Missouri already trailed 10-0, and it felt like the dam was about to break, and they needed something good to happen almost immediately or it was going to be beatdown city. After initially going to the line like they were going to boldly go for it on fourth and short in their own territory, but near midfield, the Tigers after a timeout opted to punt instead.
My friend, who is assuredly a much nicer person than me, voiced his displeasure and let fly some booing, joined by frustrated other Tiger fans in the corner of Sanford Stadium.
Analytics are a growing part of sports, and it’s almost always the statistically logical choice to go for it on fourth and short. Of course, the decision worked like a conservative coach’s fantasy, with Missouri forcing a three and out and coaxing a shaky punt out of Georgia, thus giving the Tigers the ball back with good field position.
But the moment went deeper than just deciding whether to be bold and go for it or to mitigate the damage and punt. My friend who unleashed some pretty impressive booing had endured riding in a vehicle through Atlanta, one of our nation’s great traffic disasters, spent a good chunk of money on the excursion, and faced a long car ride home the next day. He hadn’t come that far and spent that much and endured a screaming-kid madhouse known as “The World of Coca-Cola” to watch his team simply follow standard football operating procedure and meekly fade into the noncompetitive night.
He wasn’t the only fan who was fed up. Another fan sitting next to my group of friends at the game said he’d been to all but five Missouri games, home and away, since the Tigers joined the SEC seven years ago. But he said he didn’t think he’d go to all the games next year. Making grand trips to see your team play lose some joy when your team loses three of them in a row, the third of which a 27-0 beatdown that seemed about as suspenseful as a sunset.
Oh sure, football game weekends can still be incredibly fun even when your team has suddenly turned awful. Ole Miss fans don’t give that “we never lose a party” line for nothing. Rolling into Athens, Georgia on the Friday of a football game weekend is an incredibly experience, a Tiger tail flapping in the wind behind our vehicle.
Eating at five in downtown Athens the night before the game, we saw people in tuxedos and lots of Tiger fans out and about. We hit up some bars and saw even more Tiger fans. Everyone’s a winner on Friday night.
Saturday was a crisp, clear day, great November football weather. Fans of both teams tailgated and traipsed around the old campus, the energy building and building as the game drew near. The big stadium filled up with a hot crowd on a cool night, the band and music from the speakers and light show whipping the stadium into a frenzy. Both teams raced out, banners held high. It was a tremendous stage for a big SEC football game.
All that was missing was a competitive football game. Jake Fromm was annoyingly accurate for Georgia early on as the Bulldogs took the lead. Then they pretty much sat on the game and played it safe on offense, knowing Missouri couldn’t muster a comeback with the Tigers’ struggling offense against Georgia’s elite defense. It was like the script from 2015.
The Tiger defense was admirably stubborn after initial breakdowns, but again the Bulldogs weren’t exactly airing it out once it became obvious Missouri couldn’t score. Getting slowly kicked out of a football game three points at a time by a bespectacled kicker named Rodrigo is not especially dignified.
Missouri did mount one more good drive at the end of the game. The contest was already easily in hand for Georgia, but it was still a bit of fun to see freshman Connor Bazelak out there, taking advantage of that four-game redshirt rule, pretty fearlessly making throws against a defense that was way ahead but still wanting to preserve the shutout.
The Tigers got close, and I was still sitting on those increasingly cold metal bleachers, ready to pimp the heck out of this touchdown to draw the Tigers within three touchdowns. But it never came, lost in a haphazard sequence of incomplete passes and Missouri’s former walk-on running into a wall of blue-chip defenders.
The shutout was probably a more accurate reflection of the game anyway, and the general hopeless nature of Missouri’s attempts to even move the ball down the field. It was disheartening how far short of Georgia’s standard they were. Almost everyone expected Georgia to win, but a feistier effort from Missouri would have been nice. Instead it just deepened the feeling of malaise around the program. Tiger fans need something to get excited about.
Now it’s back home to face Florida. Missouri can’t really save the season at some point, but at least stopping the spiral would be nice. The next trip to Athens will surely be fun, but it would be nice if next time the game is more than a mere formality.