ATHENS — Arthur Lynch stared into space for a second, tucking his lower lip under his upper lip. He leaned forward and listed everything that went wrong, and what almost went right, before finally summing it up nicely.
“We ran out of magic,” said Lynch, Georgia’s senior tight end.
Too little magic. Too many injuries. Too little defense. Too many turnovers.
Missouri made Georgia pay, dealing it a 41-26 defeat that all but ends the Bulldogs’ national title hopes, while throwing the SEC East into the air.
For two weeks, Georgia (4-2 overall, 3-1 SEC) had survived its struggling defense by riding the arm of Aaron Murray and outscoring its opponents. The result was stirring wins over LSU and Tennessee.
But the injuries sustained at Tennessee, along with the continued struggles on defense, finally caught up with the Bulldogs. And Murray and the offense didn’t help things either, turning the ball over four times.
The final one sealed the game. Murray had the ball, down eight points, with 4:12 left, in position to lead a long drive to force overtime. Instead he rushed his pass, and it was picked off.
And so ended Georgia’s attempt for another stirring win, after rallying from a 28-10 halftime deficit.
“We’re thinking we’re in position to win the game,” head coach Mark Richt said. “We’re gonna drive the field, score the points, go for two, overtime, who knows. Yeah we’re absolutely thinking, ‘Here we go again, we have a chance to do it.’ And to their credit, they made a play.”
Richt admitted there has been a lot of emotional energy expended lately by his team. But he also felt the team had rebounded well.
“We just played a really good team and got beat,” Richt said.
Georgia actually outgained Missouri in total yards, 454-375. That was canceled out by the four turnovers, including two in the first half.
Murray was hit from the blind side and fumbled, and Missouri’s Michael Sam returned it for a touchdown. That made it 28-10. Lynch blamed himself for the play, saying he missed a block.
“That’s on me, 100 percent,” Lynch said.
Murray said he had no idea Missouri’s Shane Ray was bearing down on him.
“No. I was about to let that thing fly,” Murray said. “(The receiver) was streaking; it probably would’ve been a touchdown. Unfortunate. But those happen. We had to rebound.”
Georgia looked like it was about to. But freshman tailback Brendan Douglas, one of the freshmen filling in for the injured Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, fumbled inside the Missouri 10, negating a chance to make it closer at halftime.
“I was just trying to fight for as many yards as I could get, and the ball popped out,” Douglas said. “It was disappointing. I thought I was down maybe. I’m sure the refs had a better view of it. But it was disappointing, and I’m disappointed in myself. I tried to come out in that second half and make up for it. But you really can’t. It’s disappointing.”
At halftime, a comeback seemed unlikely. Georgia’s young defense was being dominated again, and Murray’s supporting cast was decimated. Between Gurley and Marshall, and receivers Malcolm Mitchell, Michael Bennett and Justin Scott-Wesley, Georgia was without five players who the past two seasons have accounted for 2,840 rushing yards, 1,900 receiving yards and 45 touchdowns.
“That’s not an excuse,” offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. “We knew who we had coming into the game. .... Turn it over four times, it’s hard to win any game.”
Of course, Georgia’s much-maligned defense didn’t force any turnovers either. And it couldn’t make a big stop even when Missouri’s star quarterback left the game.
James Franklin suffered a shoulder injury and left in the fourth quarter as Missouri clung to a 28-26 lead. Backup Maty Mauk came in and promptly rushed for a third down. Then two plays later came the backbreaker for Georgia.
Mauk threw a lateral to receiver Bud Sasser. As Georgia defenders barreled in, Sasser fired downfield, where L’Damian Washington was in the end zone, covered by freshman cornerback Shaq Wiggins. But the 6-foot-4 Washington out-leapt the 5-10 Wiggins, coming down with the ball in the end zone.
“We’ve been talking a lot about finishing the drill and finishing the play,” Wiggins said. “We need to execute better. We need to play better when it counts.”
That should have made it a two-possession game. But Missouri’s Andrew Baggett hooked the extra point left, and it was still an eight-point game with 9:22 left.
Georgia, however, went three-and-out, with Murray being sacked on third down. A drive later Murray was picked off with 4:15 left.
“We knew we were moving the ball, and had plenty of time,” Murray said. “That’s just me being greedy and making a poor decision.” Missouri tacked on another touchdown and dealt Georgia its first home loss in two seasons, snapping a 16-game home winning streak.
Now Georgia has to amend its season goals. The national title hopes are surely gone, but the division remains a possibility. Missouri (6-0, 2-0) sits in first place but has a tough remaining schedule, and Franklin could be out for the regular season, according to media reports. Every other team in the division has at least one loss. Georgia’s season continues Saturday at Vanderbilt
“We’ve got six games left,” Lynch said. “We’re gonna shoot to win 10 games. If we can just regroup, playing Vandy at Vandy is tough, if we can pull that one out, be 5-2 going into the bye week and get healthy, I think we’re in some pretty good shape to have a good season still.”