The Georgia Bulldogs were seven-point favorites coming into their home game against the Missouri Tigers. They were favored despite missing top wide receivers Malcolm Mitchell, Justin Scott-Wesley and Michael Bennett and game-changing running backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, and despite pulling out an overtime squeaker on the road against SEC East basement dwellers Tennessee last weekend. But teams playing in the state of Georgia have been on a prodigious losing streak this week and who were the Dawgs to stop it?
It all started Monday when the Atlanta Braves blew a one-run lead in the eighth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers and were eliminated from the playoffs. The Bravos made it eight straight times they’ve made it to the playoffs without having won a series. That very same night, the Atlanta Falcons blew a fourth quarter lead to the New York Jets in the Georgia Dome and fell to 1-4 on the season.
Two days later, wide receiver Julio Jones was announced out for the rest of the season with a foot injury that would require surgery, and fellow wide receiver Roddy White has been ruled out of at least the Falcons’ next game with a hamstring injury. The Atlanta Dream even piled it on, as the team was eliminated from the WNBA Finals on Thursday, swept in three games.
So it was only right that the University of Georgia football team get in on the act.
After rallying from an 18-point halftime deficit to get the game within two points at the beginning of the fourth quarter, Georgia began a slow implosion that ultimately culminated in a 41-26 loss to the underdog Missouri Tigers.
“There’s still a lot of ball left to play [this season],” said senior quarterback Aaron Murray. “Who knows what happens? We’re not in control of our own destiny anymore in the East, but we’ve just got to keep winning, we’ve got to keep getting better every week.”
Senior wide receiver Rantavious Wooten and junior wide out Chris Conley stepped up admirably for Murray. Wooten finished with 4 catches for 83 yards and a touchdown and Conley had 5 catches for 60 yards. Freshmen running backs Brendan Douglas and J.J. Green also played well, but in the end, it wasn’t enough.
Murray fumbled in the second quarter after he was hit from the blind side by sophomore defensive lineman Shane Ray, leading to a fumble recovery touchdown, and threw two game-changing interceptions in the fourth quarter as Georgia tried to battle back.
Conley said that despite the miscues late in the game he still has his QB’s back.
“One thing I tell him is, ‘Hey, you’re my quarterback and I’ll go to battle with you every day,’ and I mean that from the bottom of my heart,” Conley said. “I give him everything I’ve got in practice just so that we can go out here and execute in games. So I believe in him and I think he’ll bounce back and be ready.”
Conley also refused to allow that it was the players who were not on the field that led to the game’s final outcome.
“Missouri played a really good game today, so I don’t want to take anything away from them, but when it comes down to the mistakes that we made, that’s on us,” he said. “You can’t blame it on Missouri, you can’t blame it on guys being out; that was just us today. And you can’t have those kind of errors if you want to play in a big time game.”
For Green, who was fourth on the Bulldogs’ depth chart to start the season, the presence of Gurley and Marshall on the sideline in street clothes provided nothing but inspiration.
“The injuries [were] not a factor [in the loss],” said Green, who rushed for 89 yards on 12 carries and hauled in another 42 yards through the air. “We all practice together. We look at [Gurley and Marshall] for motivation right now. They’re gonna speak to us like, ‘Yo, it’s your time. Let’s go. Let’s shine.’ So that’s all we do is pick each other up.”
Murray echoed those statements. Asked if he felt added pressure to play perfectly without weapons like Bennett, Scott-Wesley and Mitchell, he said that was not the case.
“I trust my guys,” Murray said, “[I]probably could’ve trusted them some more, but we have a ton of talent out there on the field, on the offensive side of the ball. We just missed some opportunities. Definitely turnovers killed us once again. You can’t have turnovers in a game like that.”
The loss puts Georgia at 3-1 in the SEC and 4-2 overall, looking up at Missouri (6-0; 2-0 SEC) and tied with Florida (4-2; 3-1 SEC) after Saturday’s loss to LSU.
Missouri’s senior quarterback James Franklin left the game in the fourth quarter with a hurt shoulder and in his absence the Tigers pulled out everything but the kitchen sink. Slot wide receiver Bud Sasser threw a 40-yard double pass touchdown to L’Damian Washington – who torched the Dawgs for 115 yards on seven catches with two touchdowns – to give Missouri the lead 34-26 and running back Henry Josey added another touchdown for good measure after the Murray interception set the Tigers up at the Georgia 33 yard line.
As for just how the Bulldogs will bounce back after a loss that takes their climb to an SEC East title out of their hands and makes a shot at the national championship all but impossible, Green says it’s easy.
“It’s football,” said the freshman. “You’re gonna pick your head up after a loss. This is not Little League no more where you cry and you don’t play no more. We play this team every year. So after this game we’ve got another game, Vandy, they not gonna feel sorry for us. They’re gonna come out there and try to beat us.”
The Bulldogs next game is against Vanderbilt at noon in Nashville on Oct. 19.