took its toll on the Missouri defense. By the second half, the Tigers were wearing down and the Dogs started grinding out the yardage and eating up the clock.
Georgia ended up running 87 plays to Mizzou’s 43 (tying a Richt era Georgia record) with 58 of them being on the ground (most ever under Richt). The Dogs ended up keeping the ball 42:23 to Mizzou’s 17:37.
Georgia being able to run with Chubb replacing Gurley as the starter wasn’t all that big a surprise since the true freshman has been exciting fans all season long with his play in relief.
What was a surprise, however, was the shut-out pitched by Jeremy Pruitt’s defense, which had its best game in I can’t remember how long. The Dogs harassed Mauk all day, getting three sacks but, more importantly, forcing the Tigers’ QB into some bad decisions. He turned the ball over five times, with four interceptions and a fumble, completed nine of 21 passes for just 97 yards. (The last time Georgia had four interceptions in a game was in the 41-10 beatdown of Hawaii in the 2008 Sugar Bowl.)
Georgia’s D was especially outstanding on third down. The Tigers were 0-for-7 and managed only 147 yards overall. Mizzou had only four first downs in the first two quarters, and two of those came on the final drive of the half when the Dogs had dropped back into a prevent alignment.
The Tigers were held scoreless for the first time in 12 years and it was Georgia’s first road shutout over a ranked team since beating Florida in Jacksonville 44-0 in 1982 (and the first time in school history that the Dawgs did it on an opponent’s home field).
As for Gurley’s replacement, Chubb ran the ball 38 times for 143 yards and one touchdown, and caught four passes for another 31 yards. His 42 touches was only one less than the number of plays Missouri had as a team and were the most by a freshman since Herschel Walker had 43 carries against South Carolina in 1980. Chubb had the most carries by a Dawg since Verron Haynes had 39 carries against Tech in 2001. (Douglas added another 65 yards on 13 carries, including that spectacular touchdown leap.)
No, Georgia’s suspended superstar wasn’t forgotten, with fans holding up “Free Gurley” signs in the stands, and his explosiveness on first down especially was missed by the Bulldogs.
And anyone who supports UGA hopes fervently that he’ll be able to return. But if the speculation that Gurley’s career in Athens may be over proves true, you can mark down this day in Missouri as when the torch was ably passed.
As another UGA fan’s sign in the stands at Memorial Stadium said after the game, “Now I’m a Chubby girl.”
Feel free to share your own thoughts on Georgia’s big win over Mizzou.
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg