Tricks, blocked punt not nearly enough in 49-14 loss to Georgia

The Bulldogs gained 615 yards to the Tigers’ 200.

Coach Eli Drinkwitz’s team looked outmatched when the Tigers went down 14-0 to Georgia. They were, but they weren’t ready to give up just yet.

Like it had so many times this season, Missouri fought back. Some trickery here, some special teams playmaking there and the Tigers had tied the game with a minute to go in the half.

“I think the defense was starting to play well, stop the run and stop the pass,” quarterback Connor Bazelak said. “They gave us an opportunity to move the ball down the field and put points on the board, and we did that for a couple drives.”

Unfortunately for Missouri, the tie game lasted all of 43 seconds. The Tigers entered the second half trailing and unraveled shortly thereafter against the uber-talented Bulldogs, and the game was over by the end of the third quarter.

Missouri lost to Georgia 49-14, dropping their record to 5-4.

Much like in Missouri’s last loss — a 41-17 loss to Florida — this game showed the considerable gap in talent between the upstart bunch from Columbia and two powerhouses of the SEC East.

“We just don’t have to have enough depth right now,” Drinkwitz said. “We’re gonna 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 them today and it just exposed our defense.”

Missouri began the game in the worst possible way. Larry Rountree III dropped a pass on the Tigers’ first play from scrimmage and Bazelak followed it with an interception.

Bazelak’s throw would have been a difficult catch for tight end Niko Hea, but it did slip through his hands. After the slight deflection, the ball wound up with cornerback Eric Stokes, who returned it to Missouri’s 23-yard line.

“We were supposed to run a clear-out with the X receiver there,” Drinkwitz said. “He obviously didn’t get the corner cleared out. So I don’t think there was anything else Connor could have done…. The second play of the game wasn’t a very good play call. It’s not the X receiver’s fault, not the Y receiver’s fault. My fault.”

From there, Georgia showcased their elite offensive line. They ran 11 times on two drives with little resistance, scoring on the ground once with running back Kenny McIntosh.

To cap off their second drive, Georgia quarterback JT Daniels stood in the pocket with no pressure. Missouri’s five-man rush got nowhere. He stepped up, found running back James Cook over the middle and watched as Cook blew past a tackler and took it the distance.

To compensate for their inability to pressure the quarterback with a generic scheme, defensive coordinator Ryan Walters opened his playbook and brought blitz after blitz, especially on third downs.

It worked, at least in the second quarter. On the next opportunity he had, Walters sent the house, and Martez Manuel came in unblocked for the sack. Later in the half, Tyree Gillespie had the same opportunity and he laid the boom on Daniels, forcing an underthrow.

The entire stadium felt Gillespie’s hit, and it energized the Missouri bench. It also forced a punt, which was blocked by senior Mason Pack and recovered by freshman Will Norris inside the 5-yard line.

“That was probably the biggest special teams play we’ve had all year,” Bazelak said. “It was good to see them come through in a big game, but we’ve gotta capitalize on that stuff.”

Drinkwitz saw Walters dip into his bag of tricks and thought he might as well do the same. After Manuel’s sack, he called a double-pass from Bazelak to receiver Keke Chism to tight end Messiah Swinson.

Chism underthrew the pass, which prevented a touchdown, but Georgia fell for it so much Swinson caught it anyway.

Those schematic changes were the reason the game was tied with less than a minute to go in the half, but as Drinkwitz said earlier in the season, trick plays don’t usually win games in the SEC.

“It felt good, being at halftime 21-14,” Drinkwitz said. “I told our team ‘Hey, we’re right in position.’ Needed to come out and get a stop, and we didn’t.”

Georgia showed in the second half that Missouri has a long way to go before it can realistically compete with the top teams in the SEC. In particular, the battle in the trenches swung hard in the Bulldogs’ favor.

The Bulldogs started three four-star recruits — per 247 Sports — on their offensive line today, as well as a left tackle in Jamaree Salyer who came to Athens as a top-10 recruit in the country. That line paved the way for Georgia’s top four running backs to gain 331 yards on the ground, good for 8.275 yards per carry.

A reporter asked Drinkwitz where his team had the biggest disadvantage.

“The trenches,” he said. “Both sides of the line of scrimmage.”

Offensively, that was obvious, too. Rountree was smothered every time he reached the line of scrimmage by a ferocious Georgia defensive front.

“They pretty much showed us the looks that we thought we were gonna get,” offensive lineman Case Cook said. “We just gotta do a better job of executing all across the board.”

Drinkwitz said on Tuesday that this game would serve as a measuring stick between Missouri and the blue-blood programs. He was right, and to his credit, he’s not hiding from that fact.

“Good football team,” Drinkwitz said. “Congrats to them. We’re just not there right now, with our program.”

Missouri will look to seal a winning regular-season record in Drinkwitz’s first season as head coach when they take on Mississippi State in Starkville next week. That game will kick off at 2:30 p.m. CST in advance of the SEC Championship between Alabama and Florida.

Edited by Hope Davis | hdavis@themaneater.com

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