Beats headphones perched over the ears of J’Mon Moore as he slowly strode towards the Missouri Athletic Training Complex to speak to reporters Saturday night.
After past games, the Missouri junior wide receiver’s conversational nature has become customary, and on a night that concluded with eight catches for 196 yards and two touchdowns — all career highs — this was set to be another one of those.
But then came the final drive, one that led to Georgia prevailing 28-27 over Missouri.
“Toughest loss I’ve ever faced in this game,” Moore said, and the looks in the eyes of sophomore quarterback Drew Lock and senior cornerback Aarion Penton seemed to speak the same.
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For Lock, Saturday night’s game was a tale of two halves. In the first, he caught fire and threw for 322 yards and two touchdowns. But after his first pass in the second half — a 1-play drive that resulted in a 6-yard touchdown toss to Moore — Lock began to struggle.
Missouri coach Barry Odom attributed some of it to Georgia’s adjustments in playing “more cover two,” but Lock said it was about getting too aggressive.
“The first one (interception), I just got greedy with the arm and thought I could make the play, which is something I wish I could take back,” Lock said. “The second one, kind of the same attack that I had in the first half, but I just threw it behind him. Just a bad throw.”
After the second interception, Georgia inherited the ball with 3:32 remaining and drove the length of the field. After nine plays, Georgia was down to one final snap.
On fourth and 10 from the 20-yard line, Penton — who was playing in the nickel due to injuries to junior cornerback Logan Cheadle, sophomore linebacker Terez Hall and freshman cornerback Christian Holmes — couldn’t catch up to Georgia junior wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie as he scored the go-ahead touchdown in the north end zone.
Afterward, Penton took the blame for giving up the touchdown, saying he wished he could’ve “given a little more effort.”
Still, the Tigers had one final drive — one to redeem Lock’s second half performance, one to temper Penton’s blown coverage and one to affirm Moore’s career night.
That was until the drive’s first play.
Lock dropped back and hit Moore in stride toward the middle of the field. Moore saw daylight, but not before Georgia junior safety Dominick Sanders poked the ball out and the Bulldogs recovered.
“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.”
Regardless, coach Barry Odom didn’t want to put any blame on his No. 1 wideout.
“It’s frustrating that we turned the ball over … but J’Mon made a lot of plays throughout that game to put us in position to have a chance to win,” Odom said.
As is often the case, no Missouri Tiger wanted to speak of moral victories, but junior tight end Jason Reese found a certain confidence in his team’s execution and said afterward that he wanted to practice right then and there.
He’d have to wait until Sunday night, though. That’s when the Tigers returned to the Kadlec Practice Fields — a beginning to the next step Odom said was about “rallying, working hard and growing together.”
“I’m hurt for our team, I’m hurt that we couldn’t pull that one off,” Odom said Saturday, “but I’ve got a great locker room. I love those guys, I believe in them. They’re going to play hard, smart and tough … we just need to keep working to get better.”