Darren Hellwege, Sports Commentator
A couple of weeks ago, I cautioned Missouri Tigers soccer fans getting overly excited about the Tigers fast start. “Perspective,” said I. I reminded them that a couple of upsets and a top-10 ranking do not a successful season make, and that time would tell how strong this team really was.
It’s a mindset I now wish to lay out before Mizzou football fans who are panicked, depressed, angry, or sobbing following the Tigers 41-20 loss to Georgia Saturday on Faurot Field. As the hoary old line goes, “the game was closer than the score indicated.” Much closer.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m neither claiming Mizzou is as good a team as the seventh-ranked Bulldogs, nor saying the Tigers played particularly well on Saturday. Georgia’s shown themselves the team to beat in the Eastern Division, and Missouri’s shown that the offense may struggle at times, particularly with the apparent loss of the anchor of the offensive line, Elvis Fisher.
But I feel that the thought that the Bulldogs are not three touchdowns better than the Tigers, widespread though it may be, is misplaced. This game was a lot closer than many realize, and was one the Tigers might well have won, even without the talents of Fisher and another key player lost to injury, linebacker Zavier Gooden.
It’s easy to react this way to a final score as lopsided as 41-20. Sam Mellinger said in the Kansas City Star, “Missouri isn’t nearly as good as Georgia” and referred to the game as “being blown out.” Fox Sports’ Andrew Astleford went even more off into the woods, opining hilariously that the Sheldon Richardson comments about “old man football” were a major factor in the game. Yes, the fans and Georgia players were chanting about “grown man football” afterwards, but that had no more to do with the outcome of the game than did the gruesomely ugly new Tiger uniforms.
No, this game was about blocking and tackling, about running and throwing, and for a period of exactly 49 seconds it was the Tigers inability to hold onto the football. This game was tied with less than 12 minutes left. After an unsuccessful (and to some ill-conceived) fake punt, the Bulldogs had a short field and took the lead following a 38-yard drive to take a 27-20 lead. Still a very winnable game for MU.
It was still a close game with about seven and a half left when James Franklin threw his only interception of the night, which All-American Jarvis Jones nearly returned for a touchdown. When Todd Gurley scored on the next play, the game at 34-20 was suddenly in doubt.
Three plays later, Franklin fumbled the ball away, and when the Bulldogs’ Ken Malcomb scored from six yards out, the door had officially been slammed in Mizzou’s face. The final score was set at an ugly 41-20, and those who didn’t see the game—and some who did—could be led to believe this was a blowout, that Mizzou didn’t belong on the field with Georgia and, by extension, with the SEC.
But look more closely. Missouri lead in first downs and in total offense. Missouri had 43 yards in penalties, a reasonable number for the second week of the season, while Georgia ran up 79. Both the offense and defense showed at times they were capable of standing toe-to-toe with one of the SEC’s, and the nation’s, top teams. And, at times, they fell flat. This team will improve through the season and while Tennessee has appeared stronger than I expected in the first couple of weeks, I consider both Florida and South Carolina to be very good teams with vulnerabilities, and the Tigers may still be a major factor in the SEC East race before all is said and done.
Yes, it’s frustrating to lose your first league game, especially at home. Yes, the chants of “grown man football” had to sting the Tigers as they left the field (which raises a side note: whether it’s Gary Pinkel or Chad Moller who’s kept Sheldon Richardson in the doghouse since he made his infamous comments last week, it was a silly decision to block the press from access to Richardson following the game. The guy made a mistake, but it’s wrong to keep him hidden away. Free Sheldon.)
But football season lasts a long time. With the obvious exception of a somewhat frightening date with defending national champ Alabama on October 13, Georgia is better than any other team the Tigers will face. This still can be a very successful season for Missouri, and I think it will be. Don’t get too upset by this one loss, don’t over-react to the margin.
Perspective, my friends. Perspective.