Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray is sacked by Missouri defensive lineman Markus Golden during Saturday’s game. (Reuters)
ATHENS — Georgia committed four turnovers Saturday, one fewer than in the season’s first five games combined, and they figured prominently in the math of a 41-26 loss to Missouri.
The first turnover, a fumble by quarterback Aaron Murray in the second quarter, was returned 21 yards for a Missouri touchdown.
The second, a fumble by tailback Brendan Douglas at the Missouri 7-yard line in the second quarter, stopped a Georgia drive that seemed headed for a score.
The third, an interception thrown by Murray with Missouri leading 34-26 and just over four minutes left in the game, denied Georgia a shot at a potential game-tying drive and led to a clinching Missouri touchdown four plays later.
And the fourth, an interception of a Murray pass at the Missouri 18-yard line with 49 seconds to play, was incidental to the outcome, but punctuated the troubling trend.
“Turnovers killed us,” Murray said afterward. “You can’t cough the ball up in a game like that.”
“Probably the easiest way to explain our biggest problem: four turnovers to (Missouri’s) zero,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “That usually doesn’t equate to a victory against a really good team.”
Georgia trailed 21-10 before committing its first turnover because its porous defense had allowed touchdown drives of 79, 52 and 75 yards on consecutive Missouri possessions.
The first turnover came when Missouri defensive end Shane Ray defeated a double team (tight end Arthur Lynch and left tackle Kenarious Gates) to sack Murray from the blind side, forcing the fumble. Ray’s fellow defensive end, Michael Sam, recovered the ball and returned it for a touchdown and a 28-10 lead.
“Just as I was throwing the ball, I got hit, and the ball came flying out,” Murray said.
After Sam’s score, Murray drove Georgia’s offense down the field. But on second-and-2 from the Missouri 10, Douglas fumbled after a 3-yard carry. Missouri’s Markus Golden recovered.
“I was fighting for some extra yards, and the ball popped out,” Douglas said. “I thought I was down, but I’m sure (the referees) had a better view of it.”
Georgia eventually cut the deficit to 28-26, failing on a two-point conversion try that would have tied the score early in the fourth quarter. Later, the Bulldogs trailed 34-26 when they got the ball at their own 24-yard line with 4:25 remaining. But on the first play, a Murray pass intended for Chris Conley was intercepted by Missouri cornerback Randy Ponder.
“Both (interceptions) were pretty much forced balls, trying to put a ball in a tight spot rather than probably checking it down,” Murray said.
The loss — Georgia’s first at home in 16 games — effectively closes the door on any BCS championship hopes for the Bulldogs (4-2, 3-1 SEC). They’ll now need Missouri to lose twice, and Georgia will have to win its four remaining conference games to earn a third trip to the Georgia Dome as the league’s Eastern Division champion.
It was a huge victory for Missouri (6-0, 2-0), which hadn’t beaten a top-10 team on the road in 32 years. The last one came 14-3 over No. 9 Mississippi State in 1981.
“Respect went up a couple of notches,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. “I’ve said since Day 1 that I was very proud to be a member of the SEC. But you’ve got to earn respect, and that’s the way it should be.”
The Tigers pulled it off with their star quarterback James Franklin sidelined for the final 10:35 of the game. The senior suffered a separated right shoulder in the middle of a fourth-quarter scoring drive. Redshirt freshman Maty Mauk came off the bench and finished that one and another with touchdowns.
Franklin finished with 170 yards and one touchdown passing and another touchdown rushing. He is not expected to be available for Saturday’s home game against Florida and likely will be out a while longer.
Of course, the Bulldogs played more than a little short-handed themselves. Leading rushers Todd Gurley (ankle) and Keith Marshall (knee) both missed the game as well as three of Georgia’s four leading receivers, all of whom have knee injuries
Freshmen running backs Brendan Douglas and J.J. Green filled in admirably. They combined for 157 yards rushing and added another 85 yards receiving. But a fumble by Douglas at the Missouri 5 with 1:31 remaining in the first half proved extremely costly.
Richt offered some hope that some of the wounded Bulldogs could make it back for Vanderbilt on Saturday. Gurley, he said, “has a realistic shot” of coming back from an ankle injury. Wide receiver Jonathan Rumph and safety Tray Matthews may return from hamstring injuries as well.
But the Bulldogs contend they did not lose Saturday because of injuries.
“We don’t make excuses at all,” said Conley, who led the Bulldogs with 60 yards receiving. “We have to be able to execute at a high level regardless of who is on the field. You’re at Georgia for a reason, and you’re here to make plays. I’m proud of those younger guys that were in there today. But we’ve got to finish and execute.”