The No. 2-ranked Georgia Bulldogs (3-0, 1-0 SEC) will head west for an SEC East showdown against the Missouri Tigers (3-0) on Saturday afternoon at Faurot Field. This will mark Georgia’s second big divisional road test of the young season. Two weeks ago, the Bulldogs overwhelmed an upset-minded South Carolina team on the road by a score of 41-17 to secure their first conference win of 2018. They followed that up with a 49-7 victory last week against MTSU. Georgia has now outscored its first three opponents by a combined 111 points en route to a 3-0 start. Kirby Smart’s red-hot Dawgs now look to keep their perfect season intact on the road against another upset-minded opponent from the SEC East on Saturday.
Barry Odom’s Missouri Tigers enter their first SEC contest of the season riding their own wave of momentum. Missouri managed to avenge last season’s embarrassing 35-3 loss to Purdue, holding off a late surge from the Boilermakers to preserve a 40-37 victory on the road last week. The win pushed Mizzou to a perfect 3-0 on the season and marked the Tigers’ ninth victory in their last ten games. They will now attempt to shake up the college football landscape in a big way by garnering their first SEC win of 2018 in upset fashion against the powerhouse Bulldogs at home. A tall order indeed.
Saturday will mark just the eighth meeting ever between the two SEC East schools. Georgia is 6-1 all-time against Missouri, winning each of the last four contests. Georgia won last season’s matchup by a score of 53-28 in Athens. But the Bulldogs needed a little luck and some late-game heroics to pull off a 28-27 victory against the Tigers in their last visit to Columbia in 2016.
Georgia at Missouri
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 22 at 12 p.m. ET
Spread: Georgia -14
Three Things to Watch
1. Deandre Baker vs. Emanuel Hall
When these two teams met in 2017, it was elite wide receiver J’Mon Moore who was expected to shine for the Missouri passing game. Georgia cornerback Deandre Baker was assigned to shadow Moore in that game. Moore's night ended with just one catch for eight yards, by far his worst performance in an otherwise stellar 2017 season. Moore has since moved on to the NFL with the Green Bay Packers. But Baker, a second-team All-SEC selection in 2017, has returned for his senior season. Missouri wide receiver Emanuel Hall also chose to return for his senior campaign. And it was Hall who stole the show in last year’s game against the Bulldogs with four catches for 141 yards and two touchdowns. Hall has replaced Moore as the go-to receiver for quarterback Drew Lock in 2018 as well. And, so far, it is paying big dividends for the Missouri passing attack. Hall currently leads the SEC with 430 receiving yards and three touchdowns on 18 receptions (23.9 yards per reception).
Meanwhile, Baker continues to build on his reputation as one of the nation’s premier lock-down cornerbacks. Baker leads the SEC with two interceptions through three games, and opposing quarterbacks have a passer rating of just 33.7 when throwing in his direction. He also played a key role in limiting elite South Carolina playmaker Deebo Samuel to just 33 receiving yards in Week 2. While it’s a safe bet that Kirby Smart will do his best to match Baker up against Hall as much as possible, it’s also safe to assume that Missouri offensive coordinator Derek Dooley will move Hall around to avoid this matchup. But one thing is for certain: It will make for quite a show when these two top-flight talents are paired against one another on Saturday.
2. Missouri quarterback Drew Lock
The All-SEC quarterback is off to another stellar start in 2018, completing 69 percent of his pass attempts for 1,062 yards, with 11 touchdowns and just one interception through the first three games. Lock also was one of the few quarterbacks to find success against the vaunted Georgia defense in 2017, throwing for 253 yards and four touchdowns last season against the Dawgs.
In fact, Lock has shown improvement every year against the Bulldogs, a trend the senior quarterback hopes will continue in his fourth and final start against Georgia on Saturday. But the Heisman Trophy candidate will certainly have his work cut out for him this time around. The Georgia pass defense has been incredibly stingy so far in 2018, limiting opposing quarterbacks to just 7.39 yards per completion (No. 1 in the FBS). The silver lining is that Georgia’s pass rush has been almost non-existent to this point, registering just one sack in three games.
Lock also has a nice complement of weapons to help him overcome the difficult matchup. In addition to Emanuel Hall, the Mizzou passing attack has legitimate playmakers in Johnathon Johnson and Jalen Knox at wide receiver. Missouri also has a bona fide red zone threat in tight end Albert Okwuegbunam. Lock will still need plenty of help from the running game to be at his best on Saturday. And the Tigers seem optimistic about their chances for success in that regard with an experienced offensive line to go along with a pair of talented running backs in Larry Rountree III and Damarea Crockett. But running room will not be easy to find against a stout Georgia run defense. The Bulldogs held Rountree and Crockett to a combined 54 rushing yards last season.
3. The Georgia offense vs. the Missouri defense
Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm threw for 326 yards against Missouri last season, the only 300-yard passing performance of his career. He also added two touchdowns through the air and one on the ground. The sophomore quarterback could be in for another big performance on Saturday. There might even be enough leftovers for freshman quarterback Justin Fields to feast as well. Fromm and Fields have already combined to complete a remarkable 81 percent of their pass attempts for 621 passing yards and eight touchdowns in 2018.
They will face a Mizzou pass defense that was routinely torched last week by Purdue quarterback David Blough. Blough put up video game numbers against the Tiger secondary, throwing for 572 yards and three touchdowns. Missouri also registered just one sack in the game. The Tigers’ pass defense can ill afford a similar meltdown on Saturday against a proficient Georgia passing attack.
Missouri’s big problem last season came in the form of their overly generous run defense. The Tigers struggled mightily against a potent Georgia rushing attack in 2017, surrendering 370 yards and four touchdowns on the ground. The good news is that they appear to be much improved against the run so far in 2018. In fact, the Tigers have allowed fewer rushing yards (74.7 YPG) in the first three games than any other team in the SEC. Missouri also won’t have to face Nick Chubb and Sony Michel this time around.
But the Tigers will face a potent Georgia ground attack led by D’Andre Swift, Elijah Holyfield, James Cook and Brian Herrien. And this four-headed monster should provide the Missouri run defense with all it can handle on Saturday. The Bulldogs currently rank No. 13 in the FBS, averaging 272 rushing yards per game. The Dawgs also have eight rushing touchdowns in three games, while averaging close to seven yards per carry. It should make for one of the more intriguing matchups on Saturday.
The Tigers certainly have the tools on offense to cause problems for the Georgia defense, starting with a potential first-round NFL draft selection in quarterback Drew Lock. Unfortunately, Missouri still has some major obstacles to overcome on defense. I also suspect that the Tigers will be a little worse for the wear following last week’s hard-fought road win against Purdue. Meanwhile, the defending SEC champion Bulldogs have barely broken a sweat this season. They also haven’t shown any sign of decline in 2018. A potent Mizzou offense should help keep things interesting in front of the home crowd for a while. But a more talented and complete Georgia squad should have no trouble pulling away in the second half.
Prediction: Georgia 41, Missouri 24
— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS.