|Georgia sends a clear message in Columbia. (AP)|
"No," said Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray. "It's Grown Man Football." If you don't believe it, Murray added, look at No. 29.
No. 29 is Jarvis Jones, Georgia's All-American outside linebacker. And if Missouri wasn't familiar with Mr. Jones and his work before its inaugural SEC game Saturday night, it was painfully aware of him after Georgia's 41-20 win at Faurot Field.
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It was Jones, whose 21-yard interception return to the Missouri 1-yard line with 7:34 left put the Tigers away. It was Jones who caused another fumble that Georgia recovered at the Missouri five-yard line that led to a more lopsided score than the game actually was. And it was Jones who played the entire game despite a pulled groin muscle.
"On Wednesday we weren't sure if he was going to be able to go," said Georgia head coach Mark Richt. "But he gutted it out and was there when we needed him. He's an All-American and he may be the best defensive player in America."
Jones was certainly the best football player on the field Saturday night.
"A lot of people thought we were going to come out here and get upset, but the guys stayed confident, the coaches kept us pumped, and the Bulldog Nation came out and supported us," said Jones. "Missouri had some big plays. They threw their punches, but you have to play the whole game. We stayed in our game and we executed."
Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham has run out of adjectives for Jones, who was fifth in the nation in sacks last season with 13.5.
"The guy is just a great, great football player," Grantham said. "He was steady and our whole defense was steady. We just kept playing and doing what we do."
After a frustrating first half filled with mistakes, missed passes and missed opportunities, Georgia found itself in a serious hole when L'Damian Washington caught a 69-yard touchdown pass from James Franklin to give Missouri a 17-9 lead with 11:48 left in the third quarter. It looked like Missouri was going to celebrate it first-ever SEC game in the grandest of fashion.
After Georgia fell behind 17-9 the Bulldogs outscored Missouri 32-3 the rest of the way.
"That is why I am so proud of our guys," Richt said. "They just kept fighting and they kept playing hard for 60 minutes."
"We made a bunch of mistakes in the first half and it would have been easy for us to get frustrated," said Murray. "We just knew that if we were patient that it would all work out."
Aside from Jones' two big defensive plays, the game turned for Georgia thanks to two other moments.
Trailing 10-3 after Missouri scored with 1:31 left in the first half, Georgia put together a 71-yard touchdown drive and scored with 30 seconds left before intermission.
"I think that settled us down and we knew going into the second half that we were going to spread them out," said offensive coordinator Mike Bobo. "We changed very little at halftime because that drive gave us a good sense of what would work."
The game also turned when Missouri coach Gary Pinkel elected to fake a punt with his team trailing 24-20 with 13:52 left. Pinkel hoped he would catch Georgia napping but freshman cornerback Sheldon Dawson saw the fake all the way and tackled the Missouri punter at his own 38-yard line. Richt ran onto the field and grabbed Dawson.
"That was probably the play of the game," Richt said. "It was certainly the one that got me the most excited."
It would be hard to overstate the importance of this win for Georgia. A year ago the Bulldogs started 0-2 and had to win 10 straight games to capture the SEC East and a trip to Atlanta. Now the Bulldogs are 2-0 with Florida Atlantic and Vanderbilt coming up the next two weeks. Then it's a home game with Tennessee, which looks to be much improved, and then the all-important trip to South Carolina on Oct. 6.
For the second consecutive year, Georgia does not play Alabama, LSU, or Arkansas from the SEC West. South Carolina, considered to be Georgia's primary challenger in the SEC East, has to play both LSU and Arkansas.
"If we take care of our business we're going to be all right," said Jones, who finished the night with eight solo tackles, one sack, one interception, one forced fumble and one pass breakup. "Like I said, there were a lot of people who thought we couldn't come in here and win. But we knew we could come in here and win."
When the game was over, Georgia's players went up into the crowd of over 6,000 Bulldog fans who made the trip to Columbia and for the past several days have filled the restaurants and watering holes of their newest SEC brother.
When the players jumped into that sea of red and black, two of them were handed huge white boards with the following inscriptions: "Grown Man Football," and "Welcome to the SEC."
Missouri got a lesson on both topics Saturday night. It is one everyone here, all 71,004 of them, will long remember.
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