Here are my Pick-Six Opinions on Missouri’s 30-21 loss at Georgia on Saturday at Sanford Stadium in Athens GA.
1. It was all there for Mizzou but the Tigers couldn’t finish strong. Driving nine plays for 75 yards for a Cody Schrader touchdown run and the ensuing two-point conversion, Missouri cut Georgia’s lead to three points early in the fourth quarter. It was go time. An upset victory was there for the Tigers to seize. The opposite occurred. MU faded down the stretch. Too many negative plays. Not enough positive plays. Two brutal interceptions lobbed by Mizzou quarterback Brady Cook on MU’s last two possessions. A glorious opportunity faded away.
The Cook interceptions will be remembered more than the other screw-ups, but Cook was hardly alone in blundering the chance to stun Georgia with its first regular-season loss since Nov. 7, 2020 – and first defeat at home since Dec. 7, 2019.
There were three false starts, a bunch of missed tackles, a botched kickoff return by Marquis Johnson, and several instances of center Connor Tollison creating chaos by snapping the ball to Cook too early. The kickoff fiasco really hurt. There was also a holding penalty called on the play, which forced Mizzou to begin the possession at its own 3-yard line. Five snaps later the Tigers punted, and Georgia marched 67 yards in 10 plays for the touchdown that put the Dawgs up by 11 points, 24-13. At that point the Tigers were chasing the game and a superior opponent. This isn’t a good way to come out of Georgia with a win.
2. When challenged by Missouri, Georgia responded like the two-time defending national champion that it is. No one should be surprised by that. Georgia has now won 26 consecutive games and 41 out of its last 42. The Dawgs offense didn’t turn the ball over. Quarterback Carson Beck and the UGA offense took advantage of Missouri’s mishaps and played its best football in the second half.
After Missouri opened the second half with a field goal for a 13-10 lead, here’s what Georgia did the rest of the way: touchdown, touchdown, field goal, field goal. Four possessions. Four scores. Thirty three plays and 225 yards of ruthless, championship-caliber efficiency.
This 2023 Georgia squad isn’t as dominant as the national-title winning teams. The 2021 Bulldogs (14-1 overall) won their eight SEC games by an average of 31.8 points. Last season the Dawgs (15-0 overall) won their eight SEC games by an average of 25.5 points. This season they’re 6-0 in the SEC and have won the six by an average of 17.3 points. And this season Georgia has trailed their SEC rival in five of the six games, winning three by single-digit margins. But when it’s time to deliver the knockout, Georgia steps up.
When put under duress by an opponent – and Mizzou put Georgia under pressure – UGA’s champion pedigree takes over. There’s an inevitable nature (and result) to all of Georgia’s games. The Dawgs are more vulnerable in 2023, but that doesn’t mean they’re weak or unable to forcefully close out games.
“They believe in our system, UGA coach Kirby Smart said in his postgame media session. “We have built a culture of competitive edge in the fourth quarter, and we believe that we’re the best conditioned team that’s going to win games in the fourth quarter. We’re going to align with each other.”
Said Beck, the quarterback: “We are a very composed team and we are resilient. I think we’ve shown that at this point of the season, and we stand on that. Those are some of our four pillars , we have resiliency, toughness, connection. When you practice those things they end up showing up in games.”
That’s all true. But Mizzou had a clear shot at taking a less imposing Georgia squad down – and came up empty. That’s the most disappointing takeaway from this one. I don’t do moral victories. I don’t give Mizzou a cop-out narrative by blaming the officials. I don’t offer comforting excuses.
You win the game or lose the game. There’s no middle ground. Missouri wants to be taken seriously as a football program, right? Georgia is a better and more talented team than Mizzou. The Tigers are 7-2 and are having a very good season relative to recent standards. But they’re still not ready to beat a big-boy team in a big-time game.
Championship pedigree matters. It takes time to develop and cultivate. On Saturday, one team had it and grabbed control of a game that could have gone either way. The team that lacked a championship pedigree fell apart. But Mizzou has improved and can learn from this setback.
3. For the second time this season, Brady Cook couldn’t close the deal. I’m not trying to be nasty here. I’m just telling the truth, supported by the facts. We saw this late in the game earlier this season when Mizzou had LSU wobbled and ready to fall. We saw it again Saturday, when Mizzou had Georgia engaged in a toss-up game early in the fourth quarter. But both games ended in defeat, and that’s no coincidence. Cook wasn’t much of a closer.
Here are Brady Cook’s combined statistics in the fourth quarters against LSU and Georgia:
– 48 percent completion rate.
– No touchdown passes and three interceptions.
