Story by Joe Vozzelli
Photo by Peter Marek
Four Georgia defenders including cornerback Blake Sailors and safety Josh Harvey-Clemons swarm Missouri wide receiver Gahn McGaffie during the Bulldogs 41-20 victory over the Tigers on Saturday, Sept. 9, 2012 at Faurot Field. The Bulldogs scored 14 points off of three Missouri turnovers. Photo by Peter Marek
L’Damian Washington was running at full speed with Georgia defenders at his heels. But no one was catching the speedy 6-foot-4 junior wide receiver.
With Missouri and No. 7 Georgia locked in a defensive battle and the Tigers holding onto a 10-9 lead, Washington streaked across the middle of the field where quarterback James Franklin threw a pinpoint pass to the receiver. Washington caught the ball around the Bulldog 45-yard line and ran away from two Georgia defensive backs on his way to 69-yard touchdown reception. The reception was Missouri’s longest play in its 41-20 loss to the Bulldogs.
Washington may be Missouri’s big play threat in the pass game this season. The wide receiver averaged 18.2 yards per reception last season, a team best.
“He’s the fastest player on our team,” Franklin said of Washington. “So anything vertical on him, I know he’s going to beat his guy. I missed him on one play but I know he’s going to get open down field.”
Washington said he didn’t expect to be that wide-open on his touchdown catch and run.
“Yeah, I was surprised. The SEC supposedly has the best defensive backs. So anytime you can get separation like that one of the best defenses in the SEC, that’s always great,” he said.
Washington said there were times when Missouri’s up-tempo, speedy offense had the Georgia defense in trouble of giving up more big plays.
“We pushed the tempo,” he said. “It’s always hard to push the tempo when guys supposedly catch a cramp. Mizzou’s going to do what we do and that’s push the tempo against SEC schools.”
Washington referred to a situation late in the third quarter when Missouri had moved the ball down the field to the Bulldogs’ 30-yard line. A Georgia defender went down with what looked like a cramp. Georgia called a timeout and Missouri’s drive stalled. The Tigers ended up with a 25-yard Andrew Baggett field goal.
Washington wasn’t the only receiver to provide a big play threat in Missouri’s Southeastern Conference opener.
Junior wide receiver Marcus Lucas caught a slant pass from Franklin and weaved in between Georgia defenders for a 41-yard touchdown reception. It was Missouri’s first touchdown of the game and gave the Tigers a 10-3 lead in the second quarter.
Quarterback James Franklin reaches for a snap during Missouri’s first SEC conference game on Saturday, Sept. 9, 2012 at Faurot Field. Franklin and the offense could not keep up with the Georgia Bulldogs as Missouri fell 41-20. Photo by Pete Marek
Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said those big plays weren’t enough to overcome turnovers in bad positions on the field.
“You will never ever win a game like that. You can’t make mistakes like that. A one-yard drive and a three-yard drive, you can’t do it,” he said.
Pinkel is referring to two Missouri turnovers in the fourth quarter. With the Bulldogs up 27-20, Georgia outside linebacker Jarvis Jones intercepted a Franklin pass at the Missouri 22-yard line. Jones returned the ball to the Missouri 1-yard line and the Bulldogs scored on a 1-yard touchdown run from freshman tailback Todd Gurley.
Jones struck again on the next Missouri drive. He forced a Franklin fumble, which Bulldogs nose guard Jordan Jenkins recovered. The turnover led to another Georgia touchdown. The Bulldogs had a 41-20 lead and the Georgia fans at Faurot Field knew just how to celebrate.
Chanting “Old Man Football,” Georgia fans jeered Missouri with defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson’s comment about Georgia’s style of play after last Saturday’s Missouri win over Southeastern Louisiana.
Pinkel said Jones was hard to defend. He also added that it was hard to make adjustments in the middle of the game to deal with him.
“You can’t change our whole offense,” Pinkel said of Jones. “Obviously, he’s a great player. You try to adjust calls. You try to get yourself in position to get rid of the football quicker.”
Franklin wasn’t the only person who was second-guessed after the game.
Pinkel was asked about his decision to attempt a fake punt play on a fourth down in the fourth quarter. Missouri punter Trey Barrow took the snap and only gained three yards, turning the ball over on downs at their own 38-yard line. Georgia was able to score a couple of plays later on a 41-yard Marshall Morgan field goal.
“A coach never calls something that he thinks won’t work. When they work, they’re good calls. And when they don’t work, they’re bad calls. I’ll take responsibility for it,” Pinkel said of his decision.
Missouri (1-1) will look to bounce back on Sept. 15 when the Tigers face Arizona State (1-0) at 6 p.m. at Faurot Field.