Mizzou eats their words in loss to Bulldogs

COLUMBIA, Mo. — The spurned favorite savored the moment when the
lippy newcomer learned what real-man football in the Southeastern
Conference is all about.

It was seen with Georgia coach Mark
Richt shaking his fists while screaming toward a pocket of red in the
corner of Memorial Stadium after playing buzzkill to Missouri’s historic
Saturday. It was seen with quarterback Aaron Murray and linebacker
Christian Robinson hoisting a dry-erase board that read, “GROWN MAN
FOOTBALL” scribbled in black marker and cornerback Damian Swann tailing
them with another one that stated, fittingly, “Welcome To The SEC.”

Consider
yourself introduced, Missouri, after No. 7 Georgia’s 41-20 thumping on a
night when the Tigers were a trendy pick to enter their new conference
with a strut befitting of their game-week hype.

After the game,
Swann and relentless linebacker Jarvis Jones posed in front of the
“Welcome To The SEC” board in the bowels of the stadium on their walk
back to the locker room. The moment concluded a statement and an
education.

“Way to go, Jarvis,” a male Georgia fan yelled nearby, as the two players moved forward. “Way to go, Dawgs!”

The
Bulldogs’ pride was tested in a raucous setting, and they responded
with a punch that will serve as a lesson for the Tigers in the months
ahead: Don’t inspire an opponent who has bruised others around the block
— the returning SEC East champion, no less — unless your play can match
your talk.  

That wasn’t the case in Missouri’s SEC debut.
Eccentric Tigers defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson tossed gasoline on a
spark when he popped off after a season-opening victory over
Southeastern Louisiana and called Georgia “old-man football.” Richt
played coy on the topic throughout the week and even considered the
label a compliment.

But Saturday’s postgame scene on Georgia’s
sideline suggested those words did more than sting. They lit a fire.
That was bad news for the black and gold, and Missouri burned when the
Bulldogs scored 32 of the next 35 points after trailing 17-9 early in
the third quarter.

Grown-man football. Grown-man lessons.

“No,
we try not to focus on what’s said, the trashtalk in pregame,” said
Murray, who finished 22-of-35 passing with 242 yards, three touchdowns
and one interception. “But that definitely did add a little incentive.”

He chuckled.

“I
still don’t exactly know what old-man football is,” Murray continued.
“We were just saying all week, ‘Hey, we play grown-man football, and
we’re going to go out there and show it and work hard.’ And I think we
did that today.”

Grown-man football gave Georgia reason to keep
grown-up goals. The Bulldogs entered Saturday as the SEC East favorite,
and nothing about that projection changed on the bus ride out. These
assumptions held true: Murray is solid when he’s on (138 of his passing
yards came in the second half); Jones is a terror when he’s free (he had
one sack, one forced fumble and an interception); and perhaps Missouri
wasn’t ready for the spotlight as commissioner Mike Slive kept a
watchful eye from the press box.

Georgia’s performance Saturday
was about defending its honor. It was about reminding Missouri that it
was the program of two national championships, 12 SEC titles, two
Heisman Trophy winners and 72 All-Americans. It was about knocking a
chatty newbie down a peg – one that never won more than a Big 12 North
title in its former league — and reminding the Tigers that there’s a
long climb ahead once their fresh FieldTurf and slick uniforms receive
more wear.  

“They understand now,” Jones said. “We don’t have to
send a message. We won. Not to take away from them — they’re a good
ballclub. They play hard. They’re a well-organized program. But this is
SEC football, and we’re going to play hard every week. And that’s what
we gave them.”

Georgia also gave them an insight into tests to come.

The
Bulldogs played without four defensive starters — safety Bacarri Rambo,
cornerback Sanders Commings, and linebackers Chase Vasser and Alec
Ogletree — and the Tigers offense still struggled. There were botched
snaps, a fight to establish a rushing game (finishing with 102 yards),
and quarterback James Franklin found a rhythm only after being held to a
paltry 122 passing yards in the first half.

Grown-man football. Grown-man wakeup call.  

“No,
we’re not trying to send a message,” Richt said. “We’re just trying to
win SEC games. Win games in the East and, hopefully, be in position to
get back to Atlanta (for the SEC Championship Game) when the time comes.
But there’s a long way to go.”

Yes, there is, but Georgia
preserved its chances by leaving mid-Missouri like it arrived: As the
SEC East favorite eager to humble a naïve newcomer.

Mission accomplished.

After all, grown-man football has bite.

You can follow Andrew Astleford on Twitter @aastleford
or email him at aastleford@gmail.com.