Following the heartbreaking defeat at the hands of Auburn, Missouri returned to Columbia to play host to the #1 team in the nation. Georgia (5-0), who had gotten off to a hot start to the season, outscoring their opponents 169-32 through four games behind an efficient offense and stalwart defense.
The Tigers had a golden opportunity to right all the wrongs of this season with a win over the Dawgs in front of 58,165 in attendance at Faurot Field.
They were oh-so-close to doing just that, falling to the Bulldogs by a score of 26-22.
Missouri came out of the gates firing in the first half. They stunned Georgia with a ferocity on defense that was apparent from the first play. The defense had three tackles for loss and one sack in the opening half, as they had Stetson Bennett and the Bulldog offense looking frazzled for the first time this season. UGA’s star tight end Brock Bowers (5 catches, 66 yards) was largely contained, and Bennett missed open receivers. At one point in the first quarter, he even mishandled a RB-QB exchange on a handoff, which Mizzou recovered for a turnover (their first of two in the game).
“There was no fear,” safety Joseph Charleston said. “You could tell that from before the game and all the way through. I’m really proud of this team.”
The struggles from the Bulldog rushing attack did not help their offense’s efforts. The Tigers held them to just 33 rushing yards in the first half, and it was thanks to some great penetration from the defensive front seven, specifically linebacker Ty’Ron Hopper. He forced a fumble and led the team with five tackles in the first half.
The result of those defensive efforts: a first quarter shutout against a team that averaged 38.6 points per game.
“Tenacity and effort, I feel like that’s what showed tonight,” defensive end Isaiah McGuire said regarding the defense’s play. “I’m proud to go to war with those guys.”
The defense played with a noticeable edge, and it translated to the offense. The running game struggled early on, but Brady Cook produced big plays with his escapability in the pocket. He evaded defenders and found Dominic Lovett downfield multiple times in the first half, showing levels of growth in his ability to keep his eyes downfield.
Lovett shined in the first half, and he finished with 84 yards on the night. The SEC’s leading receiver and Cook paired up to drive Mizzou down the field, but the issue was what occurred when they got within scoring position.
After scoring a touchdown off of a Tyler Stephens’ one-handed catch (his first TD as a Tiger) at the 12:43 mark of the first quarter, Mizzou settled for two field goals down the stretch. One came after Cody Schrader scampered for a 63-yard run all the way down to the one-yard line, in large part thanks to a false start penalty.
While points are never a bad thing, touchdowns were needed to take down the #1 team in the land. Those missed opportunities would come back to bite the Tigers.
Mizzou went into halftime leading 16-6, a resounding success considering how both of these teams entered the game. Still, points had been left on the board, and the Dawgs were sure to battle back.
They did just that. Stetson Bennett (24/44, 312 passing yards) led a Bulldog scoring drive on their first possession coming out of the half. They took advantage of the Mizzou defense’s aggressive tendencies with some screen passes on their drive, showing a halftime adjustment from Kirby Smart and co.
However, the Tiger defense bowed their neck in the red zone, as Hopper and Darius Robinson combined to sack Bennett and force another field goal. The Bulldogs made it 16-9 with 5:53 left in the third quarter.
Cook would respond with a 46-yard strike to Mookie Cooper downfield. That set up another Mevis field goal, this one from 52-yards out. The “Thiccer Kicker” rebounded from his rough performances against ACU and Auburn, going 5/5 on field goals on the night.
“He’s a stud,” Eliah Drinkwitz said. “Nobody doubted him, I’ve always believed in him.”
The Bulldogs hit a field goal with 2:15 left in the third quarter to cut the lead back to seven in favor of the Tigers. The Missouri defense still had not allowed a touchdown, consistently getting stops in the red zone.
“Defensively we just continued to battle, battle, battle,” Drinkwitz said.
The Tigers opened the fourth quarter with yet another Mevis field goal. He drilled this one from 56-yards out, extending the Tiger lead back out to 10 following a balanced drive from the Tiger offense.
However, when they needed it most, Georgia got their first touchdown of the game. Some strong running from Kendall Milton (61 yards, 1 TD) led the way on a pivotal scoring drive for the Bulldogs. Milton punched in a touchdown from 1-yard out with 9:39 left in the game to make it 22-19 in favor of Missouri.
An offensive hands to the face call would stall Mizzou’s ensuing drive, giving the ball back to Georgia with 7:15 remaining in the game. The Bulldogs took advantage of the momentum shift, driving down the field behind a couple of great throws from Bennett. Daijun Edwards ran in another touchdown, putting Georgia ahead 26-22. The Tigers had 4:03 to score a touchdown and reclaim the lead.
Cook threw off-target on his three pass attempts the next drive, and the Tigers were forced to punt with 3:39 left in the game.
“At the end of the day, I have to find one more play to give us a chance to win,” Drinkwitz said.
The Bulldogs ran out the clock behind the running of Edwards, as the Tiger defense could not get a stop. Georgia would defeat Missouri by a score of 26-22.
“We can play with anybody,” Charleston said. “If we do the little things, we can beat anybody.”
Regardless of the loss, there was a lot more good than bad to take away from this one. The defense played with a noticeable energy and aggressiveness, and the offense showed great potential. Not to mention, the atmosphere at Faurot was electric. There is plenty to build off of going forward.
“We’re gonna keep pressing on,” Drinkwitz said. “It’s what we do, it’s what we’re gonna do.”
Senior leader Barrett Banister agreed, citing how impressive the team’s performance was a week removed from the Auburn game.
“I think this whole entire team, we could have taken this ship a whole ‘nother direction,” Banister said regarding the team’s response. “We just went toe-to-toe with the #1 team in the country.”
Missouri will venture to Gainesville next Saturday at 11 a.m. (CST) to take on the Florida Gators (3-2). The Gators will be in search of their first SEC win of the season and some revenge for the overtime loss in Columbia in 2021. The game can be found on ESPNU.