Some notes and observations after rewatching the TV broadcast of Georgia's 41-20 win at Missouri on Saturday night:
• Mark Richt said after the game that the play of the night might have been when Richard Samuel sniffed out a fake punt in the fourth quarter. After rewatching the game, I’m conviced Richt was correct -- despite the enormous plays Jarvis Jones made after Samuel's big stop.
I couldn’t believe they tried the play at the time and I’m still mystified by the decision. My best guess is that Missouri coach Gary Pinkel was feeling a bit desperate because his defense was having so much trouble slowing down a Georgia offense that had scored touchdowns on three of the previous four possessions. But Missouri was still fully in the game, moving the ball well overall and didn’t need to take such a big risk. The Tigers were down only 24-20 at the time.
Let’s look at the play itself. Tigers punter Trey Barrow caught the ball at the Missouri 23-yard line, and he needed to run 23 yards to the 46 to get a first down. He lined up with three blockers ahead of him, but I don’t think he’d have gotten more than 8 to 10 yards even if Samuel hadn’t made the play. Josh Harvey-Clemons was closing in on Barrow, too. But Samuel fought off a block by Jimmy Burge and stopped Barrow after a 3-yard gain. It was a great play. Probably the first time in his career that Samuel made the play of the game, but his timing was pretty good there. Georgia turned the good field position into a field goal and a 27-20 lead.
• Man, Missouri could hardly have had a worse first series as an SEC team. Three bad snaps, one of which soared over QB James Franklin’s head for a 24-yard loss, and a false-start penalty. Then punt out from the back of the end zone. They had another bad snap on third down on the next series, which might have contributed to the play coming up short and resulted in another punt.
Todd Grantham should send a Christmas card to center Mitch Morse, who had four bad snaps in the first two series and later shifted to tackle and stunk there, too.
• You might have said Georgia’s tailback didn’t run tough before, but you can’t say it now. Todd Gurley pounds defenders when he runs. Keith Marshall is also not afraid of contact, but it really jumps out at you with Gurley. Kid’s just tough to bring down.
Speaking of Gurley, he had a huge hole to hit on his biggest run of the night. Georgia was only up 27-20 in the fourth quarter and Mizzou had UGA pinned at its own 8, but Dallas Lee cleared out his man and a pulling Arthur Lynch knocked another defender out of the way. Michael Bennett also occupied a man downfield to help Gurley break the run 44 yards to midfield and flip field position. Although UGA later punted, Jones picked off a pass a couple plays later to help put the game away.
• Georgia was clearly having some difficulty early in the game figuring out the defensive look Missouri was throwing at them. ESPN TV analyst Matt Millen called the defensive scheme “the amoeba.” Lots of activity at the line. Hard to tell who’s rushing and who’s dropping.
• I thought I’d point out a couple of excellent Mike Bobo play calls from the first half -- one that worked and one that did not.
Georgia had second-and-4 at the Mizzou 35 and he set up a perfect screen in the flat to fullback Merritt Hall. Tight end Jay Rome seemed to do a good job of picking off his defender and Hall could have run for a long time if QB Aaron Murray had just hit him with the pass. He overthrew Hall and the ball bounced off his fingertips incomplete. Murray did the same thing to Samuel on a similar play the previous week against Buffalo. That swing pass to the fullback worked well a couple of times last year with Bruce Figgins and it was there both times they’ve tried it thus far. Gotta get the ball in the back’s hands, though.
The screen to Tavarres King that set up Georgia’s second-quarter touchdown was brilliant work. They caught Mizzou in a middle blitz, hit King with that pass and it was off to the races as both MLBs had blitzed. Center David Andrews deserves credit for sprinting out to pick the one defender who might have had a play on King, helping him break the play for a 34-yard gain to the Mizzou 2. He would have scored, but it looked like Marlon Brown didn’t know where King was and let his man free to make the tackle.
• Just for fun, let’s recap all of the memorable plays that Jones made against Missouri. (He was named SEC Defensive Player of the Week and Walter Camp National Player of the Week today, by the way, in what had to be the most dominant individual defensive performance I’ve seen in person.):
• Prevents a Mizzou first down by stopping QB Corbin Berkstresser a yard short of a first down on third-and-3
• Pressures Franklin into grounding penalty on first-and-10 at Mizzou 25
• Tees off on Franklin on read option keeper for short gain
• Franklin runs for 14-yard gain to Georgia 14. Jones tracks him down and strips ball loose, but Franklin falls on loose ball
• Two plays later, Jones is immediately in backfield and Franklin and Kendial Lawrence don’t complete an option handoff on second-and-5 at Georgia 9. Jones hits Lawrence and knocks ball backward and Georgia LB Amarlo Herrera recovers at Georgia 28.
