A score and a stand
ATHENS, Ga. -- No. 25-Missouri (6-0, 2-0 SEC) upended seventh-ranked Georgia (4-2, 3-1 SEC) 41-26 on Saturday at Sanford Stadium. What drew the most reaction wasn't that the Tigers won -- they were a chic pick for the upset -- but how they won.
Missouri relied on an un-Gary Pinkel-like play call on a wide-receiver pass and an opportunistic defensive effort in forcing four turnovers, two that iced the game at a 15-point margin.
A 28-10 lead evaporated early in the fourth quarter, as Georgia cut into Missouri's advantage to make it a 28-26 game. Already without its top cornerback since the second quarter when E.J. Gaines strained his right quadriceps, Missouri quarterback James Franklin joined his teammate on the sideline and then in the locker room. Franklin separated his throwing shoulder as he was slung to the ground after throwing a ball out of bounds. With 10:35 remaining in the game, redshirt freshman Maty Mauk entered the game.
A two-point lead never seemed like such a burden.
Moving the ball on the ground, Missouri faced a second-and-one at Georgia's 40. From there, a play was called in which the chain-of-command defers credit.
First, Gary Pinkel said he wasn't aware of the call. Offensive coordinator Josh Henson said receivers coach Pat Washington talked him into it.
"Yeah, it's a dangerous call," Henson said. "Second and two. If you lose yardage or somebody comes off -- but I felt like we had to be aggressive to try to go score and win the game.
"Credit to Coach Washington, he talked me into running it."
"Colt 45" is the play call. Three receivers lined up toward Missouri's sideline, bunched. Mauk threw a long lateral to Bud Sasser. Sasser, eligible to throw the ball, looked downfield and saw Washington in single-coverage on Georgia freshman cornerback Shaq Wiggins.
It didn't fool Georgia. Wiggins ran with Washington. He was the only read on that play. But during the week, Sasser told Washington that he would make the throw if he saw single coverage.
"You even with anybody, I'm gonna throw you the ball," Washington remembered Sasser saying. "He was like, 'I know you're gonna beat him.'"
"I don't know if I beat the guy. I was a little bit behind him or whatnot. It was just a great throw by Bud."
"Bud just trusts L'Damian, that's what, he trusts him, because he'll go get it," Pinkel said.
"I just thought Bud made a good decision," Henson said. "I felt, one, I felt the guys who blocked, and Marcus Lucas and Jimmie Hunt, that's one of those things that you don't notice. But those guys did a great job of blocking, so those have been triggering really hard, coming up and making plays on our swing game. I thought they did a great job blocking and they gave Bud time. At the end of the day, I just felt like Bud just kind of looked down there and said, 'Well, it's one-on-one. Let's take a shot at it, you know?'
"Glad he did."
Sasser to Washington. Colt 45 picked up 40 yards and a touchdown, pushing Missouri's lead to 34-26 after a missed extra point.
The burden remained on the defense, a unit that gave up 16 unanswered points to start the second half. In the first half, the Tigers' defense forced two fumbles at key junctures. A blind-side sack by Shane Ray jarred the ball loose out of Aaron Murray's right hand. Michael Sam picked it up and returned it 21 yards for a touchdown.
On Georgia's final second-quarter drive, Lucas Vincent forced a fumble and Markus Golden recovered it at Missouri's six-yard line, preserving the 28-10 lead into halftime.
But in the second half, Missouri's defense couldn't stop Georgia, who relied on power running and play-action passes to score on three of its first four possessions.
Colt 45 brought the momentum. Missouri's defense capitalized.
Georgia's next drive. Golden pressured Murray on first down, forcing an incompletion. A run for six yards set up a third-and-four attempt for the Bulldogs. Golden again got into the backfield, this time sacking Murray, resulting in a punt. Missouri punted on its next possession, again forcing the defense's hands. On first down, Randy Ponder intercepted Murray at Georgia's 24 yard line.
Four plays later, Henry Josey scored from seven-yards out.
Only 2:18 remained in the game. Effectively, it was over. But Missouri's defense -- the bend-but-don't-break cliche of 2013 -- erased any chance for a comeback. Kentrell Brothers intercepted Murray at Missouri's 18-yard line with 49 seconds remaining.
"We just go out there and we do our jobs," Vincent said. "When the game's on the line, that's what we want, is for it to be in our hands. We want to show them that the offense isn't the only one doing stuff out there. We can go out there and make big plays, too."
The statistics show that difference in defensive perception versus reality. Murray threw for 290 yards and three touchdowns. Georgia's ground game, without its top two running backs, ran for 164 yards on 31 carries. Georgia as a team outgained Missouri 454 to 375.
Bend but don't break. It's a negative term to Kony Ealy, but not for the obvious reason.
"I think it's negative because we have been giving up quite a bit of yards," Ealy said. "But it's more pressure on the quarterback, on the pass rush. We've been going after the passer, on the quarterback, and that's what we've been getting, and it causes some gaps to open up. We'll correct it when we get on the field for the next game."
Missouri finished with just two sacks and four tackles for loss. But on the most important drives of the game, the defense broke Georgia to preserve its first top-ten road win since 1982.
BIG PLAY, PART THREE: The double-pass to Washington helped push Missouri to a win, but his catch on third-and-nine on the same drive allowed the play to take place. Pinkel specifically mentioned that play after the game.
"That third-and-nine catch that L'Damian Washington had on that drive -- so we're gonna punt the football after it (if it was incomplete)," Pinkel said. "If it was fourth-and-one, I may have gone for it. But if we wouldn't have converted that, we were going to punt the ball right back to them. And then after that, Josh calls the double pass, and I OK it, and it worked."
INJURIES HIT MISSOURI: After the game, Pinkel said James Franklin suffered a separation of his shoulder, but the team didn't know the severity of the injury. Franklin returned to the sideline after the game, as his teammates celebrated on the field. He had his right arm in a sling, and was visibly upset. Ealy at one point approached him, hugged him and seemed to console him. Franklin walked off the field into the tunnel and gave fans a thumbs up.
Pinkel shied away from specifically saying how long Franklin will be out, but he said, "I'm not going to give you a number that's not accurate, but I would suggest that for the next few weeks, he would be out."
Pinkel said Gaines has a strained quad, but like Franklin, the team doesn't know the severity of the injury. Gaines had his right leg in a brace and used crutches after the game.
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