Five Takeaways: Missouri humbled in Georgia defeat

Missouri’s 2020 home schedule ended just the way it started: with a loss to a top-ten team.

A palpable sense of excitement and energy reverberated around Faurot Field as Missouri ran out of the tunnel Saturday morning.

The noise of 10,830 fans cut through the chilly December air. For a few minutes, it even felt as if the Tigers had enough in the tank to spring a surprise upset on No. 9 Georgia.

But what looked like a brewing upset near the end of the first half turned into a demolition in Columbia as the Bulldogs pitched a second-half shutout to cruise to an easy 49-14 win.

“We lost, but hope’s not lost,” Missouri coach Eli Drinkwitz said. “Like I told them, I’m disappointed in the result, but I’m not disappointed in the team at all. We got our butt whipped, that’s part of it, but how you bounce back as a person defines who you are as a person, as a team and as a coach.”

Missouri’s run game grounds to a halt

After back-to-back games with over 220 yards on the ground, the Missouri running attack couldn’t get anything going against Georgia.

On Saturday, running back Larry Rountree III finished with just 16 yards on 14 carries, with his longest play being a 21-yard reception down the right sideline. Drinkwitz used junior Tyler Badie to complement Rountree quite a bit over the past month, but the shifty back didn’t run the ball a single time against the Bulldogs and was targeted just three times in the passing game.

“They rushed for 316 yards and we rushed for 22, so they just won both sides of the line of scrimmage,” Drinkwitz said.

Missouri’s running back room couldn’t match Georgia’s trio of running backs and one of the best offensive lines in college football. Play after play, the Bulldogs’ offensive linemen completely sealed off the Tigers defensive line which allowed redshirt sophomore Zamir White, junior James Cook and sophomore Kenny McIntosh to exploit large gaps in the defense.

Unable to control the game on the ground, Missouri needed to rely on the arm of quarterback Connor Bazelak, which put the Tigers in way too many third-and-long situations.

“[Stopping the run] gives the edge and pass rushers the opportunity to tee off on the pass and not have to worry about the run when we’re struggling,” Bazelak said, “Some games are like that, but you’ve got to find a way to go down the field and score points.”

The Tigers struggled to score points all afternoon. The offense became too one-dimensional with the lack of ground game. And Georgia made them pay.

Missouri’s offense goes cold at the wrong time

The Bulldogs’ defense shone once again in Columbia.

Outside of a few chunk plays, Georgia completely shut down Missouri’s offense. The Tigers couldn’t find holes in the run game and their short passes consistently went for little to no gain. They finished with 200 yards of offense which flattered a unit that couldn’t get anything going.

Promising drives often ended around midfield. Kicker and Arkansas-game hero Harrison Mevis couldn’t even attempt a single field goal.

“We didn’t give [the offense] enough opportunities,” Drinkwitz said. “We didn’t get two of our better players, Larry [Rountree III] and [Tyler] Badie, in the game. That’s on me, I got to do a better job of getting those guys in the game and I got to call good plays.”

When Missouri scored its 14 points, it came when the defense or special teams set the Tigers up in good field position.

Drinkwitz schemed a play that allowed receiver Keke Chism to pass the ball for 29 yards to set his team up in the red zone. After freshman Will Norris blocked a punt, the Tigers got the ball on their own one-yard line and capitalized on their opportunity to tie the game.

Then Georgia pitched a second-half shutout, not allowing the Tigers any sign of life.

“There were times where we looked good as an offense and played okay,” Bazelak said. “But in the second half we didn’t get it done and put our defense in a tough spot.”

But, hey, the Tigers scored 14 more points against this Bulldogs’ defense than they did in Athens, Ga., last season.

Sometimes, it’s the little things in life.

Lack of depth takes its toll in a grueling all-SEC season

The Tigers played a top-10 team with just 59 scholarship players available; The normal allotted amount is 85. Between COVID-19 contact tracing, players deciding to enter the transfer portal and opt-outs, Missouri played a majority of its games significantly undermanned.

“We just don’t have enough depth right now,” Drinkwitz said. “We’re going to have to find a way to manufacture some depth. We’ve been able to do that when the offense is able to keep the ball, but we weren’t able to keep the ball away from [Georgia] today and that exposed our defense.”

Just this past week Missouri senior edge rusher Tre Williams entered the transfer portal after a five-tackle performance against Arkansas. Many others have entered the portal throughout the 2020 season.

Players are beat up. Nine SEC games take a toll on any team and Drinkwitz admitted that his team is no different. The Tigers started practicing on July 24 and with just over a week until Christmas, Missouri has one more road game and a potential bowl game left to play.

The best teams are the ones with plenty of depth. Teams like Georgia, Florida and Alabama can go two-to-three-deep at every position and not worry too much about a drop-off.

Missouri just isn’t there yet.

Struggles to get off the field doomed Missouri

Try as they might, the Tigers just had absolutely no answer when it came to stopping the Bulldogs on third down.

Georgia went eight for 13 on third downs and picked up plenty of chunk plays.

A third-and-eight turned into an easy 37-yard touchdown pass to Cook. A third-and-two early in the second half turned into a 43-yard house call when White bounced to the left and left every defender in his wake. Another third-and-long went to receiver George Pickens for an easy 31-yard touchdown.

Georgia took full advantage play after play. The Bulldogs could run and pass almost at will all game, and those long touchdowns and runs on third-and-long proved to be backbreakers as Georgia pulled away from Missouri.

Missouri still has a long way to go to reach the upper echelon of the SEC

With a guaranteed .500 record and the opportunity to play in a bowl game, Missouri’s inaugural season under Drinkwitz can be chalked up as a success in many ways.

The Tigers will finish no lower than third in the SEC East this season, but games against the conference’s elite offered Missouri multiple wakeup calls and showed just how much needs to be done before it can think about breaking into the division’s upper tier.

“The margins in this league are very small,” Missouri receiver Barrett Banister said. “[Georgia and Florida], whenever we played them, they made the little plays that they needed to make which turned into bigger plays.”

Missouri’s humbling defeat to Georgia felt a lot like their prior defeat: a 41-17 loss to the Gators in Gainesville, Florida. In both games, the Tigers hung around for a half and showed some fight before the more talented team, at least on paper, pulled away.

“Our goal is to be competitive in the SEC East,” Drinkwitz said. “And right now, two of the top teams in the SEC East we weren’t competitive with, so we got our work cut out for us. That starts off with me in recruiting and player development.”

Missouri showed a lot of progress this season; There is plenty for Drinkwitz and his coaching staff to feel good about. Georgia provided a good late-season test to show the Tigers exactly where they stand.

The Tigers are closing the talent gap, but they are still closer to the middle of the pack than the upper echelon in the Power Five’s most competitive conference.

Edited by Jack Soble | jsoble@themaneater.com

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