Bulldogs look to maintain lead in the SEC East against visiting Tigers
As strange as it sounds, both Missouri and Georgia still have designs on making the SEC Championship Game. Oh sure, we KNOW the Bulldogs (7-1, 4-1 SEC) are in line for it as they are the odds-on favorites to face off with the LSU-Alabama winner on that first Saturday in December.
Even though the Black and Old Gold have looked pretty putrid their last two games — losses to Vanderbilt and Kentucky — at 2-2 in conference play, they still have hopes of winning the division. And yes, those hopes are as faint as can be especially when you take into consideration the postseason ban handed down by the NCAA prior to this season that the school appealed and is still awaiting a decision on said appeal. Yet the Tigers come into this game with a much different mindset than the Dawgs, who have blanked Kentucky (21-0) and beaten then-No. 6 Florida (24-17) in the last two weeks.
One thing the Tigers do have as a positive in their corner is that while the Dawgs were fighting tooth and nail to pull out a big win over their rival Gators last Saturday, they were able to cool their jets and get some bumps and bruises healed with a week off. And that's always nice.
Missouri at Georgia
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 9 at 7 p.m. ET
Spread: Georgia -17
When Missouri Has the Ball
Is KB on the IR? One thing the Tigers did not need is an injury to its leader. But guess what? Kelly Bryant appears to be nursing a gimpy hamstring that he strained early in the Kentucky game, though he played into the third quarter. As of Tuesday's practice head coach Barry Odom said Bryant was “about 75 percent.” It could be a game-time decision, but if Bryant is a no-go, Taylor Powell would take the controls. Powell did not lead the offense to a score against Kentucky and expecting him to make difference-making plays against the best defense in the SEC is a tall order.
Make Mizzou one-dimensional. Kirby Smart is a Nick Saban disciple, so you know that defense is going to be centered on stopping Larry Rountree and the Tiger ground game and forcing Bryant or Taylor into winning this one with their arm. Georgia's run defense is fourth in the nation, giving up just 77.6 rushing yards per game. And they'll be facing a Mizzou O-line that has struggled at times this year, so big advantage to the Junkyard Dogs in the trenches.
Use the guy with the unpronounceable name. If Georgia has had a consistent problem this year, it's that they've had trouble with opposing tight ends. Remember Notre Dame's Cole Kmet? He torched the Dawgs for nine catches and 108 yards. Last week, Florida's Kyle Pitts averaged 20 yards per catch on four grabs. Mizzou All American tight end Albert Okwuegbunam has 18 catches and six TDs so far this season. Look for him to get a big spotlight Saturday night.
When Georgia Has the Ball
Mo pressure. Missouri has not shown a penchant for getting to the quarterback as the Tigers are 100th in the FBS with just 13 sacks so far this season. Florida came into last week's showdown with Georgia leading the SEC with 29 sacks on the season but ended up not getting a single one. Georgia is second in the country in sacks allowed, giving up just four so far this season (which is tied with Air Force... a team that rarely passes). If Jake Fromm is given time to pitch a tent in the pocket and pick the Tiger defense apart, it will be a long night for Mizzou.
Fromm bad to good. Prior to the win over Florida, Fromm had a rough two weeks, throwing three interceptions in the 20-17 loss to South Carolina and then throwing for just 35 yards in the rain vs. Kentucky. There were even boos from the home crowd in that game against the Wildcats (Really?). But against the Gators, Fromm got his groove back, going 20-of-30 for 279 yards. More impressively, Fromm was 10-of-13 with eight first downs on third down vs. the Gators. It will be interesting to see which Fromm shows up against the Tigers, who are fourth nationally in passing defense, giving up just 144.5 yards per game.
Swiftly ascending. D'Andre Swift has really carried the load for the Bulldogs of late. In the last three games, he's had 69 rushing attempts for 378 yards and three touchdowns. Keep in mind that Kentucky's Lynn Bowden Jr. (the Wildcats' wide receiver-turned-quarterback because of injuries) ran roughshod on this Tiger defense to the tune of 204 yards and two touchdowns.
Not gonna mess around with a lot of "what if" scenarios. Whether Kelly Bryant plays or not, the Bulldogs should win this one with some comfort. Only a severe lack of focus — or a rash of turnovers like vs. South Carolina — will make this one tight for the Silver Britches.
Prediction: Georgia 35, Missouri 13
— Written by Eric Sorenson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He is a college football, college baseball and college hockey addict... and writer. Follow him on Twitter @Stitch_Head.