October 15, 2017

Georgia Survives and Advances Against Missouri

Flag Football

Photo Credit: Andy Harrison/UGA Athletics

Quarterback Jake Fromm had his best game yet on Saturday.

It was one of those weeks in college football. Chaos reigned.

All told, five of the 13 undefeated teams entering this weekend left it with a loss, including College Football Playoff contenders Clemson, Washington, and Washington State. There was also a major shift in the SEC, with Auburn and Florida’s upset losses. This was was the week no one was safe.

With all that going on, Georgia's game against Missouri Saturday night scared the living hell out of me. The Bulldogs were a 30-point favorite, but weird stuff happens in college football. The perfect storm seemed to be brewing for a bad night at Sanford Stadium.

Early on in the game, my fears appeared validated. Missouri's high-flying offense whipped the Georgia secondary. With about 10 minutes to go in the first half, the score was 21-21, and Missouri had answered every punch from Georgia with a counter of its own, including a pair of 63-yard touchdown passes from quarterback Drew Lock. Something seemed off about this game. I didn't feel good about it.

But if there's one performance this season I can point to and say, that's why Georgia's a championship-caliber team, it's this one. With the score tied at 21, Georgia flipped a switch. The defense finally showed up and shut Missouri down for the next two quarters. The offense put on its most dominant display of the season, racking up close to 700 yards of total offense. In the end, Georgia won 53-28 to go 7-0 on the season, 4-0 in the SEC.  

It wasn't always pretty, but the Bulldogs did what championship teams do: They found a way to win. Survive and advance.

For the first time this year, Georgia needed a top display from its offense, and it got one. The ever-reliable run game struggled early on. So the onus fell on Jake Fromm, who played his best game yet as a Bulldog. The freshman went 18-of-26 for 326 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. The running game got back to its usual self as the game wore on, as well. The Bulldogs put up 370 yards on the ground, including 70 from Nick Chubb, 86 (and two touchdowns) from Sony Michel and 94 from D'Andre Swift.

The defense gave up more than 20 points for the first time this season, and the secondary looked lost at times, but it was actually pretty important for it to have a game like this one. Now we know two things about this team we didn't before Saturday: The defense is not unbreakable, and the offense is good enough to pick up the slack when the defense breaks.

For teams competing for a national title—congratulations, that's Georgia now!—the season is a series of tests. The tests we pay the most attention to are the big games, games such as Notre Dame and Mississippi State. Those tests show whether a team has the capability to win important games against good opponents. Those tests show the ceiling.

Missouri was a different kind of test; a test that shows the floor. But it's just as important. As shown by Clemson, Washington and Washington State, good teams can lose to teams that aren't as talented or have as much to play for. Surviving and winning those games is half the battle in a college football season. Georgia got punched in the mouth early by Missouri. But it stayed composed and found a way to win, and did it with authority. Test passed.

With Florida's loss to Texas A&M, Georgia has a window of opportunity in the SEC East. OK, maybe it's more like a door of opportunity held open by a butler beckoning us in. The East is trash, and there is a clear path to the SEC Championship Game. We could probably even lose to Florida or Auburn and still make it to Atlanta, so there's a safety net.

But it's a safety net we shouldn't use. With all the chaos this weekend, there's a great chance a 12-1 Georgia with only a loss to Alabama in the SEC Championship Game would still make the College Football Playoff. Great things are possible this season for the Bulldogs, but they have to keep passing each test as it comes.

I can assure you the next test won't be overlooked. Georgia has a bye week, then it's a trip to Jacksonville for the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party. I want to beat the living hell out of the Gators, but I'd settle for a one-point win. Just win, baby. No matter how. Survive, advance and make this a special season.

Oh yeah, and to hell with Florida.