Facing the No. 1 team in the country on the road is always a tall task. Doing it without your starting quarterback is even harder.
On Saturday, the Missouri Tigers headed to Athens, Georgia with two inexperienced freshman quarterbacks for a game that most assumed would be a formality against a Georgia team that looks to be on a collision course for the College Football Playoff.
In an attempt to be aggressive and get some early momentum, Eli Drinkwitz elected to receive the ball after winning the coin toss.
With Tyler Macon under center, the offense appeared to have a bit of new life in the Tigers' first drive, but a false start near midfield halted their drive and forced a Grant McKinniss punt. However, the Missouri defense returned the favor forcing a Bulldog punt after some stellar play from Trajan Jeffcoat, who spent his fair share of time in the Georgia backfield on the drive.
The early momentum for the Tigers continued when Boo Smith took the Georgia punt into Georgia territory after reversing field, and Macon got his second chance of the day to lead the Missouri offense. Led by the freshman quarterback’s legs, the Tiger offense marched into the UGA red zone, but a miscommunication on third and short between Macon and RB Tyler Badie led to the Tigers having to settle for a field goal. When asked about the miscommunication in the postgame, Eli Drinkwitz said, “We were supposed to have a speed motion out of the backfield, we just didn’t get that done.”
From 36 yards out, Harrison Mevis snuck his kick just inside the left upright to put give the Tigers a 3-0 lead halfway through the first quarter. That kick was Mevis’ 20th consecutive make.
Following the Mevis field goal, it was the Missouri defense’s turn to keep the Tigers riding high. Despite Georgia moving the ball into Tiger territory, the much-maligned Missouri run defense showed serious improvement and forced a 4th and 6 at the Tigers 35.
On the fringe of field goal range, Kirby Smart and Todd Monken elected to go for it and test the Missouri defense one more time. Their decision proved to be the right one when QB Stetson Bennett delivered a gorgeous ball to the corner of the end zone that dropped right into the hands of WR Arian Smith.
Now trailing 7-3, Eli Drinkwitz elected to give RS-Freshman QB Brady Cook a chance to lead his offense. However, much like Macon’s first drive, a false start on 3rd and short set the Tigers back leading to another Tiger punt after a three-and-out. After the game, Drinkwitz pointed to penalties as one of the main things that hindered the Tigers. “We played with good enough effort, but we didn’t execute at a high enough level,” he said.
After nearly blocking Grant McKinniss’ first punt, the Bulldogs did block his second. Luckily for the Tigers, the Bulldogs were unable to recover the ball for a touchdown as it went out the back of the end zone for a safety.
With a 9-3 lead, the Bulldogs got the ball right back, and Stetson Bennett was ready to strike again. After three running plays to start the drive, the Bulldogs elected to dial up a deep shot, and Bennett once again was on the money, completing a 47-yard strike to WR Jermaine Burton.
The catch was originally ruled a touchdown, but after a replay review, it was deemed that Burton’s knee was down on the 1-yard line as he came down to secure the catch. Two plays later, Georgia brought in their 330 lb star nose tackle Jordan Davis to block for RB Zamir White, and the Bulldogs punched it in with 11:37 to play in the first half.
After one series of Brady Cook, Eli Drinkwitz returned to Tyler Macon with the Tigers trailing 16-3. Macon’s insertion back under center seemed to help the offense as they once again found themselves in UGA territory on the back of a defensive pass interference call and a heavy dose of both Tylers running the ball. However, on a 4th and 3 from the UGA 38, Drinkwitz elected to leave his offense on the field and go for it, and unlike Georgia earlier in the game, Missouri was less successful.
Tyler Macon did all he could to secure the first down as he tried to scramble, but he came up just inches short as the vaunted Georgia defense once again stifled the Missouri offense.
Seeing their lack of success running the ball, UGA continued to air it out. On the first play of the next drive, the Stetson Bennett deep ball struck again as he found RB Kenny McIntosh on a wheel route of the backfield for a 31-yard gain. UGA continued to march down the field getting to the Tigers’ 3-yard line behind a great catch-and-run from freshman TE Brock Bowers. But on the goal line, the Tigers' defense continued their surprisingly stellar play and stood strong, stopping the Bulldogs on 3 straight plays to force a field goal.
After the game, LB Chad Bailey was asked if the explosive Georgia passing game surprised him, but he pointed back to the Tigers’ success stopping the run as the reason Bennett was forced to use his arm more.
“Our plan was to come in and stop the run,” Bailey said. “Once we did that, they had to figure out something else, and that’s when they started throwing the ball.”
On ensuing Tiger drive, it was Brady Cook’s turn to lead the Tigers offense again, and like his first drive, the Tigers went 3-and-out after Cook was only able to pick up 8 yards on 3rd and 9.
After another Missouri punt, UGA had just under three minutes to go 74 yards, and for Stetson Bennett & Co., that would be no problem. James Cook found the end zone from the 1-yard line, and the Bulldogs took a 26-3 lead to halftime.
As the Tigers looked to start the second half with a positive, Eli Drinkwitz elected for a surprise onside kick. At first, it looked the Tigers had recovered the ball. However, after a replay review, it was determined that Jalani Williams initiated a block before the ball had traveled 10 yards. This nullified the Tigers’ recovery, and they were forced to rekick. On the ensuing kick, things went from bad to worse as the usually reliable Sean Koetting sent the kick out of bounds.
Getting the ball on their own 40, it took Stetson Bennett all of 5 plays to get the Bulldogs back in the endzone when he found Jermaine Burton on a screen pass. After the score, the Bulldogs’ lead was approaching “bring in the backups territory” at 33-3.
Missouri’s first drive of the second half was just as eventful as most of their others in the first half, as they went three and out again. When Georgia got the ball back, JT Daniels came in for Stetson Bennett, and the Bulldog offense continued to hum, as he led a touchdown drive of his own.
With the outcome of the game all but a formality, Brady Cook reentered for Missouri. A not-so-pretty, but very gutsy drive from Cook got the Tigers into field goal range as Cook repeatedly took a beating running the ball. However, for the first time all year, Harrison Mevis missed a field goal. From 48 yards out, Mevis pulled his kick from the right hash just a tad too much, and it deflected off the left upright.
The Tigers did get a nice defensive consolation prize, however, when Jaylon Carlies picked off JT Daniels after a deflected pass. Brady Cook brought the offense back out, and once again, it wasn’t pretty, but got the Tigers into field goal range. This time, Mevis split the uprights, but the Tigers still trailed 40-6.
With the fourth quarter winding down, Georgia added another field goal and polished off the blowout most thought this game would be. But Eli Drinkwitz was persistent about trying to score in the 2 minute drill. Led by a couple great catches by Tauskie Dove, Missouri marched all the way down to the Georgia goal line, but were stopped on four straight plays as the Sanford Stadium crowd erupted to support their heralded defense.
After the game, Drinkwitz’s messge to his team was one of unity. “We have a three game season left [and] our backs are against the wall,” he said. “We need everyone pushing in the same direction to get this team to a bowl game.”