COLUMBIA , MO - SEPTEMBER 8: James Franklin #1 of the Missouri Tigers fumbles the ball as he is hit by Jarvis Jones #29 of the Georgia Bulldogs in the fourth quarter at Memorial Stadium on September 8, 2012 in Columbia, Missouri. Georgia won 41-20. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
Youth and speed are nice to have, but the Tigers found out the hard way that defense still rules in their new conference.
There are any number of metaphors you could use for the way the Georgia Bulldogs and their brand of, to use Missouri D-lineman Sheldon Richardson's words, "old man football" withstood an initial salvo from Mizzou and gradually pounded the will out of the Tigers in their first-ever SEC game, but I think this about sums it up:
Face it, Mizzou, we're older and we have more defense. And therein lies the problem for the Sheldon Richardsons and offense-obsessed bloggers of the world who wanted to look at this through a strictly scheme-vs.-scheme lens: It's not just enough for your offensive philosophy to be more innovative than the other guy's, or even trickier to defend in a vacuum. This is a game of matchups, so your fancy spread offense isn't competing against the other guy's (allegedly) decrepit pro set, they're competing against the other guy's defense. So it didn't take long before the "old-man offense vs. young-guy offense" narrative went straight out the window, to be replaced by the "Can former Big 12 teams hack it against SEC defenses?" narrative — and the Tigers got exactly the answer to that question they most feared.
Not that Mizzou was guilty of bringing a knife to a gunfight, or that they underestimated what they'd be up against — even after Georgia's spotty defensive showing against Buffalo, I'm sure Gary Pinkel and his staff knew better than to do that. But the fact remains that they very rarely had to face players like Jarvis Jones or John Jenkins in their former conference, and it showed Saturday night. Last week on this site, Michael Elkon expressed a hope that the addition of Mizzou and Texas A&M to the conference might finally shake up the SEC's stodgy lack of innovation on offense; that may yet happen, particularly with both schools now having direct access to the fertile recruiting grounds of the Deep South. But what Saturday night showed is that the learning curve for those programs will be just as steep, if not steeper, as they struggle to adapt to a dramatically higher standard on defense.
Because Georgia showed that as long as you can smother people on defense and create turnovers deep in the opponent's territory, you can still play "old man football" on offense and get away with it. Very little Georgia's offense did Saturday night was unexpected, and not much was especially exciting, either. Aaron Murray still isn't showing the touch one would expect of a third-year starter touted as a Heisman dark horse (though other than Marlon Brown, his receivers didn't help him out much). The O-line's pass protection improved as the game went on, but its run blocking was spotty at best — other than a thrilling 44-yard burst from Todd Gurley in the second half, the ground game exhibited little of the pop it showed in the season opener — with John Theus demonstrating that even five-star blue-chip recruits all have to be freshmen at some point. Some of this you could chalk up to the nervousness of playing the first SEC tilt of the season on the road in a completely unfamiliar environment, but if the kinks still aren't sorted out by the time Georgia faces Vanderbilt in two weeks, the grumbling about Mike Bobo will only get louder.
Of course, if the defense plays against the Commodores like it did against the Tigers, it may be academic. Down three defensive starters against a tricky offense in hostile territory, the D still did everything it needed to do and then some; the mind reels at what they might be able to do when they're back at full strength personnel-wise. If that's the flip side to "old man football," it's one that has served the SEC quite well for decades now. Missouri and Texas A&M will certainly show the conference's old dogs some new tricks one of these days, but for right now, they're going to have to respect their elders.
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