On That Winding Road

ATHENS - Somewhere along the way Georgia lost its way on the road.

Mark Richt is 43-14 on the road as coach at Georgia - a pretty amazing statistic. He’s played ranked foes on the road 20 times is 12-8 in those ball games. There was a time in the early part of Richt’s tenure in Athens that Gorgia was flat out beastly on the road.

The Bulldogs only lost three times on the road from 2001-06. In that time Georgia had some of the biggest wins in program history - 26-24 over No. 6 Tennessee in 2001; 27-25 over No. 22 Alabama in 2002; 24-21 over No. 24 Auburn in 2002; 41-14 over No. 13 Tennessee in 2003; 27-14 over No. 8 Tennessee in 2005; 14-7 over No. 20 Georgia Tech in 2005 and the stunning 37-15 win over No. 5 Auburn in 2006.

Those wins were classics, but Georgia took a big dip while traveling on the road at the start of the 2009 season - a 24-10 loss at No. 9 Oklahoma State. For the next two seasons the Bulldogs managed to only go 5-5 on the road. It was a dark time in Athens.

But the Dawgs recovered and have gone 9-5 on the road since. Georgia hasn’t beaten a ranked team on the road since knocking off No. 25 Georgia Tech 31-17 in 2011, and that’s going to have to change this week at Missouri if Georgia wants to win the SEC East.

Road games in the past three-plus seasons have been anything but easy for Georgia. The losses, with the exception of the 2012 South Carolina game, have all been painfully close: a three-point loss at No. 8 Clemson, a four-point loss to Vanderbilt and a five-point loss to No. 7 Auburn last year that most Georgia fans would prefer to forget. No. 23 South Carolina’s win over Georgia this season was by three points.

In fact the average margin of victory in the last six road games Georgia has played in has been 4.1 points… leaving the game in doubt until the final play or drive.

That small margin of error - four points - is why Georgia’s defense and its quarterbacks must play so very well on Saturday. Turning the ball over multiple times on the road has not been terminal for the Bulldogs in the past - amazingly - but it seems like a turnover from Mason or anyone would spell doom. Missouri averages an interception a game.

More than anything, however, Georgia has to run the ball effectively. The Bulldogs are 15-3 when rushing for 175 yards or more on the road in the Mark Richt era. Georgia is still pretty good on the road with fewer than 175 yards rushing, but much less so - 27-12. Considering Georgia is averaging 289 yards a game on offense and Missouri is allowing 145 yards a game getting to 175 doesn’t seem like that's asking too much.

The key, too, is that when Georgia has won on the road it prevents the other team from scoring. Right now the Dawgs are 43rd in the nation in scoring defense allowing 21.6 points a game, but four of the Dawgs’ five games have been at home. They allowed 38 points against South Carolina in September. The magic number is 30.

Since 2011, Georgia is 2-5 when allowing 30 points or more on the road. The Dawgs are a knockout 7-0 when preventing the other team from reaching the 30-point mark in that time.

So it is simple. There was a time when Georgia was dominant on the road, but they haven’t been lately. Georgia is 2-4 since the start of the 2013 season on the road because they’ve not been stingy on defense (2013 Auburn; 2013 Clemson and 2014 South Carolina) and struggled to run the ball (2013 Vanderbilt).

That has to change on Saturday. The Bulldogs’ game against Missouri is, quite frankly, the pivotal game of the season. It is terminal in a way the South Carolina trip was not. It is do or die in the East.

Georgia is better and should win - even on the road.

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