Missouri done in by missed opportunities in 43-29 loss to Georgia

The Tigers suffered their first defeat of 2018 despite not allowing an offensive touchdown until the second half.
Missouri players wander off the field after losing to the Georgia Bulldogs, 43-29, on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018 at Faurot Field.

After another monotonous three-and-out halfway through the second quarter against Georgia, Missouri’s punt team suddenly broke out of its huddle and rushed into an unusually wide set.

What happened next came and went as quickly as Missouri fans’ spirits in the first quarter.

Five defenders broke through the gaping holes and charged Missouri punter Corey Fatony at once. The punt was blocked effortlessly, the ball left bouncing conveniently into the arms of Georgia defender Eric Stokes. He was already in stride toward the end zone for a crippling touchdown.

That was the way fortunes often played out in Missouri’s 43-29 loss to No. 2 Georgia Saturday afternoon, in front of an announced attendance of 58,284 at Memorial Stadium. Missouri (3-1) trailed 20-7 after the blocked punt, a familiar swing in momentum during a first half in which Georgia’s only two touchdowns were scored with defense or special teams.

“We had some really unfortunate things happen,” senior quarterback Drew Lock said. “Stuff we could’ve controlled.”

Fifteen NFL scouts were in attendance at the game, but Lock threw for just 221 yards and completed 47 percent of his passes. It was the first game since Purdue came to town last season that Lock didn’t record a passing touchdown.

Missouri receivers were suffocated by Georgia’s secondary. Emanuel Hall didn’t have a single reception. Tight end Albert Okwuegbunam had to take on the role of Lock’s top target.

“They basically said, ‘We’re not going to let you go deep on us,’” Okwuegbunam said.

Missouri trailed by as many as 20 points in the second half and got as close as 11. The Tigers traded touchdowns with Georgia for most of the half, keeping the deficit between those two tallies.

When they blocked a Bulldog field goal attempt in the fourth quarter, they finally had a stop that signified their opening to close the gap to one possession. But the game ended the way it started: with Missouri’s offense missing out on an opportunity provided by uncharacteristically stoic defense.

On a fourth-and-3 near midfield, freshman running back Tyler Badie was stopped inches shy of converting as he dove out of bounds. Coach Barry Odom’s challenge was fruitless, and Georgia took over on downs with 4:58 to go.

“We didn’t execute well enough to be in that last drive,” Odom said.

Missouri, for a few seconds it seemed, had led by as many as 6 in the first quarter. But an apparent 65-yard touchdown in the opening moments was called back because Tyler Badie stepped out of bounds after a wheel route catch that still went for 25.

Things had started off better than Missouri could’ve possibly imagined up to that point. Christian Holmes intercepted Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm on the first possession of the game, setting up the non-touchdown.

But on a third-and-8 moments later for Missouri, tight end Albert Okwuegbunam was stripped while he wrestled for the eighth yard and MU fans cried for forward progress to whistle the play dead. Instead, Georgia’s Tyson Campbell returned the fumble 64 yards for true opening score. Odom said he had to be “careful” after the game when asked about the lack of a whistle.

“They called it like they saw it,” Odom said. “The thing we’ve got to look at, and it’s been brought up a number of times, but a lot of times there isn’t a whistle. They don’t end the play with a whistle. On that one, was forward progress stopped or not? That’s the call they made and we have to live with it.”

Missouri tied it up at 7 then kept the Bulldogs from ever pulling away in the first half with solid defense that limited them to a pair of field goals. But chances eluded the Tigers to turn their narrow deficit into a lead.

A Tucker McCann field goal on their second possession was waved no good after it appeared to split the uprights.

“Everybody thought it was good,” Odom said.

Receiver Johnathon Johnson dropped an easy pass that turned a 15-yard gain into a 43-yard interception return for Georgia. That set up one of Rodrigo Blankenship’s field goals. Then there was the blocked punt, a defect easy enough to detect from a mile away.

“When you have a punt block for a touchdown, you have a fumble recovery for a touchdown, that’s hard to overcome,” Odom said.

And in the third quarter, Georgia reopened a 19-point advantage on a 61-yard touchdown pass that was almost a 100-yard touchdown the other way for Missouri. Georgia receiver Jeremiah Holloman dropped the ball as he crossed the goalline, and Holmes ran it to the other end zone. He waited there as it was scrutinized whether Holloman let go prematurely, but a (pylon-cam free) review found no conclusive evidence to overturn the call of touchdown.

Missouri’s offense failed to score on its first series after the intermission, but it turned on more later in the second half while the defense wore out. At the end of the day, four different Tigers had rushed for the touchdowns that provided all of the team’s points. Those were sophomore Larry Rountree III, junior Damarea Crockett, Badie and Lock.

"Regardless of what happens individually, we’re all proud of whatever we do as a unit," Badie said. "But yeah, it feels really good when we can all get some."

Missouri went for a 2-point conversion on its third touchdown, which trimmed the lead to 11 at the time but also ensured that with its next touchdown, the team would finish with one more point than it tallied last year against Georgia in a 53-28 loss.

The Tigers have week five off before they’re in action next, as this was just the first in a triumvirate of challenges. South Carolina and Alabama await on the road after the bye week.

“Our bye week really happens at a perfect time,” Odom said, “because we are banged up. We need a little rest and we’ll get it.”

Edited by Adam Cole | acole@themaneater.com

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