Welcome back to “Five Plays”, where I’ll break down the previous week’s football game in, you guessed it, five plays. Over the past ten seasons, the average college football team has run around 70-73 plays per game, but most of them don’t matter as much as others. Oftentimes, there’s a select few that can tell the story of an entire game, and I’m here to break them down. To the film room!
One meme recap to describe Mizzou’s 30-21 loss to Georgia:
Hello darkness, my old friend. I’ve come to talk with you again.
When Dillon Bell muffed the opening kickoff from Harrison Mevis, the glass half-full part of me thought that was an omen. The fumble would be representative of Georgia losing their rein over the SEC East, and that a new era would be ushered in by afternoon’s end.
Instead, it was Mizzou that lost control over a game they certainly could’ve won. It was a personality trait that’d plagued the Tigers in the past, but one they’d seemed to have gotten rid of this season.
The offensive line committed a handful of penalties. Connor Tollison was lucky that his late missnaps hit Brady Cook right in the chest, and he’s also lucky that Theo Wease came up with two huge catches. Marquis Johnson caught a kickoff at the forbidden yard line (the goal-line); it’s where returners don’t know if going backwards and kneeling down in the end zone for a touchback will be a safety, so they play it safe and return it, where they usually get blasted inside of their own 10-yard line (which is exactly what happened). Worst of all, Brady Cook threw two costly interceptions, the first of which completely changed the game.
It’s a shame that Saturday’s result clouded a lot of positives. Cody Schrader had an exceptional afternoon. Luther Burden, Theo Wease and Mookie Cooper each had stellar afternoons. Defensively, Mizzou made Georgia extremely uncomfortable, albeit a few leaks here and there. But alas, all that seems to have unfortunately been swept under the rug of defeat.
Here are five plays that defined Saturday’s loss to the Bulldogs:
Play #1: The play that changed the game
It was the most terrible, horrible, no good, very bad play of the entire season. No single moment sunk the hearts of Mizzou nation more than this. On what was arguably the most important offensive drive of the last decade, hope quickly turned into horror.
Nazir Stackhouse with the BIG MAN INT pic.twitter.com/cP1OklIlBn— 247Sports (@247Sports) November 4, 2023
The play design looked solid from the start. It was a fake reverse into a pass. Georgia had been fooled on a similar play last week against Florida, but they didn’t seem to get crossed up this time around, as each receiver that went to the left side of the field seemed to be covered.
This was fine, because Cook had proven that he can make not-disastrous decisions when a play broke down.
(Narrator voice) It was not fine.
Cook was targeting Brett Norfleet, who’d leaked into the flat after blocking on the right side (which, side note, he did an excellent job of doing once again on Saturday). There were two issues with this decision: one was that Mekhi Miller, the decoy on the fake reverse, was wide open on the opposite side of the field with no red jersey within several yards of him (Daylen Everette had backed way off of Miller once he realized that he was a decoy).
Cook had gone to a decoy once before in the season; remember when Luther Burden caught that swing pass against Kansas State and took it to the house? That was never supposed to happen; the intention was for the Wildcat secondary to bite on the fake screen, which would open up a receiver deep. But sensing immediate pressure from K-State, Cook smartly got the ball to Burden, who took care of the rest.
However, while it would’ve been beneficial if Cook looked to the right, it’s unfair to say that was a major mishap by Cook. The play was supposed to go to the left. But the second issue (and the much worse one) was that even if the ball made it to Norfleet, the freshman would’ve gotten popped by Smael Mondon, Jr. I know that because, if you look on the far left side of the screen the moment Stackhouse intercepts the ball, Norfleet gets laid out. The ball should’ve been thrown away or in the dirt, away from anywhere that would give Georgia an extra offensive possession.
It was an eerie moment of “what the heck was that?” from Cook that unfortunately came at the worst possible time. He’d built a reputation of elite ball security over the first eight games of the season that came crashing down with a singular brain fart.
I truly hope this isn’t what defines Cook’s season, as he’s done too much good for that to be the case. Unfortunately, it’s what ended up defining the game.
Play #2: Here comes the Charleston train
Many great teams have gotten physically overwhelmed by Georgia.
In their past two contests against UGA, Mizzou has proven to not be one of those teams.
Last season, there wasn’t one specific moment that showed that the Tigers weren’t afraid of the big bad Bulldogs. Rather, it was an entire game’s worth of valiant efforts that proved Mizzou wasn’t going to be walked over.
This time around, the Tigers had that moment.
In the third quarter, Joseph Charleston did something that reminded me of Kobe Bryant. Back in the 2008 Olympics, the United States basketball team was playing Spain in the gold medal game. Bryant had told his teammates that, on the first play of the game, he was going to bulldoze his then-Laker teammate and Spanish superstar Pau Gasol. He knew the first play Spain was going to run – it involved Gasol setting a screen that Bryant would run over – and wanted to set the tone immediately. He did exactly that. The tone was set. The US went on to capture gold.
Here, Charleston did a similar thing; although the tone had already been mostly set by the third quarter, it reinforced it in emphatic fashion. In BK’s recruiting reset on Charleston back in 2022, he called him a chameleon at safety. While the chameleon tag was regarding his positional versatility, Charleston still entered chameleon mode on this play, as seen by the fact that Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint didn’t see him until he was violently bulldozed for a loss of yardage.
