Georgia football: Plenty to like about the Bulldogs' win over Missouri
CFP No. 6 Georgia hasn’t officially clinched the SEC East yet. But after a 27-0 win over Missouri on Saturday night at Sanford Stadium, it might as well be making its plans to head to Atlanta on Dec. 7. The Bulldogs sit at 5-1 in conference play, 1.5 games ahead of of Florida, which shut out Vanderbilt. One more SEC win — or another Florida loss — will give the Bulldogs their 3rd consecutive division title and a spot in the SEC Championship.
Looking more short-term, could Georgia crack the top 4 of Tuesday’s College Football Playoff rankings with 2 of the nation’s unbeaten teams handed their first losses? No. 3 Alabama fell to No. 2 LSU at home while No. 4 Penn State suffered a road loss at No. 17 Minnesota. Alabama’s loss likely won’t knock it down too far, while an impressive win by No. 5 Clemson on the road at N.C. State could likely confirm its own top 4 ranking. There’s sure to be plenty of debate leading up to Tuesday, but whatever the rankings say, there will still be some disagreement.
All that aside, the Dawgs are simply left to control their style of play down the stretch, starting Saturday at Missouri. Winning their remaining regular-season games and the conference championship at Mercedes-Benz Stadium next month looks to be their most direct path to the Playoff right now.
As for Saturday’s win, there was plenty to like:
1. Georgia’s suffocating defense
With all due respect to the shutout it pitched against Arkansas State and its performances against Murray State and Kentucky, this might have been its best defensive performance this season. Outside of a final drive that was led by 3rd-string quarterback Connor Bazelak, it just never looked like Mizzou was really a threat to do much of anything on offense as backup Taylor Powell started behind center in place of the injured Kelly Bryant.
You can basically take your pick from a host of stats. Mizzou’s rushing attack was rendered ineffective, picking up just 50 yards on 24 carries. Powell was just 10-of-22 for 84 yards. Mizzou made it past midfield just twice: in the 2nd half on a drive that ended with a Richard LeCounte interception, and on its final drive of the game that saw it fail to get it into the end zone despite ending up at Georgia’s 1-yard line. It was just 4-of-14 on 3rd down and ended the night with 198 yards of total offense, by far the fewest gained by a Georgia opponent this year.
We’ll never know how much having Bryant healthy would have helped, but Dan Lanning’s defense put on a master class Saturday. And on a night where the offense probably left more points on the field than it should have prior to the 4th quarter, the Dawgs’ performance on the other side of the football more than made up for it.
2. George Pickens puts on a show … again
Last week’s shining star on the receiving corps against Florida in Jacksonville was Lawrence Cager. On Saturday against Mizzou, it was George Pickens.
The true freshman, who came in with 3 games of 75 yards or more in receiving, didn’t quite get to the 75-yard mark on Saturday, but he finished with 5 catches for 67 yards and his first multiple touchdown game. (He would have topped 100 yards, though, but he lined up incorrectly, which wiped out a 68-yard TD catch.)
His first TD came on a nice pass over the middle from Jake Fromm, which Pickens was able to stretch past the goal line for Georgia’s first touchdown of the game. His second came early in the 4th, as he was just able to get a foot inbounds while making the grab just inside the left portion of the end zone. And it looked like he’d have a 3rd as Fromm hit him in stride on the Dawgs’ very next possession if not for a formation call that killed the play.
It’s easy to see Pickens develop as a top receiving threat not only further along in his career but throughout the remainder of the season if Cager is out for any length of time. He has looked sharp as a freshman. Imagine him in 2020 with a year under his belt.
3. Lawrence Cager’s massive first half
Cager, unfortunately, didn’t see this game out after sustaining what appeared to be a left arm injury before halftime, but he deserves plenty of accolades for his incredible abbreviated stat line: 6 catches for 97 yards. After his 7-catch, 132-yard and 1 touchdown performance against Florida, he appeared to be on pace for yet another career game.
The Bulldogs still cruised to victory thanks in part to Pickens and a stellar showing from the defense, but you can’t help but wonder about the numbers the grad transfer from Miami would have finished with. Fortunately, according to Kirby Smart in his postgame press conference, Cager “will be fine” and ready to go for Auburn.