Georgia Football: 5 Keys to the Game vs. Missouri
Yes, Missouri is unranked—although it's debatable whether it should be.
Yes, Georgia has to travel to South Carolina in October.
Yes, Florida traditionally gives the Dawgs fits no matter what the teams look like on paper.
But there are other dimensions to this game that make it a real test for the Bulldogs. Here are five keys for the Dawgs to come away with a W and start conference play 1-0.
1. Take the Crowd out of the Game Early
Any Southeastern Conference game always has a buzz around it, and excitement is never in short supply, but count on this game being extra hyped for Missouri’s first-ever SEC game. The fact that the Tigers have a chance to knock off a Top 10 team in Columbia is just icing on the cake.
There is no doubt that the crowd is going to be electric. Missouri has been keying up for this game all offseason, and there will be plenty of time to tailgate before the evening kickoff. Georgia needs to get off to a fast start and take some of the wind out of the sails of the crowd early.
At the very least, the Bulldogs absolutely cannot afford to let Missouri come out of the gate fast. Obviously, no team ever wants to play from behind, especially on the road. But if Missouri jumps out to an early lead, the crowd will be even more of a factor for the entire night.
2. Avoid Turnovers and Penalties
Georgia did a good job of protecting the ball and minimizing penalties in its opener versus Buffalo. The Dawgs will need to continue this trend in Columbia this weekend.
Missouri had three turnovers—two fumble recoveries and an interception—in its opener against Southeastern Louisiana. The Tigers were working with a short field throughout the game, with three of their five touchdown drives going for 50 yards or less.
Georgia cannot allow this to happen. Ball security is going to be at a premium in this contest, and the Bulldogs need to make the Tigers drive the length of the field to score.
The Bulldogs also played a very disciplined game against Buffalo, penalties-wise. Georgia was flagged only five times for 22 yards against the Bulls.
The Dawgs need to turn in a similar performance in Week 2. This Tiger offense and QB James Franklin are explosive enough. The Georgia defense absolutely cannot afford to give away free yards.
3. Shore Up Punt Coverage
Punt coverage was an Achilles heel for Georgia a season ago. Apparently the Dawgs have not worked out all the kinks, as evidenced by Buffalo's Cordero Dixon returning a punt for 33 yards last week.
On top of that, Missouri looked excellent returning punts in Week 1. Marcus Murphy scored twice on punt returns, one for 70 yards and another for 72.
Georgia is going to have to find an answer before Saturday. Whether it's getting better athletes on the coverage teams or kicking it away from Murphy and not giving him any chances, the Dawgs simply can't allow big punt returns and expect to come away with a victory in Columbia.
4. Contain James Franklin
Quarterback James Franklin is an explosive player who can beat you with his arm or his legs. However, Georgia needs to be especially concerned with Franklin's running ability after last week's performance by Buffalo quarterback Alex Zordich.
Zordich isn't known for being a running quarterback, but you'd never know it after watching the game last Saturday in Athens. There were way too many plays where Zordich was allowed to roll out of the pocket and had a mile of daylight to run to. Zordich racked up 83 yards on 14 carries.
And Zordich is really no comparison to Franklin, who rushed for nearly 1,000 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2011. Georgia is going to have to be much more disciplined in its assignments and spy Franklin to keep him contained if it's going to have a chance to win.
5. Establish the Running Game
Georgia does have one of the elite quarterbacks in the nation in Aaron Murray, and it's going to need him to make some plays in the passing game Saturday.
But if the Bulldogs are going to win this game, they are going to have to run the football.
The Tigers spread the field and have the capability to score quickly. Georgia does not want to get into an offensive shootout with Missouri, as the Tigers will most likely outlast the Bulldogs in a high-scoring game.
Dealing with suspensions and injuries, the Bulldogs are not nearly as deep on defense as they would like to be. Georgia is going to need to pound the football and sustain long drives to keep its defense off the field and fresh in the fourth quarter.
Fortunately for Georgia, after the performances of freshmen Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall last week, the Dawgs rushing attack looks to be formidable.
According to Seth Emerson of The Telegraph, Week 1 starter Ken Malcome is probable for this game after sustaining a hand injury last week. He will get a fair share of carries, and all three backs should stay fresh throughout the game.