Five turnovers, including four in the second half, proved too much for Missouri to overcome Saturday against No. 16 Georgia at Memorial Stadium.
Bidding for their first home win against a ranked opponent since the 2013 regular-season finale against Texas A&M, first-year coach Barry Odom’s Tigers came up less than 90 seconds shy of the goal in a 28-27 loss.
“I’m hurt for our team and hurt that we couldn’t pull that one off,” Odom said. “It would have been a good win, obviously, for where we’re at with our football program.”
Bulldogs freshman quarterback Jacob Eason ripped the heart from the partisan crowd of 57,098 with 1:29 remaining when he lobbed a 20-yard touchdown to Isaiah McKenzie on fourth and 10.
With William Ham’s extra point, Georgia, 3-0, which had been shut out to that point in the second half, survived and moved into a tie with Florida atop the SEC East at 1-0.
“I still can’t believe it happened,” McKenzie said. “I still can’t believe that it’s over and we won.”
McKenzie victimized Missouri senior cornerback Aarion Penton for the go-ahead score.
Mizzou, 1-2 overall and 0-1 in the SEC, was in a cover-zero look with no safety help over the top and Penton drew the assignment against the Bulldogs’ most dangerous weapon — at least Saturday night — in the slot.
Twice already McKenzie, who finished with 10 catches for 122 yards, had found the end zone.
The third touchdown, when he outjumped Penton and rolled to paydirt in the famously cursed north end zone, proved to be the difference.
“That’s what we wanted,” Odom said of the defensive call. “We wanted to press it a little tighter in our coverage. We thought we had a chance to get there if we pressed. I think we jumped outside, (McKenzie’s) a pretty good player and the quarterback put it on the money. If I had the play over to do it again, I’d call the same thing — change the technique a little bit.”
Penton didn’t blame the lack of help over the top.
“I told everyone in the locker room and the defense, ‘That’s on me,’ ” Penton said. “Coach put me in a position to make a play the whole series and it came down to the last one, and I feel like if I would’ve just given a little more effort just to get the ball out it would’ve helped a lot.”
Still, there was a brief moment when it seemed Missouri might still pull out the victory.
Sophomore quarterback Drew Lock, who finished 23 of 38 for 376 yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions, hit junior wide receiver J’Mon Moore in stride on a seam route for 20 yards to midfield.
With field-goal range nearly in sight, Moore tried to cut around Georgia junior safety Dominick Sanders, but Sanders swiped the ball free and cornerback Juwuan Briscoe recovered it with 1:10 remaining.
“I was definitely thinking I was fixing to get past that defender,” Moore said. “I just lost focus. I should’ve had a better grip on that ball.”
It was the fifth and final turnover for Mizzou, including redshirt freshman Johnathon Johnson’s muffed punt in the first half.
“I told (Moore) he should keep his head up,” said Lock, who had gone 119 passes without an interception before throwing three in a span of six attempts. “There’s no reason he should feel like he lost that game for us.”
Moore’s fumble likely will overshadow the eight catches for 196 yards and two touchdowns he had, including a 79-yard touchdown in the second quarter and the go-ahead 6-yard score in the third quarter.
“It’s frustrating that we turned the ball over five times,” Odom said. “That’s not very good, and usually, if you turn the ball over five times, you’re not in a position to win the game. J’Mon made a lot of plays throughout that game to put us in a position to have a chance to win.”
Moore — whose receiving total was the most since Danario Alexander had 233 yards on Nov. 28, 2009, at Kansas — was met a few yards from the sideline by Odom with a hug and encouraging word.
“(It’s the) toughest loss I’ve ever faced in this game,” Moore said.
Despite three second-half interceptions by Lock, it seemed as if the Tigers’ much-maligned defense would protect the lead.
After struggling for two weeks, Missouri’s run defense limited junior running back Nick Chubb to 63 yards on 19 carries — a 3.3-yard average — and sacked Eason four times.
Junior defensive end Charles Harris, who’d only managed five tackles through the first two games, led the charge with seven tackles, including three sacks and four tackles for a loss for Mizzou.
The Tigers’ defense also set up a go-ahead touchdown only 66 seconds into the third quarter.
Trailing 21-20 at halftime, Missouri took the lead early in the third quarter.
Sophomore Cam Hilton, who played wide receiver last season before converting to safety in the spring, read Eason’s eyes as he stared down a receiver on a deep out.
Hilton undercut the route and rumbled to the Bulldogs’ 6-yard line, where Lock put the Tigers on top one play later with his second TD toss to Moore.
When Georgia sophomore safety Kirby Choates was ejected with 5:49 remaining for targeting, on a play he also intereferred with Johnson trying to catch a punt, Missouri seemed to have momentum on its side.
The Tigers only managed to milk 2:17 off the clock before punting the ball back to the Bulldogs, who went 80 yards to victory. They were led by Eason, who finished 29 of 55 for 308 yards with three touchdowns and an interception.
Lock threw a 15-yard touchdown pass to junior tight end Jason Reese on the opening drive of the game, and Mizzou led 10-0 after a 33-yard field goal by freshman Tucker McCann on its next drive.
Georgia scored two straight TDs, one on a 6-yard run by McKenzie and the other on a 2-yard completion to junior fullback Christian Payne, for a14-10 lead.
Mizzou answered with a field-goal drive, cutting its deficit to one point on McCann’s career-long 46-yard boot, and Moore’s first touchdown.
McKenzie’s 20-yard touchdown inside the final 2 minutes before halftime made it 21-20.
No. 16 Georgia 28, Missouri 27
TableStyle: SP-byperiodsCCI Template: SP-byperiods
MIZ: Reese 15 pass from Lock (McCann kick), 12:58
MIZ: FG McCann 33, 8:30
UGA: McKenzie 6 run (Ham kick), 3:21
UGA: C.Payne 2 pass from Eason (Ham kick), 12:55
MIZ: FG McCann 46, 10:42
MIZ: J’.Moore 79 pass from Lock (McCann kick), 6:43
UGA: McKenzie 20 pass from Eason (Ham kick), 1:55
MIZ: J’.Moore 6 pass from Lock (McCann kick), 13:59
UGA: McKenzie 20 pass from Eason (Ham kick), 1:36
TableStyle: SP-footballstatsCCI Template: SP-footballstats
Time of Possession
RUSHING: Georgia, Chubb 19-63, Michel 9-37, McKenzie 2-19, (Team) 3-(minus 6), Eason 5-(minus 12). Missouri, Witter 25-76, Crockett 8-23, Lock 2-9, Augusta 1-1, (Team) 1-(minus 14).
PASSING: Georgia, Eason 29-55-1-308. Missouri, Lock 23-38-3-376.
RECEIVING: Georgia, McKenzie 10-122, C.Payne 5-41, Godwin 4-68, Michel 3-19, Nauta 3-16, Blazevich 1-17, R.Davis 1-11, Chigbu 1-9, J.Harris 1-5. Missouri, J’.Moore 8-196, Black 3-44, Reese 3-28, Blanton 2-26, Witter 2-20, E.Hall 1-21, Johnson 1-16, Mason 1-10, Culkin 1-8, J.Smith 1-7.
MISSED FIELD GOALS: Georgia, Ham 23, Ham 38.