Mizzou’s defense did a wonderful job of anticipating the screen, and you can see it even before the snap. Immediately upon Rosemy-Jacksaint motioning to the right, Charleston and Chuck Hicks started beelining towards him. With two Georgia blockers picking up Hicks and Kris Abrams-Draine, Charleston had a free shot at Rosemy-Jacksaint, which he took full advantage of. The blitz-happy mentality Blake Baker has drilled into the defense since his arrival last season showed its full colors.
Daylan Carnell also came flying off the edge, and I really wish he had gotten his hands up, because he probably would’ve deflected the pass. After all, he’d done it earlier in the game on a screen pass to Dominic Lovett; while he couldn’t get his hands on the pass (Lovett caught it and scored), the spirit of havoc was carried out nicely with the raised limbs.
While Mizzou’s havoc rate of 8% fell far beneath their total from the previous two weeks (both 15%), offense didn’t come too easy for the Bulldogs. Carson Beck got sacked three times, which was half of his season total heading into Saturday. While Ladd McConkey and Daijun Edwards had stellar outings, no Georgia skill player proved too much for Mizzou to handle.
However, these positive plays for Mizzou’s defense
Play #3: Georgia resets the tone
Immediately following Charleston’s hit stick, Beck found McConkey for a 33-yard gain.
It was one of multiple instances of Mizzou failing to stack positive defensive plays. The Columbia Missourian’s Adam Ryerson was the first to make this insight.
Missouri has been incapable of stacking big plays on defense in the second half.— Adam Ryerson (@AdamRyerson_) November 4, 2023
Big tackle = big gain on the next play.
Here, Dreydon Norwood is guarding McConkey, who runs a deep post. Norwood isn’t quite able to jump the route in time, and with Mizzou’s four-man rush getting stonewalled, Beck has time to load up and fire a bullet that sets UGA up for an eventual touchdown.
In the wake of Brock Bowers’ absence, McConkey excelled once again as the top option in Georgia’s passing attack, hauling in seven passes for 95 yards. Plays like his 33-yard catch were the result of Mizzou failing to make Georgia continuously uncomfortable. It showed up in stretches, especially on early downs. The Tigers forced the Bulldogs into third and eight-plus seven times on Saturday, the most they’d faced in a game all season.
However, there were plenty of times where Beck and the rest of the Georgia offense looked a little too undeterred, especially after MU’s defense made a good play. With an offense that prides itself on rhythm, allowing them to achieve it as little as possible was going to be key for Mizzou. While the Bulldogs weren’t humming like they were last week against Florida, they found enough rhythm to quell the upset bid.
This is a nitpick, but one of those things that would’ve really helped Mizzou on Saturday.
Play #4: Cody Schrader finds the end zone
Consistently elite play is a hot commodity in sports.
Cody Schrader has provided just that.
On Saturday, he became the first player to rush for over 100 yards against Georgia this season. He continued running tough, just as he has in every other game he’s played for Mizzou. The highlight of his productive afternoon came early in the fourth quarter. With the Tigers needing to capitalize in the red zone, Schrader pulled the road underdogs back within one possession with another rugged run.
Cody Schrader runs it then Luther Burden catches the 2-point conversion to make it a 3-point game in Athens pic.twitter.com/R78bfhM4Ir— 247Sports (@247Sports) November 4, 2023
This play was a combination of deception and toughness. The motion by Burden makes the left side a little less crowded, as he takes a red jersey with him to the opposite side of the field. The decoy routes by Wease and Cooper take two Georgia defenders all the way to the end zone, clearing Schrader’s path even more. Xavier Delgado and Javon Foster both win their matchups, Wease and Cooper both seal their defenders in the end zone, and after Javon Bullard goes flying trying to tackle Schrader, the graduate 18-wheeler going downhill finds paydirt. It was a testament to the mentality Mizzou had built all season and carried into Athens on Saturday.
“We fight,” Schrader said after the game. “We’re never going to give up.”
Play #5: Georgia gets Burden’d
Let’s end on a positive note, because there were plenty of positives from Saturday. One was Luther Burden before he got injured.
Against Kansas State, a long Luther Burden touchdown opened up the scoring. Not only that, it was an omen. It showed that these weren’t the same Mizzou Tigers who’d lay down against another strong opponent. They would show no fear throwing the ball, testing a talented secondary with talented receivers.
They tried it again on Saturday, and once again, it worked.
watching Luther Burden play football is fun pic.twitter.com/jMKpRRS6tJ— Liam (@Blutman27) November 4, 2023
Georgia is playing zone coverage here; that’s why Burden is able to get by the first red jersey in his way. UGA’s Cover 2 becomes Cover 1 when Mekhi Miller’s deep route pulls one safety all the way to the left sideline. The safety tasked with guarding Burden, Daylen Everette, can’t keep up with Burden’s speed. The offensive line gives Cook plenty of time to elevate in the pocket, wind up and deliver a moonshot that hits Burden almost perfectly in stride. Tigers take the lead. Cook hits the Jordan shrug. Life is good.
Unfortunately, life started going downhill not too long after, as Burden got hurt. Although he stayed in the game, it was clear that Burden wasn’t at 100%. The threat that’d burdened opposing defenses so greatly was diminished, as was the collective danger of Mizzou’s passing attack.
This is contrary to what I said a few paragraphs ago about ending on a positive note, but it’s the harsh truth. Stuff happens. That’s the way life goes. For most of the season, the stuff that had happened was very kind to Mizzou. On Saturday, it showed a much more unforgiving side. Despite that, the Tigers will look to put this one behind them and move on.
“I don’t believe in losing, I believe in learning,” Schrader said. “After we watch the tape, I think we can learn about how we can execute better ... it’s going to hurt, that’s what losing is, but we’re going to learn from this.”