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Missouri loses SEC debut to No. 7 Georgia

By Terez A. Paylor, The Kansas City Star –

COLUMBIA, MO. — For three months, Missouri talked the talk. First it was T.J. Moe who proclaimed the Tigers unafraid of the big, bad SEC, then it was several others; including boisterous defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson.

But on Saturday, beneath the Memorial Stadium lights, it finally came time to walk the walk. Seventh-ranked Georgia would be the test, and America would be watching. Could the speedy, unranked Tigers hang with the Bulldogs physically? Or would Georgia’s “old-man” style of football — as Richardson put it last week — win out?

With every drive, every hard hit, every big play, it quickly became clear that the answer to the former was unequivocally yes; but unfortunately for Missouri, so was the answer to the latter, as Georgia outworked Missouri in the second half and handed the Tigers a bitter 41-20 loss in their SEC debut.

After trailing Missouri 10-9 at halftime, the Bulldogs ultimately showed their resolve. Missouri surged to a 17-9 third-quarter lead after James Franklin threw deep over the middle to receiver L’Damian Washington for a 69-yard touchdown.

Predictably, the play sent the sellout crowd of 71,004 into a frenzy, and confidence was never higher. But Georgia would respond, as quarterback Aaron Murray led the Bulldogs on a 12-play, 75-yard scoring drive that tied the score at 17-17. Missouri followed with a field goal, but Georgia took the lead on its next drive with an 11-yard touchdown pass to receiver Marlon Moore.

The Tigers trailed 24-20 entering the fourth, and the Tigers called a fake punt on fourth and 11 from their 35. Punter Trey Barrow only got three yards, and Georgia kicked a field goal for a 27-20 lead.

It was at that point that Missouri’s offense largely became dormant. A promising drive wilted in Georgia territory, and after a fourth-and-4 became a fourth-and-9 due to a false start, the Tigers punted.

Missouri’s defense held firm, but it all came crashing down on Missouri’s next possession, as Franklin was intercepted by star linebacker Jarvis Jones, setting up a short touchdown run by Todd Gurley that gave Georgia a 34-20 lead with 7 minutes, 34 seconds left.

Another turnover — again caused by Jones, who sacked and stripped Franklin — set up the final score, a 6-yard run by Ken Malcolme.

The flood of second-half points was in direct contrast to the first half, when defense — complete with plenty of hard hits and big stops — ruled supreme. Franklin was constantly under fire, the Tigers’ defense played fast and physical, and by the end of the first quarter, both teams had combined for 61 total yards in 30 plays.

An interception by linebacker Donovan Bonner set up Missouri’s first score, a 38-yard field goal by Andrew Baggett. Georgia got on the board with a 52-yard field goal by true freshman Marshall Morgan, and MU wasted a golden opportunity to answer when it missed a 43-yard field goal late in the quarter.

Franklin hit Marcus Lucas over the middle for a 41-yard touchdown strike, and Georgia answered with a 2-yard touchdown pass from Murray to Brown. The Bulldogs missed the extra point, and Missouri took a 10-9 lead into the break.

Around the six-minute mark — and with the Bulldogs leading by 21 — the sold-out allotment of Georgia fans in the stadium made this simple-yet-powerful fact known, as they combined to serenade the home team with chants of “old-man football.”

Their Bulldogs proceeded to flex their muscles one last time, as they stuffed Missouri — which could only muster 78 yards in 38 carries on the day — on fourth and short in Georgia territory, the final bitter pill in a bitter loss for Missouri, which drops to 1-1 before a home game next Saturday against Arizona State.

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