ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia's defense, which has been ruthlessly shutting down SEC offenses and is quickly becoming one of the top defensive squads in the country, didn't play to their standards against Missouri.
Don't get it wrong, Georgia still won decisively against the Tigers, winning 53-28 at Sanford Stadium on Saturday to improve to 7-0 heading into a bye week, and they have complete control of the SEC East.
However, Tigers quarterback Drew Lock had four touchdowns and threw for 253 yards. Three of those touchdowns came in the first half and made what should have been a lopsided affair a shootout in the opening half.
Georgia's defense, which was ranked No. 2 in the country in scoring defense allowing an average of 10 points per game, got its wake-up call. Luckily, the offense helped bail them out.
"There’s always a little credit to them and a little blame given to us," head coach Kirby Smart said. "We’ll learn from that. We’ll get better from that. And that defense needed a wake up call to go out and play better."
After being forced to punt on their opening two drives, the Tigers scored three consecutive touchdowns. Lock threw 4 yards to Albert Okwuegbunam following Jake Fromm's interception, his third of the season. Then Lock showed off his arm strength with two 63-yard touchdown passes to Emanuel Hall.
Lock had plenty of time to throw on the first touchdown pass to Hall, who beat out the secondary. Hall beat Tyrique McGhee on a go route on the second touchdown.
On their next drive, Dominck Sanders pulled off a huge momentum swing by picking off Lock and returning it 18 yards after the interception. Sanders now holds the school record for career interception return yardage with 329, passing Jake Scott who had 315 on a school-record 16 picks.
"Eventually we were going to need a stop. And somebody needed to make a stop and [Sanders] made a big time play," Smart said. "I thought we showed some grit tonight and responded. Just like a boxing match, you got to be able to take the guy’s best punch, and we knew they had a good passing game."
J.R. Reed, who made four total tackles in the game, said Lock's touchdown passes were the most adversity the defense has faced yet this season.
"It is. But we practice to be uncomfortable, so when uncomfortable situations happen, it’s just easy to us, it’s comfortable for us. So it was easy to adjust to that," he said. "We didn’t blink. When someone hits you, you get right back up. Go back out there next play."
The offense helped mitigate the damage.
Mecole Hardman had a 35-yard run to score the Bulldogs' first touchdown. He scored again in the fourth quarter on a 59-yard pass from Fromm. Hardman was a defensive back just last year, and he's already feeling comfortable on offense with his speed despite having less experience than most.
"If I get in space, I don’t feel like I can get caught. That’s how you're supposed to think as a runner. I’m comfortable in my speed, and when I get in the open field, I think I can do what most people can do and not get caught," he said.
After a slow start, the running game was explosive. Seven different players rushed for 370 yards, and five of them had rushes for longer than 20 yards.
Senior Sony Michel rushed for two touchdowns. Fromm rushed for one touchdown to help pad Georgia's lead, along with four field goals by Rodrigo Blankenship.
Georgia feels good going into the bye week and then to Jacksonville for the cocktail party against Florida. But no one's expecting to get too much down time over the next 14 days.
"I told them it’s not off week, it’s not bye week. It’s work week because we’ve got to clean some things up and get better if we’re going to go where we’re going to work. We’ve certainly hit it at a good time," Smart said.
"We’re going to acknowledge what got us here, and that’s hard work," Smith said.