– A passer rating of 30.4.
– Catchable pass attempts: 72%.
– Yards per passing attempt: 8.3
– Expected Points Added (EPA): minus 12.14
– Positive play percentage: 33.3%.
– “Bust” play percentage: 36.7%
Now let’s compare that to Cook’s play In the first three quarters of the LSU and Georgia games:
– 62 percent completion rate.
– Three touchdown passes and one INT.
– A passer rating of 100.0.
– Catchable passing attempts, 82.6%.
– Yards per passing attempt: 6.7
– Expected Points Added (EPA), plus 11.12.
– Positive play percentage: 44.2%
– “Bust” play percentage: 13.5%
LSU and Georgia outscored Mizzou 38-15 over the two fourth quarters. Cook was a problem in each case. But obviously MU’s late-game weakening on defense was paramount in the loss to LSU. And Mizzou couldn’t get a stop in the second half, with Georgia scoring on all four possessions.
But in Cook’s last four games – LSU, Kentucky, South Carolina and Georgia – he has five touchdown passes and four interceptions. Before that, in MU’s first five games, Cook had 11 touchdown passes without an interception.
On Saturday, the Georgia quarterback (Beck) completed 11 of 15 passes for 133 yards and a touchdown. His second-half passer rating was 124.0. His throws were catchable on 93 percent of his attempts. His “bust” rate on passing plays was a low 6.3 percent. His EPA was 3.45. And Georgia never had to punt in the second half. Beck’s offense moved the chains.
Flashy? Not especially. But cool, clear-headed and extremely reliable? Yes. That very much was Beck on Saturday when this tight game moved into the shadows. And that’s arguably the No. 1 reason why Beck gave Georgia the edge when it was time to determine a winner. Not that you need me to tell you this, but in close games the team with the best quarterback has a significant advantage. Not always, of course. But having that guy is a valuable asset.
4. Luther Burden’s pace of production has slowed. Cook and Burden went airborne for a fantastic 39-yard touchdown pass that gave the Tigers a 7-3 lead with 5:45 remaining in the first quarter. But Burden was quiet the rest of the game. Though he returned to the game after a brief absence, Burden wasn’t the same after suffering an ankle injury in the second quarter. Other than the 39-yard touchdown Burden caught two passes for 14 yards. Cook targeted him seven times, completing only three passes. Another couple of big plays from Cook to Burden could have made the difference.
* In his first six games of the season Burden had 100-plus receiving yards five times and caught 54 passes for 793 yards and five touchdowns. He averaged 132 receiving yards in the six games.
* In the last three games Burden has 10 catches for 165 yards and two touchdowns. He’s averaged only 55 receiving yards in the last three.
5. Cody Schrader keeps rolling: It’s a pleasure to watch the Mizzou running back taking on defenses and winning so many battles to get through holes, cause tacklers to miss, and give the Mizzou a rushing attack to lean on. Schrader went at Georgia’s tough defense on 22 runs, gaining 112 yards and hustling for a touchdown.
Schrader topped 100 yards rushing in a game for the fifth time this season. In the last two games (South Carolina and Georgia) Schrader has 271 ground yards, three touchdowns and an average of 5.6 yards per carry.
He leads the SEC in rushing (919 yards) and average rushing yards per game (102.1) and is second in rushing touchdowns with 10.
Schrader drew praise from Smart: “Yeah, he’s a great runner. And they’ve got a great scheme. They know when to run the ball. They’re not running the ball into loaded boxes. They do a good job in the stretch game. They run the stretch as well as anybody in college football. I mean, they hurt us with it.”
6. Georgia won the red-zone scrum with authority, which really matters in a single-digit victory. Mizzou advanced into the red zone three times but scored just one touchdown. That mattered, because Georgia was struggling in red-zone defense coming into Saturday. Before the Mizzou game the Dawgs ranked last in the SEC by giving up 13 touchdowns in 17 RZ opportunities. In their first eight games Georgia’s defense allowed touchdowns on 76.4 percent of red zone opportunities.(That’s a surprisingly large number, eh?)
By limiting MU to two field goals in its first two trips to the red zone, Georgia prevented at least eight points from being scored by denying touchdowns. To topple the kings of the SEC East, Mizzou had to maximize its scoring opportunities.
Georgia’s offense invaded the red-zone area five times and scored three touchdowns with two field goals.Missouri added a two-point conversion on its only red-zone touchdown, and Georgia kicked the standard extra point after its three TDs. So if you add it all up, Georgia outscored Mizzou 27-14 in the red zone.
