Jacksonville Sports Day

SEC: Eason, McKenzie Lead Dawgs Past Mizzou

COLUMBIA, Mo. — Jacob Eason found Isaiah McKenzie on a 4th-and-10 for a 20-yard game-winning touchdown with 1:29 left to play that pushed the No. 16-ranked Georgia Bulldogs past the Missouri Tigers 28-27 in Georgia’s Southeastern Conference season opener at Faurot Field.

Georgia Head Coach Kirby Smart became the first Bulldogs’ first-year coach to start 3-0 since 1938. Joel Hunt was the last head coach to go 3-0 in their first year.

“It was a hard fought win,” said Georgia Head Coach Kirby Smart.” “Very emotional. It was a roller coaster ride. Those kids never stop believing, they never stop fighting. I feel like whenever we got control of them on offense. They slowed some things down and we were able to get the ball back. The kid really grew up tonight. The quarterback grew up a lot and became a better player.”

The Bulldogs received the ball from the Tigers with 3:41 left on the clock trailing 27-21. True freshman quarterback Eason led Georgia 90 yards down the field on 10 plays, going 3-for-8 with 43 yards and the touchdown through the air. Junior wideout McKenzie caught two balls in the final drive for 26 yards and the score.

Mizzou had a chance on their final possession with 1:29 left in the game but Juwuan Briscoe stripped Tigers receiver Johnathon Johnson after a 20-yard completion. The Bulldogs were able to kneel it to secure coach Kirby Smart’s first SEC conference win.

Eason set career-highs across the board as he went 29-for-55 with 308 yards and three touchdowns. McKenzie grabbed a career-best 10 receptions for 122 yards and three scores.

The Georgia defense caused five turnovers but did not turn those takeaways into points. Sophomore linebacker Natrez Patrick led the Bulldogs with nine total tackles. Safety Quincy Mauger matched his career-high of two interceptions that he set vs. Mizzou in 2014. Sophomore cornerback Juwuan Briscoe nabbed one interception and two fumble recoveries– both career-highs.

The game was a tale of two halves as the first half featured a high-scoring aerial attack from both team and the second half consisted of a defensive struggle. The teams combined for 41 points and 595 total yards in the first half but the second half saw 14 points and 287 total yards.

Mizzou scored on the opening possession of the game for an early 7-0 edge. Tigers’ quarterback Drew Lock connected with tight end Jason Reese for a 15-yard touchdown to conclude the 10-play, 72-yard drive.

After a Georgia punt, the Tigers mounted another long scoring drive (7 play, 64-yards) ending with a 33-yard field goal by Tucker McCann.

The Bulldogs answered in the subsequent possession with their own long scoring drive capped off by a 6-yard Isaiah McKenzie touchdown scamper on an end around. The 13-play, 75-yard drive featured four crucial third down completions by Georgia quarterback Jacob Eason to three separate receivers –Reggie Davis, Christian Payne and McKenzie. McKenzie’s second third-down catch on the drive was a 31-yard catch and run that put Georgia into Mizzou’s side of the field.

Eason connected with junior fullback Christian Payne on a 2-yard touchdown toss to give Georgia the lead at 14-10 with 12:48 left in the second quarter. A 12-men on the field penalty on the defense extended the drive for UGA. Two plays later, Eason threw a 20-yard strike to sophomore wideout Terry Godwin to the two-yard line, setting up the Payne’s touchdown.

Tigers’ quarterback Drew Lock found receiver Chris Black on a 33-yard pass play that set up a 46-yard field goal by Tucker McCann that moved Mizzou within one at 14-13 with 10:36 left in the second quarter.

A few minutes later, Georgia junior cornerback Aaron Davis jarred the ball loose from Tigers running back Johnathon Johnson that was recovered by Briscoe of Georgia. However, the Bulldogs failed to take advantage and punted on a 3-and-out.

The Tigers regained the lead 20-14 on the first play of the following possession as wideout J’Mon Moore scored on a 79-yard catch and run from Lock at the 6:30 mark.

Georgia fired back to recapture the lead at 21-20 with 1:48 left in the half. Eason orchestrated a 5-play, 74-yard drive, all through the air. Eason completed four straight competitions to Payne (8 yards), McKenzie (14 yards), Godwin (32 yards) and then McKenzie again for the 20-yard touchdown strike.

Both teams’ defenses held the opposition at bay on the ground game in the first half. Mizzou limited Georgia junior tailback Nick Chubb to 34 yards on 12 carries, while Georgia’s defense held the Tigers to a total of 21 rushing yards. The opposite can be said about the aerial attack for both teams. Georgia’s Eason was 18-for-28 with 219 yards and two touchdowns, while Mizzou’s Lock amassed 322 yards through the air with two scores. Junior wideout McKenzie led the Bulldogs with seven receptions for 96 yards and a score. Mizzou’s Moore racked up 172 yards on six receptions to pace the Tigers.

On the opening possession of the second half, Mizzou’s Cam Hilton intercepted Eason and returned it 27 yards to the Georgia six-yard line. Lock tossed it to Moore on the next play for a six-yard touchdown that put Mizzou up 27-21.

A few possessions later, Georgia’s Briscoe intercepted a Lock pass and returned it 18 yards to the Mizzou 27-yard line but UGA failed to capitalize as redshirt sophomore kicker William Ham hooked a 23-yard field goal to the left.

Early in the fourth quarter the opportunity presented itself again for Georgia’s Ham after another Tigers turnover but he pulled the field goal left, this time from 38 yards out. Georgia’s Mauger picked off Mizzou’s Lock in the last minute of the third quarter.

Mizzou put together a 15-play drive that ate five minutes off the clock and threatened to go ahead by two scores but on third-and-five from the UGA 18-yard line, Mauger soared across the field to intercept Lock in the end zone. The Tigers ran the ball 14 times in the 60-yard drive.

The Bulldogs’ offense stalled forcing a punt to the Tigers who shaved close to two and a half minutes off the clock before punting back to Georgia at the 3:41 mark.

“No question, the biggest one (turnover) was the last one,” said Smart. “And we preach it. It’s who can get the turnover that is the big difference. We were very fortunate tonight to get those turnovers, their quarterback threw us a few and our quarterback didn’t. He threw one but it’s just making decisions. We need to learn how to capitalize and run the ball.”

The Bulldogs travel to Oxford, Miss. next Saturday to face Ole Miss. Kickoff is scheduled at Noon and will be televised on ESPN.

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