The Missouri Tigers (1-4, 0-3 SEC) will make their way to Sanford Stadium for an SEC East matchup against the No. 4-ranked Georgia Bulldogs (6-0, 3-0 SEC) on Saturday night. Missouri enters its second road game of the season coming off a tough 40-34 loss at Kentucky. It marked the fourth loss in a row for Barry Odom’s Tigers. The good news is that they finally showed some signs of life, racking up 568 yards of offense against the Wildcats. Missouri will now look to avenge a narrow 28-27 loss to Georgia last year in Columbia by securing its first SEC win of the season in upset fashion.
That will be a very tall order against a Georgia team that is riding a huge wave of momentum. Georgia was able to extend its reign of dominance against SEC opponents this season with a 45-14 thrashing of Vanderbilt last week in Nashville. Kirby Smart’s Bulldogs have now outscored their first three conference opponents by a combined 100 points. They will attempt to keep that trend going against a vulnerable Missouri defense on Saturday night in Athens. But Georgia cannot afford to look past a dangerous Missouri offense with a bye week and matchup against Florida looming.
Missouri at Georgia
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 14 at 7:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: SEC Network
Spread: Georgia -30
Three Things to Watch
1. Georgia run game vs. Missouri run defense
One of the biggest reasons Mizzou played Georgia close last season was its stellar effort against the run. The Tigers limited Nick Chubb and Sony Michel to a combined 100 rushing yards, keeping both of Georgia’s elite running backs from finding the end zone in the 2016 matchup.
But that was last year, and this is a completely different Missouri defense. In fact, safety Thomas Wilson and defensive end Jordan Harold will be the only two Missouri players in the starting lineup on Saturday who started against Georgia last season. And the 2017 edition of the Tiger defense has not fared well against opposing run games. The Tigers are giving up 193.4 rushing yards per game (11th in the SEC) and have allowed a ridiculous 16 rushing touchdowns in just five games.
That does not bode well against a Georgia run game that is the strength of its offense this season. The much-improved Bulldog rushing attack currently ranks second in the SEC, averaging 268.3 rushing yards per game. SEC rushing leader Chubb, is averaging over 100 rushing yards per contest all on his own. And the Bulldogs already have 17 touchdowns via the ground game. It will be extremely difficult for the leaky Missouri run defense to keep Georgia from running wild this time around.
2. Missouri turnovers
If not for the five turnovers that Missouri committed in this matchup last season, there is a very good chance that the Tigers would have beaten the Bulldogs. In fact, it was a fumble on the potential game-winning drive that ultimately sealed the Tigers' fate in the 28-27 loss.
Ball security and sloppy play are once again plaguing the Missouri offense in 2017. The Tigers have already committed 14 turnovers in just five games, by far the most in the SEC. Missouri already has an uphill battle on its hands trying to contend with a potent Georgia offense. So, the Tigers can ill afford to continue making costly mistakes on offense. Ball security will be the single most important factor for Mizzou in this matchup.
3. Big-play Missouri passing game
The Missouri passing game finally came back to life last week against Kentucky. Drew Lock threw for 355 yards and three touchdowns in the controversial loss to the Wildcats. Lock’s impressive stat line was largely the result of four big pass plays that all went for 48 yards or more.
Big pass plays were part of the formula that allowed Missouri to have success on offense against Georgia last season as well. Lock completed passes of 25, 48 and 79 yards against the Bulldogs in the 2016 matchup, all to star wide receiver J’Mon Moore, who ultimately racked up eight catches for 196 yards and two touchdowns on the night. Lock would go on to throw for 376 yards and three touchdowns in that game. That said, Lock also threw three interceptions, and Moore was the player who fumbled away any chance for a Mizzou win at the end of the game, which underscores the necessity of avoiding turnovers in Saturday’s game.
Regardless, you can probably expect to see Lock take his chances with several shots downfield to deep threats Moore and Johnathan Johnson again on Saturday night. It might be the Tigers' only real chance to put points on the scoreboard. Of course, that’s also easier said than done against a Georgia pass defense that has been very stingy to this point, allowing just three passing touchdowns in six games and giving up 156.7 passing YPG (10th in the FBS).
The Missouri offense has the tools to cause some problems for the Georgia defense. But that will only be possible if the Tigers can stop shooting themselves in the foot with costly turnovers. I’m not sure if that is possible, especially in a hostile night environment in Athens. I also don’t think the Missouri defense has much chance of slowing down the Georgia ground game or Bulldogs QB Jake Fromm, for that matter. Additionally, a Missouri red zone defense that ranks dead last in the SEC is not capable of keeping the SEC’s best red zone offense from finding the end zone multiple times.
Prediction: Georgia 45, Missouri 17
— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS.