Missouri versus Georgia is suddenly a big game in the SEC. The Tigers are clearly improved in their second season in the SEC, and a win over the Bulldogs would put coach Gary Pinkel’s team in the mix with Florida and South Carolina for the top spot in the East Division.
The Tigers haven’t played the most challenging schedule but are 5-0 and handled Vanderbilt in their SEC opener. Missouri also has a solid road win at Indiana and has scored at least 38 points in every game this season.
Georgia’s path to a 4-1 record featured one of the most difficult slates in the nation. The Bulldogs lost at Clemson in the opener but rebounded with four consecutive wins. In addition to a victory over North Texas, Georgia defeated South Carolina 41-30 and LSU 44-41 and survived an upset bid by Tennessee 34-31 in overtime last week.
These two teams have met only twice, with Georgia winning both matchups. Prior to last season’s game, the only previous matchup between these two schools was in the 1960 Orange Bowl.
Missouri vs. Georgia
Kickoff: 12 ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Georgia -8
Three Things to Watch
How will Georgia stop Missouri QB James Franklin?
What a difference a year makes. After battling various ailments and recovering from offseason shoulder surgery last season, Franklin looks like a different quarterback in 2013. The senior has thrown for 1,407 yards and 13 touchdowns and is completing 67.9 percent of his throws. Franklin has also rushed for 278 yards and two scores and has already surpassed his total offense total (1,684) from last season. Georgia’s defense returned only three starters this season, and this unit is still a work in progress after five games. The Bulldogs rank 10th in the SEC in yards allowed 12th in pass defense. In addition to stopping Franklin, Missouri has a strong supporting cast, led by receiver Dorial Green-Beckham and running backs Russell Hansbrough and Henry Josey. Franklin’s dual-threat ability will be a huge test for Georgia’s defense, especially after the Bulldogs allowed Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd to record 312 yards and five scores in the opener.
Aaron Murray’s supporting cast
Injuries have decimated Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray’s supporting cast. Running back Todd Gurley did not play in last week’s win over Tennessee due to a sprained ankle and is not expected to play against Missouri. The Bulldogs also lost running back Keith Marshall for the season with a torn ACL last week, which means freshmen J.J. Green and Brendan Douglas will shoulder the workload on the ground. Green has been a capable option in limited action (8.8 ypc), and the coaching staff may pull the redshirt off of A.J. Turman this week. As if the injuries at running back weren’t enough, Georgia is shorthanded at receiver. Malcolm Mitchell was lost for the year in the opener due to a torn ACL, and Michael Bennett and Justin Scott-Wesley were injured against Tennessee last week. Bennett is out indefinitely, while Scott-Wesley will miss the rest of the season. Senior Rhett McGowan and junior Chris Conley are capable options at receiver, but depth is a concern. Expect the Bulldogs to involve tight ends Arthur Lynch and Jay Rome more in the passing game this week. Murray is one of the nation’s best quarterbacks, but how much transition time will it require with the changes in his supporting cast?
Missouri’s DL vs. Georgia’s OL
Missouri’s defensive line was considered by most to be a weakness this preseason. But the Tigers have been strong in the trenches so far, as end Michael Sam is tied for the SEC lead with six sacks, and opponents are managing just 118.6 rushing yards per game this season. Sam isn’t the only player off to a good start on the line, as end Kony Ealy has two sacks and tackles Lucas Vincent and Matt Hoch have combined for 19 stops. Only one player (Toledo’s David Fluellen) has rushed for more than 100 yards on Missouri’s defense so far this season. Georgia’s offensive line allowed four sacks in the opener against Clemson but allowed just three in the other four games. Will Sam continue his hot start to the season? Or will Georgia’s offensive line control the line of scrimmage? This battle will be a matchup to watch on Saturday.
Key Player: J.J. Green, RB, Georgia
With Gurley not expected to play and Keith Marshall out for the season, Green has to carry the ground attack against Missouri. The Tigers rank third in the SEC against the run, holding opponents to 118.6 yards per game. Prior to last week’s game against Tennessee, the freshman had only five carries in his career. Against the Volunteers, Green stepped up with the game on the line, recording 129 yards on 17 attempts. Considering the depth issues here, Green will be needed for 25-30 rushes on Saturday, which will surpass the 22 he has through five appearances this year. Quarterback Aaron Murray is one of the best in the nation, but he can’t win this game on his own. Will Green give the Bulldogs 100 yards on Saturday?
With all of its injuries, Georgia will have its hands full with a much-improved Missouri team. The Tigers shouldn’t have much trouble moving the ball against the Bulldogs, but Georgia’s athletic and fast defense will be the best the Tigers have faced this season. The Bulldogs pass-rush duo of Jordan Jenkins and Leonard Floyd should be able to exploit Missouri’s offensive line, which has allowed 11 sacks through five games. Quarterback James Franklin threw for 269 yards against the Bulldogs last year and will need over 300 total yards for the Tigers to win on Saturday.
Missouri shows its 5-0 start is no fluke with a strong performance in Athens. However, Georgia is the better team and once again, will find a way to win.
Prediction: Georgia 34, Missouri 27