• Hits Franklin in backfield while throwing. Play initially ruled a fumble (which Georgia’s Cornelius Washington recovered at the Mizzou 27), but referees overturn call on replay and say Franklin’s arm was moving forward when Jones knocked the ball loose. Incomplete pass.
• Teams up with Abry Jones to stop Franklin run for no gain. Jones’ leg whips into Mizzou LT Elvis Fisher’s knee while making the tackle and knocks him out of game. (Pinkel later told reporters it was an MCL issue with Fisher, a sixth-year senior who missed all of last season with a knee injury).
• Jones tees off on Franklin on a 5-yard run from the Mizzou 30. Jones hits him so hard that he launches Franklin for about 3 yards of the 5-yard gain.
• Franklin nearly throws interception across middle to Damian Swann. Throws under heavy pressure from Jones.
• Lines up as middle linebacker and Franklin throws interception directly to him. Was aiming for L’Damian Washington behind him -- surely he didn’t expect Jarvis to stay right where he was -- and threw the ball straight into Jones’ hands. I thought he scored a touchdown on the return, but he was ruled down at the 1, setting up a Gurley TD that made it 34-20.
• Very next series, Jones runs down Franklin from behind on third-and-2 at the 31. Swats ball loose in backfield as he raises his arm to throw, creating fumble that Jordan Jenkins eventually recovers at Missouri’s 5. TV commentators likened this play to one like Lawrence Taylor would have made in the old days, which was a cool comparison. Jenkins made a very agile play to dive on this ball. The freshman quietly had a pretty good game, too. Ken Malcome would run for a TD three plays later that put game out of reach, 41-20. (Malcome had a huge hole to run through, by the way).
• Missouri is going to get Franklin killed. I think that’s one adjustment they’re going to have to make with him in their new league. The announcers kept saying Mizzou folks call him “The Tank,” but running him head first into SEC defensive players is not a recipe for keeping him healthy all season -- particularly with their beat-up offensive line. They’ve still got South Carolina, Alabama, Florida and Tennessee on the schedule. If they don’t protect him a little better and teach him how to avoid big hits more often, he’s not going to be upright at the end of the season. Hope they do because he’s a fun player to watch.
• This was by no means a perfect game by the offensive line, but they protected pretty well in the second half and cleared big holes on some of the biggest plays. I thought Missouri’s defensive movement had the linemen a bit spooked. I’m sure the crowd noise -- and the fact that everybody but Lee and Chris Burnette was making his first road start at his current position -- had an impact, as well.
• Murray was also fantastic in the second half. Watching the game live, I thought he played really poorly in the first half, but I didn’t feel that way quite as much after watching TV copy. A whole bunch of penalties and other miscues canceled out a couple of third-down conversions and kept Georgia’s down-and-distance situations screwed up for most of the half.
He had a few bad throws in the first half, no doubt, but his second half was spectacular. I must have written down “great throw” three or four times while taking notes on the second half. In particular, his two-point pass to Bennett and 11-yard TD pass to Brown -- both in traffic -- were extremely impressive. You’d obviously like to see him put two good halves together, but he was on fire in the second half.
Give Georgia’s defense credit though. While Murray and the offense were accounting for next to nothing early and putting the defense in some terrible situations, the defense kept UGA in the game until the offense found its legs. There were some shaky moments late in the second quarter, the third quarter and about half of the fourth, but they made the plays when they needed them. Having Jones on the field is a good thing.
• Grantham made a comment on Sunday’s teleconference that Missouri’s 69-yard TD pass from Franklin to Washington in the third quarter was not all CB Devin Bowman’s fault. Bowman was beaten on the play, no doubt, but it looked like he thought he might have safety help behind him and he did not. Shawn Williams broke outside in one direction to help Malcolm Mitchell on Gahn McGaffie and Connor Norman broke outside the other direction to help Swann on Marcus Lucas. Don’t know who should have been playing center field, but nobody did. Missouri ran a similar play later, with Washington running behind LB Christian Robinson, but Franklin overthrew him and Norman nearly made an interception.