Georgia defensive back Eric Stokes (27) during the Bulldogs’ game against Missouri in Columbia, Mo., on Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020. (Photo by Cassie Florido)

Junior cornerback Eric Stokes ignited a fire for Georgia on just the second play of its matchup against Missouri. Stokes picked off Tigers' quarterback Connor Bazelak and returned it 27 yards to the Missouri 23-yard line. The early interception led to the first of Georgia’s seven touchdowns and hinted at the dominant defensive performance to come. 

“It was big,” head coach Kirby Smart said in a virtual postgame press conference. “It started it off right. I thought that was probably one of the keys to the game to get the juice flowing, you know, a little bit, and come out offensively and kind of punch them right there early.”

Stokes’ interception was his fourth of the season, two of which he's taken back for touchdowns. He's now tied for the lead in interceptions in the SEC.

Stokes and Georgia’s defense shut down a red-hot Missouri offense with the return of nose tackle Jordan Davis and despite still missing its star safety, Richard LeCounte. The Bulldogs recorded one sack, seven tackles for loss and three pass break ups for the day. 

Georgia also held Missouri scoreless in the second half. The Tigers only recorded 200 total yards, 11 first downs and averaged one yard per rush. 

The Bulldogs anticipated another dominant performance from Missouri running back Larry Rountree. In Missouri’s five wins, Rountree has averaged 138 rushing yards per game, and he rushed for 185 yards on 27 carries last weekend against Arkansas.

Rountree had an uncharacteristic showing against Georgia with just 16 yards on 14 attempts. Linebacker Monty Rice said the defense planned to silence his effectiveness.

“We just kept doing what we’ve been doing the whole year, and we really wanted to stop the run because, you know, 34 [Rountree] had been hot coming into this game,” Rice said.

Before today, Missouri had scored 91 points over its last two games and won 5 of its last 6 contests. Smart previously praised Missouri quarterback Connor Bazelak, who couldn’t find his rhythm today, finishing 17 of 28 for 139 yards and no touchdowns.

“[Bazelak] is really accurate," Smart said in a virtual press conference on Dec 8. "He throws a really catchable ball. I’ve been extremely impressed with this guy’s composure, poise, and he’s going to be there for a while.”

The only time that Georgia’s defense faltered was on a trick play that gave Missouri its first scoring opportunity late in the second quarter. The adversity Georgia’s defense faced was brief, and the unit showed its resiliency with a second half beatdown. 

“It was cool to do what you want to do,” Rice said. “You want to do that every game, but in today’s day-and-age it’s hard to hold the offenses to whatever we held them to today, but you know it doesn’t matter who we’re playing — nobody’s an exception. We’re trying to beat everybody.”