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The Bulldogs May Win Ugly, but They Are Still Winning

Nazir Stackhouse's near-touchdown was the highlight of Saturday's game. Credit: Tony Walsh/UGA Athletics

There is a lot we can take away from Georgia’s 30-21 win over Missouri Saturday in Athens and what it means for the Dawgs chances in this latter stage of the season. But give it a month and the only thing I’ll remember is big Nazir Stackhouse’s pick.

Up six points with less than eight minutes to play in the game, Stackhouse snagged an ill-advised pass by Mizzou QB Brady Cook at the line of scrimmage and made for the sideline, nothing but 49 yards of grass between him and a Fat Guy Touchdown. In the red jersey, it was like the Kool-Aid Man had slipped his surly bonds and was running roughshod through the Classic City.

The FGT wasn’t to be, though. The reinforcements caught up to Big Stack and brought him down at the five-yard line. It was brought all the way back to the UGA 30 after a clipping call, but the damage was done. The Dawgs seized the momentum, killed about four minutes of clock on offense and sealed the game with Peyton Woodring’s third field goal of the day.

As expected, the Tigers proved to be the toughest opponent Georgia’s faced so far. Their defense created pressure and affected Carson Beck. On offense, Cook used his feet to effectively keep the Dawgs off balance, and his arm to get the ball to his group of excellent receivers. Mizzou stayed within striking distance all day and were within a score of winning in the fourth quarter. All told, it’s the closest we’ve been to losing since the Peach Bowl, when Ohio State shanked a field goal in the waning seconds of 2022 to open our path to a second consecutive national title.

We could go through the things we need to improve on offensively (turning field goals into touchdowns in the red zone) and defensively (not allowing early scores and tackling on the edges) to make it three consecutive titles. But, honestly, we are nine games into this season. If it’s an issue now, the likelihood that it gets fixed week-to-week grows slimmer. At some point, you are what you are. And what we are is one of the best football teams in the country, but not as good as we’ve been in the recent past.

It’s the stage in the season when all the mistakes of weeks past grow fuzzier. The early games were spent trying to figure out who the hell we are in an attempt to figure out whether we can go again and win another title. But it doesn’t matter anymore that Spencer Rattler and South Carolina tore us apart for two quarters, or that we only beat Auburn by seven. We aren’t playing for style points. We know we aren’t head-and-shoulders above most of our direct competitors, as had been the case the last two years. But we are good enough to win six more games. The only thing that matters is winning. Survive and advance.

The path we’ll have to take over those (hopefully) six games is becoming more clear. LSU did the Dawgs something of a double-edged favor with its loss to Alabama on Saturday. The Crimson Tide’s win puts them as the clear frontrunner in the SEC West, needing only to beat either Kentucky or Auburn to secure their spot in the SEC Championship Game. That also eliminates a big motivating factor for Ole Miss, which would need Alabama to lose both of those games for it to now win the West, ahead of its trip to Athens next week.

That should make things easier against Ole Miss this weekend. College Gameday is coming to town, and Kirby Smart has a knack for getting his teams juiced up for games with lots of national attention. Lane Kiffin will surely do all he can to rustle Kirby’s feathers and put him on tilt. That doesn’t change the fact that Ole Miss is mainly playing for pride. They’ll be one of the toughest teams we’ve faced this year, but we need the win more than they do.

On the flip side, Alabama, the one team I never want to face, is likely heading to Atlanta. If and when this matchup becomes official, I’ll have more to say about it and just how scared it makes me. But let’s beat Ole Miss—and Tennessee and Georgia Tech—even if it’s ugly, then we’ll talk.