After turning in his Butkus Award-winning performance against Missouri Saturday night, Georgia’s Jarvis Jones deserved a breather.
Instead, he tossed out a clue about Georgia’s strategy in defeating Missouri, 41-20. "Missouri threw their punches," Jones remarked shortly after leading the dismantling of the Tigers. "But you have to play the whole game."
Reading between the lines, there you have it: The Dogs Rope-a-Doped ‘em.
One of Muhammad Ali’s most famous fights, the Rumble in the Jungle, took place Oct. 30, 1974.
Ali, heavy, slow, and well past his prime, sought to do the impossible: reclaim his heavy weight title against George Foreman.
Mighty George Foreman. Younger, bigger, stronger. A man seemingly invincible, certainly unbeatable. The man who won the title by knocking down Joe Frazier six times in two rounds. The indomitable Joe Frazier. "Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier!"
Foreman then added to his legend by knocking out Ken Norton in two rounds — thus defeating the only two boxers who had beaten Ali up to that time.
Foreman had a punch that could bring down a bull moose. So what did Ali do? He leaned back against the ropes, gloves in front of his face, arms covering his chest, and let Foreman punch away. Ali took all his best shots.
By the fifth round, Foreman had punched himself out. Ali began asking him "Is that all you got? They told me you could punch like Joe Louis." Finally, Foreman admitted that, yes, that was about all he had.
Ali knocked him out in the eighth round.
And so it went Saturday night in Columbia.
The Dogs took the electric atmosphere surrounding Missouri’s entrance into the SEC, and turned it to their advantage.
They used Missouri’s early excitement and emotion to leave the Tigers drained by the middle of the third quarter.
They let the Tigers punch themselves out, and then spent the fourth quarter wondering, "Is that all you got?"
How else do you explain a game that was so ugly early, even Sheldon Richardson would have turned it off? He did do the next best thing; he quit playing in the fourth quarter, gasping for air on the Missouri bench when his team needed him most.
After 28:29 the score stood 3-3.
Then, Missouri surprised: James Franklin hitting three straight passes for 63 yards and a touchdown. Georgia surprised, too: Aaron Murray completed five straight passes for 71 yards in a single minute to tie the score.
Well, would have tied it, had Marshall Morgan not shanked the extra point.
This flawless drive came from a quarterback so wild-high to start the game, he could have overthrown Shaquille O’Neal.
Murray was so far off target that he managed to overshoot his fullback, Merritt Hall, by a good 15 yards on a 10 yard pass. Georgia hadn’t run that little flat pass to its fullback — once an enjoyable staple — seemingly since Brannan Southerland used up his eligibility in the 2008 season.
Of course, when receivers are reaching above their heads for every pass, it becomes difficult to catch one at eye level. Drops became numerous. As did false starts by the tackles.
But it was all part of the plan.
Missouri hit a 69-yard touchdown pass to start the third quarter scoring — after a Georgia three-and-out. Georgia’s third string cornerback, Devin Bowman, was beaten badly on the play.
Georgia counterpunched with a 12 play, 75 yard drive — and two point conversion to tie the score.
They then let Missouri run off 13 plays and drive to the Georgia 7-yard line, but held the Tigers to a field goal.
Missouri led, 20-17 with 17:39 to play, but the Tigers were done. All punched out. Emotions spent. Energy sapped.
Their hurry-up offense? Hurried no more. Their defense offered token resistance at best.
Over that final 17:39, Georgia outscored Missouri, 24-0. Until the final margin was reached, Georgia outgained Missouri 135 yards to 42 and had five first downs to two. Missouri had held a solid statistical advantage.
Most important, Georgia made no mistakes. Meanwhile, Jones was intercepting a pass and returning it to the goal line, and stripping Franklin of the ball, with Georgia recovering on the 5. Richard Samuel was stopping a fake punt eight yards short.
In short, the Dogs took Missouri’s best shots, hung with them, and, when crunch time hit, delivered the decisive blows.
And a message. Welcome to the SEC. Be ready to answer the bell for every round.