The Bottom Line: Despite the disappointing loss, Missouri is still positioned for an outstanding season. The Tigers are 7-2 going into a two-game stay at home, playing Tennessee and then Florida before closing the regular season with a road game at Arkansas. A 10-win season is an obvious goal that remains in reach. The program hasn’t done that since 2014, and only five times before that.
Beware of Tennessee. The Volunteers have the same record as Mizzou – 7-2 overall and 3-2 in the SEC. The winner of Saturday night’s game at Faurot Field will take possession of second place in the SEC East.
In the new Coaches Poll, released Sunday morning, Tennessee is ranked 12th. Mizzou is three spots back at No. 15. Tennessee’s two losses this season came on the road at Florida (29-16) and Alabama (34-20.)
Tennessee has pummeled Mizzou in its first two meetings with Josh Heupel as head coach. The average score of the two blowouts was a humiliating 64-24. Heupel seemed to enjoy running up the score in last season’s game, with Tennessee adding a tack-on touchdown run with 36 seconds left to play while leading 59-24. I’m not sure what bothered Heupel when he served as Mizzou’s offensive coordinator under Barry Odom, but he’ll be looking for more blood when the teams meet on Saturday. This is a pride game for Missouri on a number of levels: the standings, the 10-win season, the payback for two hideous defeats to the Vols. The worst thing the Tigers could do is hold onto the Georgia loss and take on Tennessee with a shortage of motivation.
David Ubben, The Athletic: “Give Missouri credit. Missouri didn’t pull off a season-making upset at Georgia, but it did earn some respect in the loss. The Tigers have just one top-25 win, but acquitted themselves well in this loss to Georgia, which could have gone a different way if a few plays had bounced differently. The Tigers ran the ball consistently and well enough to stay competitive but the game’s first turnover — a curious, panicked throw from Cook that resulted in Stackhouse’s interception — cost them an opportunity to take a fourth-quarter lead. The Tigers will have a chance in games ahead against Florida and Tennessee to win their way to a second-place finish in the SEC East.”
Nick Bromberg, Yahoo Sports: “Missouri was able to find space against the Georgia defense over the course of the game and again gave the Bulldogs one of their toughest games of the season. In 2022, Georgia needed a second-half comeback to beat Missouri 26-22 in the Bulldogs’ closest margin of victory during the regular season. Until a 42-41 win over Ohio State in the College Football Playoff, Georgia had won every other game by 10 points or more.”
Seth Emerson, The Athletic: “This game, won 30-21 by Georgia, was one of those rare regular-season games where you came away with more respect for both teams. No. 12 Missouriplayed well enough and close enough to show its ranking and record are legitimate. If the Tigers drop in any of the updated rankings, it’s not fair.”
Connor O’Gara, Saturday Down South: “This team has ‘New Year’s 6 bowl’ written all over it. If you didn’t come away from Saturday incredibly impressed with Mizzou, you were watching a different game than I was. Teams don’t just go into Athens and have an opportunity to take the lead in the 4th quarter. And it wasn’t as if Mizzou had some out-of-body performance. Luther Burden III had that first touchdown, but he was held to just 2 catches for 14 yards outside of that play. Brady Cook didn’t play his best game, either. But the Tigers played a 4-quarter game because of how well they played against that loaded Georgia offensive line, and they established the ground game with Cody Schrader.
“Eli Drinkwitz and plenty of Mizzou fans probably felt like the officiating crew was working against them, and of course, there are no moral victories. But consider this. Since the start of Georgia’s run in 2021, there have been four instances in SEC play in which Georgia trailed in the second half. Two of those instances belong to Mizzou. This was not a game in which Eli Drinkwitz’s team was “exposed.” It was a game in which that No. 12 ranking was legitimized. A 10-2 regular season feels very much in play.”
Adam Spencer, Saturday Down South: “Mizzou, once again, gave Georgia more of a game than anyone else has managed to do. QB Brady Cook threw two bad interceptions late to overshadow what was an incredible effort beforehand. Cody Schrader will be playing on Sundays soon, and this Mizzou squad will put several guys into the NFL. Now it’s supremely important that the Tigers don’t let 1 loss become 2. They need to regroup in a hurry to square off against a Tennessee squad that has embarrassed them in back-to-back years.”
Thanks for reading …
Bernie hosts an opinionated and analytical sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS. It airs 3-6 p.m. on Monday through Thursday and 4-6 p.m. on Friday. You can stream it live or access the show podcast on 590thefan.com or through the 590 The Fan St. Louis app.
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All stats used in my football columns are sourced from Sports Info Solutions and College Football Reference unless otherwise noted.
For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.
While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.
Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.