In the building covered in gold a few hours earlier, you could only hear the people wearing red.
They were Georgia fans in the upper corners of Faurot Field, chanting “grown-man football,” after their team’s 41-20 victory against Missouri in the Tigers’ first conference game as a member of the Southeastern Conference.
Those words rained down in response to Missouri defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, who said he turned off Georgia’s first game against Buffalo because the Bulldogs play “old-man football.”
Richardson apologized to Georgia coach Mark Richt after the game, but the Tigers’ welcome to the SEC had already been worn out in 3 1/2 short hours. The enemy had hijacked the home crowd’s celebration, driving many gold-clad fans out of their own stadium’s stands before the game had ended.
The SEC’s other newcomer, Texas A&M, also fell in its first conference contest by a score of 20-17 against Florida. Both Missouri and A&M looked better than their opponents and held the lead at halftime, but the “grown-man football” of the traditional SEC powers dominated the second half.
Many people, including this writer, thought Missouri and Texas A&M would win on Saturday. Though both SEC newcomers weren’t as strong as their opponents on paper, it’s not like they’re cupcakes — both recruit well, have smart and experienced coaches and experienced plenty of success in the Big 12. These things, combined with the home field advantage both teams enjoyed, could have easily propelled them to victory.
Although that’s not how it went, there’s no shame in a loss to Georgia.
You can say what you will about the Bulldogs’ old-school offense, but after putting up 41 points, you can’t deny its effectiveness on Saturday night. Quarterback Aaron Murray threw three touchdowns and took care of the ball apart from one interception. The Bulldogs’ run game started slowly, but wore down Missouri’s front seven and found plenty of seams in the second half.
But Georgia won this game thanks to its defense, in particular Jarvis Jones. The linebacker was an unstoppable force throughout the night, wreaking havoc on Missouri’s injury-plagued offensive line.
Jones’ biggest plays — an interception and a forced fumble — came in the fourth quarter, giving Georgia the ball at Missouri’s 1- and 5-yard lines, respectively. The Bulldogs punched it in for touchdowns on both possessions, extending a tenuous seven-point lead to an insurmountable 21.
Georgia was supposed to win this game and, thanks in large part to its best player, it did. The Bulldogs have solidified their ranking and now look toward a possible SEC championship.
Yes, Missouri lost on Saturday. It lost to the seventh-ranked team in the nation, a team with better, faster and stronger players. It gave that higher-ranked team fits for three quarters, and it gave those red-clad fans more than a few nervous moments.
However disappointing the end result was, now isn’t the time to give up. Although they’ve given the off-field naysayers plenty of ammunition over the past two weeks, the Tigers have shown plenty of pride and skill on the field over the past decade.
Of the teams left on Missouri’s schedule, only Alabama is as good as Georgia. There’s no reason to panic, to abandon expectations, to call fake punts on 4th and 11 while only down one touchdown.
Saturday showed that Missouri football has some growing pains to go through. If they continue to believe, maybe the fans in gold will be the ones chanting “grown-man football” someday.