NO. 7 GEORGIA AT MISSOURI
7:45 p.m. ET Saturday
Faurot Field/Memorial Stadium, Columbia, Mo.
Records: Georgia 1-0 (0-0 SEC), Missouri 1-0 (0-0)
Last week: Georgia beat Buffalo 45-23. Missouri beat Southeastern Louisiana 62-10.
What’s the story?: Georgia’s lofty ranking faces its first major challenge when the Bulldogs travel to face Missouri in its historic first SEC game. It’s a classic clash of cultures, with Georgia bringing its combination of power running and tough defense -- which Missouri defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson described as “old man football” -- to face the Tigers’ wide-open spread offense that was so well-suited to the Big 12. The winner gets a big leg up in the SEC East race.
1. Franklin takes aim at Georgia’s D: Everyone who has watched Missouri’s James Franklin play quarterback knows how big a challenge he can be to contain. He’s fast and big enough to bowl over a defensive back when he escapes from the pocket and is a better-than-average passer. Georgia had difficulty against a dual-threat quarterback from Buffalo last week and it can’t afford to have similar containment issues against Franklin, a far superior all-around player.
2. Welcome to the SEC: Some Missouri fans say this is the biggest game in program history and that the atmosphere Saturday night will be electric. Once the game kicks off, however, will the Tigers be prepared to grind out four quarters against a physical Georgia team? That is one of the most intriguing questions leading into this game. Recent nonconference opponents including Colorado and Boise State held up fine against the Bulldogs, but Georgia surely intends to pound away, and the Tigers won’t have a chance if they can’t stand up to the challenge.
3. Special teams can be a factor: Both Missouri and Georgia returned kicks for touchdowns last week (Missouri’s Marcus Murphy returned two punts for touchdowns and Georgia’s Todd Gurley had a 100-yard kickoff return for a score). If it’s a tight game, a big return or missed field goal could swing momentum in one team’s favor.
Players to watch:
1. Jarvis Jones: Georgia’s defense is already without several starters -- and could be without previously suspended All-America safety Bacarri Rambo and linebacker Alec Ogletree. Jones and the remaining defensive regulars must have it together better than they did a week ago. Jones was great against Buffalo, but the defense had an off day/ A similarly ineffective outing will result in a loss to Missouri.
2. Aaron Murray: Georgia’s quarterback still faces questions about his ability to win the big game, as he’s 2-7 against ranked opponents. Missouri isn’t ranked, but a high-stakes win in Columbia would help soothe the nerves of Bulldogs fans who question whether Murray is a championship-caliber quarterback.
3. Malcolm Mitchell: The sophomore cornerback missed the Buffalo game after spraining his ankle Thursday in Georgia’s final practice of the week. He returned to practice this week, but it remains unclear whether he will be close to 100 percent when the Bulldogs take the field Saturday night. If he’s able to play and play well, Georgia’s secondary will have a much better chance against Missouri’s talented receivers.
1. Franklin: Missouri’s chances in this game hinge on whether Franklin can create problems for Georgia’s well-regarded defense. He was 15th in the nation last season in total offense with 295.85 yards per game and accounted for 36 touchdowns (21 passing, 15 rushing). He also threw 11 interceptions, which will be a factor to watch against a Georgia club that picked off 20 passes (fifth in FBS) in 2011.
2. Dorial Green-Beckham: The Tigers have a collection of dangerous receivers, and the most exciting talent is the 6-foot-6 true freshman who ranked as ESPN’s No. 3 overall national prospect when he signed with Missouri. Green-Beckham made three receptions for 32 yards last week, but Missouri will certainly try to get him the ball more against Georgia.
3. Kendial Lawrence: Missouri is going to be in trouble if it can’t run the ball well, but the rushing combination of Franklin, Lawrence and Murphy must give the Tigers confidence. The speedy Lawrence broke a 76-yard touchdown run last week and finished with 10 carries for 121 yards and two scores. He has rushed for 492 yards in the last five games.
Georgia’s secondary vs. Missouri’s receivers
This much is certain: Georgia cornerback Sanders Commings will not play Saturday. This much we’re unsure about: whether Rambo and Mitchell will play, and if they don’t (or are unable to go at 100 percent), how the secondary will hold up against Green-Beckham, T.J. Moe, Marcus Lucas and the other Tigers wideouts who hope to stretch the field and free up the running game. Safety Connor Norman and cornerbacks Damian Swann and Devin Bowman might be in for the challenge of their young careers.
By the Numbers
1. 12.5. Gurley, Georgia's freshman tailback, averaged a spectacular 12.5 yards per carry last week against Buffalo, gaining 100 rushing yards and two touchdowns on just eight carries. He also became just the second player in school history to return a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown (Brandon Boykin did it an SEC-record three times). Gurley’s physical running style figures to present a major challenge for Missouri’s defense.
2. 7-4. Georgia is 7-4 in SEC openers with coach Mark Richt, but the Bulldogs have dropped their last two, and three out of the last five. All of those games were against South Carolina, which Georgia faced in its league opener every year between 1992 and 2011. The Bulldogs and Gamecocks now meet in Week 6 in the other Columbia (S.C.).
3. 9-2. Missouri coach Gary Pinkel has won nine of the 11 games he has coached against SEC schools since becoming the Tigers’ coach. That includes a 5-1 mark against fellow SEC newcomer Texas A&M. The other wins: against Arkansas in the 2008 Cotton Bowl, against Ole Miss in 2006 and 2007 and against South Carolina in the 2005 Independence Bowl. The loss came against Arkansas in the 2003 Independence Bowl.
On Deck: Georgia faces Florida Atlantic in another nonconference matchup next Saturday. The Owls beat Wagner 7-3 last week and will travel to Middle Tennessee this weekend.