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Senior College Football Columnist

Missouri's first SEC foray encouraging until fake punt opens floodgates

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Trailing 17-9 in the third quarter, Georgia goes on a 32-3 run. (AP)  
Trailing 17-9 in the third quarter, Georgia goes on a 32-3 run. (AP)  

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- It took a middle-aged former Georgia offensive lineman to see it, easily, from the front row.

Old man football had just been replaced by brain fart football.

"I was unimpressed," said George Tate, stomping, hollering and dancing with the rest of them in the Dawgs section Saturday night at Missouri.

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Tate was not referring to Missouri's speed, effort or talent level. All that was good, bordering on great. But when coach Gary Pinkel called for/approved a fake punt from the Tigers' 35 with 14 minutes left trailing by four, it sent a signal to that former O-lineman.

"It was almost like they were trying to slap us in the face," said Tate, a farmer who drove four hours from his West Plains, Mo. home to see his beloved Dawgs.

Missouri's message at that point: If you can't beat 'em straight up, trick 'em. In a game that Georgia fans and players quickly labeled "grown man football," it was not easy to trick 'em at all. Georgia, instead, did the slapping -- outscoring the Tigers 32-10 in the second half, 17-0 in the fourth quarter.

And that, folks, was the biggest lesson from Georgia's 41-20 win in Missouri's first-ever SEC game. There is one thing you don't do in this league or any other. You don't stab your own team in the back.

OK, maybe it didn't look exactly like that to you but let's recap: Mizzou had done just everything right to support the theory that this was one of the biggest games in their history. A big one they would win. They not only were playing even with the Dawgs, by Gawd, they were whippin' 'em there for a while.

But you know by now that the fake punt failed miserably. It didn't matter than the Dawgs got the short field on the exchange and were held to only a field goal. There was almost a perceptible sagging of shoulders on the Missouri sideline, trailing only 27-20.

To that point, the SEC newbie Tigers had more than proven they could play at the top of college football's food chain. Then something got caught in their gullet.

"Missouri gave us everything we wanted and more," said Tate, who played for Vince Dooley in the 1980s. "The first three quarters of this game scared a lot of Georgia people."

That's the largest point. Missouri was hanging in nicely a minute into the fourth quarter. It had blown a 17-9 lead but was trailing only 24-20. The Dawgs -- missing four regulars because of suspensions and legal issues -- were beginning to assert themselves. But they hadn't yet.

The fake punt came 65 yards away from the Georgia goal line on fourth-and- 11. Trey Barrow, a 205-pound senior, was tackled easily after a gain of three. The previously vulnerable Dawgs were on their way to scoring the game's last 24 points.

"If they got that play it probably would have been a different ballgame," said Jarvis Jones, Georgia's All-American linebacker.

Probably. Maybe. Who knows? It didn't change Jones' game. He was arguably the game's best player by making eight tackles, including a sack, forcing a fumble and intercepting James Franklin. It was not a day for SEC veterans to be trifled with during the arranged day-night doubleheader debut of Texas A&M and Mizzou. Florida came back from 10 down at Texas A&M. Georgia came back from eight down.

Different reasons. Different comebacks. The SEC vets won. Statement games from the challengers will have to wait.

"It hurts," Missouri receiver T.J. Moe said. "It was set up to be something special for us."

Pinkel was dutifully ready with an explanation for the fake punt that produced the first question of the postgame press conference.

"A coach never calls something that he thinks will not work," he said curtly. "When they work they're good calls and when they don't work they're bad calls."

Defensive back E.J. Gaines, a member of the punt team, said the play was signaled in by receivers coach Andy Hill. It was predicated on a certain look being shown by Georgia.

"Go for it,' that's kind of what I thought," Gaines said. "It was the coaches' decision. We're behind them 100 percent."

Sure, it's hard to single out a fake punt in a three-touchdown loss, but the failure had a psychological effect. Missouri's Sheldon Richardson had set the emotional table by calling Georgia's version of the game "old man football." Think that mattered? Immediately after the game, Georgia players grabbed a dry erase board and scrawled on it "grown man football", carrying it into the stands.

The feeling in the Georgia section was half revenge and half relief. With a loss, the Dawgs could have been at a serious SEC East disadvantage before the third week of the season. Missouri? Just feeling its way in a new league.

"This," said Tate, turning a phrase himself, "was old-school Georgia football."

Except not when the Dawgs fell behind 17-9 three ½ minutes into the third quarter. Not when a surprisingly resilient Missouri defense slowed down Georgia for 2 ½ quarters. Not when receivers Marcus Lucas (41 yards) and L'Damian Washington (59 yards) got behind the Georgia defense for long touchdown catches.

"Fourth quarters belong to us even back when I was playing," Tate said. "I think we just wore them down."

Good show, then, Mizzou. For a while, there, you even had us believing that what Georgia brought here Saturday night really was old-mannish.

You led by eight. In the second half. You know the saying: There's speed, then there's (Missouri) SEC speed. Yeah, it was that impressive. You snapped it 41 times in the first half, 80 times in the game. The Dawgs' tongues were dragging. Franklin proved himself to be among the elite in SEC quarterbacks after one conference game.

In a new era, in a new conference, in a sold-out stadium you were going to show them. Instead it turned out be a pat on the head for the newbie.

"This conference," Tate said solemnly, "can do nothing but improve Mizzou football."


Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.
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