Georgia’s Gut-Check Moment
By BJ Bennett
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After a first half where they scored just nine points and trailed entering intermission, Georgia's potential and pride was suddenly on display.
This past Saturday night in Columbia, Missouri, Georgia did more than just officially welcome the Tigers to the Southeastern Conference. Through trial and error, steps deliberate and sometimes difficult, the highly-touted Bulldogs got some much-needed early season affirmation. After a first half where they scored just nine points and trailed entering intermission, Georgia's potential and pride was suddenly on display.
"I thought it was a really, really tough assignment to go out there with the fans being all excited, which they were," stated former Georgia head football coach and athletic director, Vince Dooley. "In addition to them being excited, they had a good football team to be excited about. Their quarterback James Franklin was good, they have great receivers, they kept you off balance. And their defense really played well, played so well against Georgia that we had to go to little short passes. Murray got sacked two or three times trying to throw long."
The break was an adjustment period for the Bulldogs and, more so, a very real gut check. A team fit with with championship expectations in the pre-season was 750 miles away from home and 30 minutes away from an 0-1 conference start. Florida's win over Texas A&M earlier in the day had put extra pressure on Georgia. The visitors had to respond. With their backs against the proverbial wall, the Bulldogs looked the way of their tried and true veteran leaders.
"They ended up changing the gameplan as they went along, then came back and dominated the fourth quarter, primarily through the play of one particular fella, Jarvis Jones, who I'm sure was the defensive player of the week in the country if there ever was one. Jarvis Jones was a real hero and it was a great win for Georgia. Jones is really fun to watch, he really goes at it hard," Dooley continued.
With Jones leading the charge, Georgia's defense forced three key turnovers and limited Franklin and Missouri to just 18% (4-of-18) on third down tries. The Tigers were held scoreless in a lopsided red-and-black fourth quarter. Missouri's last touchdown of the evening came with 11:48 to play in the third period. Considering the opponent, the performance of Todd Grantham's defensive unit was a strong one. Considering the roster attrition, it was even more impressive.
"I think the other point about this win is that Georgia went out and won the ball game despite the fact that they had three of four starters out on defense, and two of them are all-star performers," Dooley detailed. "So to go out and win the ball game under those circumstances, you could see that it took everybody going the extra mile."
On offense, quarterback Aaron Murray threw three touchdown passes, receiver Marlon Brown had perhaps the best game of his career and Todd Gurley and Ken Malcome each had touchdown runs. In addition to Jones' dominance on defense, Amarlo Herrera reached double figures in tackles, Cornelius Washington had 2.5 tackles for loss and Jordan Jenkins recovered a fumble. On special teams, kicker Marshall Morgan drilled a 52-yarder and Richard Samuel made a critical stop on an attempted fake punt run. All hands were on deck in the victory.
Looking ahead, there is great reason for optimism for a program that last claimed a conference championship in 2005 and hasn't won a national title since Dooley's famed run in 1980. Positives from last Saturday night are easy to find. Needed areas of improvement are as well. Georgia will have to put halves together in future games and will undoubtedly need more consistent production out of a young-but-talented stable of offensive linemen and running backs.
"That was positive, on the one hand, that they were able to make the adjustments. Mike Bobo, I think, is a very fine coordinator. Sometimes they get overly criticized in that position. I thought he made a terrific adjustment. But it also provides some concerns too, because it means we weren't blocking very well. We didn't run the ball very well. We had one good run of about 40 or 50 yards from Gurley, but outside of that we couldn't throw the ball too well because we didn't protect as well as we should have. We had to turn to something that was working and we stayed with that in the second half and it really made the difference," Dooley acknowledged.
The Bulldogs, like all teams, have facets of their play they need to work on. That said they have, as folks in the Peach State might say, all of the "fixins" of a championship team. Mark Richt is the fourth-winningest active FBS college football coach. In Murray, Jones and company, the talent is comparable to anyone else in the country. Perhaps most importantly, Georgia has a certain feel and flow.
"I like this team. They are very cohesive, their morale is good. They are in good shape. They got all of the intangibles going for them," Dooley explained. "The defense has just been absolutely great and Murray did a terrific job of having to adjust to be able to throw those great, sharp passes that he did. I like this Georgia football team."
One game is hardly the sample size needed to book reservations or pencil any team in for anywhere. The Bulldogs will have their hands full with the likes of Florida, South Carolina and Tennessee and will need to progress as the season does this fall. Florida Atlantic awaits this Saturday, followed by a tricky test against Vanderbilt the next weekend. For now, however, this is a football team with considerable momentum.
"I think when you go out to an environment like that and you have some of the things that happened to them and you don't get rattled and are able to 'finish the drill' as coach Richt always says and do it without the other players, I think that's a great example of a team that has responded and come closer together under the adversity of losing three or four starters on defense," Dooley added. "It was just great. You can tell that this is a very unified Georgia football team that will serve them well as the season goes on."
The Bulldogs found themselves in the second-half of their road victory over Missouri. In doing so, they found reason to believe.