COLUMBIA, Mo. — Isaiah McKenzie’s last big play made Kirby Smart a winner in his conference debut.
Jacob Eason threw a 20-yard touchdown pass to McKenzie on fourth down with 1:31 seconds to play to give No. 16 Georgia a 28-27 victory over Missouri on Saturday night in the Southeastern Conference opener for both teams.
“They never stopped fighting,” Smart said. “They never stopped believing, and I’m proud of that.
“I appreciate that and we’re tough on them. We are tough on these kids every day so they respond to it and they did tonight.”
McKenzie caught 10 passes for 122 yards and two touchdowns, including the go-ahead score. He was targeted 16 times in the pass game and also carried the ball twice for 19 yards, with a 6-yard touchdown run near the end of the first quarter.
“It feels good to be that guy that they can go to and I can make a big play for them and I thank our coaches for believing in me, my team for believing in me and it brings joy to my heart that they believe in me to make big plays for them,” he said.
After splitting time with senior Greyson Lambert in the Bulldogs’ first two games, Eason played every snap, completing 29 of 55 passes for 308 yards, three touchdowns and one interception.
The Tigers (1-2) turned the ball over five times, including four in the second half. Missouri’s Drew Lock was 23 of 38 for 376 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions.
“It’s tough,” Missouri coach Barry Odom said. “When you don’t win the turnover margin it’s going to be hard to win.
“I hurt for my guys … We didn’t make enough plays to win it and I didn’t put them in a position to get it done. I’m frustrated.”
Following Eason’s late touchdown pass, Missouri took over at its own 30-yard line with 1:21 remaining. On the ensuing play, Lock found J’Mon Moore over the middle for a 20-yard reception. However, Moore fumbled the ball and Georgia defensive back Juwuan Briscoe recovered it. Briscoe finished with three tackles, two fumble recoveries and an interception.
Moore had eight catches for 196 yards and two touchdowns, including a 79-yard score that gave the Tigers a 20-14 lead midway through the second quarter.
The Bulldogs (3-0) were 0 for 2 on field goal attempts. William Ham missed two field goals wide left, both of which were set up by Missouri interceptions.
Georgia defensive back Kirby Choates was ejected late in the fourth quarter for a targeting hit on a bizarre special teams play. Georgia was flagged for both kick-catch interference on the 35-yard punt and Choates’ targeting hit on Missouri returner Johnathon Johnson. Missouri accepted the targeting penalty, resulting in a first down at the Tiger’s 44-yard line.
Missouri: After a relatively unproductive output through two weeks, Missouri’s defensive line was relentless in the trenches, accounting for 22 tackles, including 5 1/2 for loss. After making just five tackles through Missouri’s first two games, defensive end Charles Harris had seven tackles to go with three sacks.
Georgia: Nick Chubb had 38 carries for 143 yards and touchdown against Missouri in 2014, but was somewhat ineffective Saturday with 19 carries for 63 yards. Chubb averaged nearly 6 yards per carry heading into the game, but managed just over 3 yards per rush.
With teams such as No. 13 Iowa and No. 14 Oklahoma losing just ahead of them, the Bulldogs should easily move up a few places in the rankings on Sunday.
Missouri: The Tigers host Delaware State (0-2) next Saturday in the first meeting between the schools.
Georgia: The Bulldogs visit No. 19 Ole Miss (1-2, 0-1 SEC) next Saturday. Georgia won the last meeting 37-10 on Nov. 3, 2012, in Athens.
AP college football: http://collegefootball.ap.org