It didn’t take Missouri Tigers fans long to circle this one on the schedule—maybe 30 seconds at most after it was released.
While the experts, pundits and prognosticators all think that in the end, the Georgia Bulldogs have too much talent for the Tigers to handle, especially in their first regular-season SEC contest, I’m here to say hogwash.
The Tigers can beat the Bulldogs.
It won’t be easy, and it certainly could come down to the wire, but those who are counting the Tigers out of this one are only fooling themselves.
Scratch my previous statement. It’s not that the Tigers can beat the Bulldogs—they will beat the Bulldogs.
Here’s what they need to do in order to get it done.
Defensive Line Must Prove Size is Just a Number
There’s no question the Georgia Bulldogs offensive line has the advantage in size over the Missouri defensive front, which is undersized by SEC standards.
But what the Tigers lack in size they make up for in being incredibly active and quick off of the snap.
Georgia lost three starters from last year’s group, and its interior trio of center David Andrews and guards Dallas Lee and Chris Burnette had trouble with Buffalo’s Colby Way last week.
Missouri has one of the more underrated defensive tackles in the nation with Sheldon Richardson, who is a superior talent to Way. A disruptive force, Richardson plays with excellent leverage and wins off the ball with an explosive first step and the ability to keep his pads low out of the gate.
Georgia will no doubt be putting two blockers on Richardson most of the night, and that will leave Kony Ealy, Brad Madison and Michael Sam in one-on-one battles that they must take advantage of, using their quickness to get past the bigger Bulldogs blockers and generate pressure against Bulldogs quarterback Aaron Murray.
Linebacking Core Must Step Up
With Richardson drawing double teams all night, that will open things up for Will Ebner, Zaviar Gooden and Andrew Wilson.
Not only will that trio need to put pressure on Murray, but more importantly they will have head-on matchups with the Bulldogs’ excellent running backs, specifically Todd Gurley. If the trio play solid, fundamental football and wrap up Gurley when they have the opportunity to do so, they can limit one of Georgia’s most explosive offensive weapons.
Franklin is one of the more elusive quarterbacks in the nation, and he can hurt teams with his arm and his legs. He’ll be facing a depleted Georgia defense that will be without four starters on the defensive side of the ball: linebackers Alec Ogletree and Chase Vasser, corner Sanders Commings and free safety Baccari Rambo.
Buffalo was able to exploit holes in the middle of the Bulldogs defense, and Franklin needs to do the same. If Georgia’s pass rushers make the same undisciplined mistakes that they made against Buffalo, Franklin needs to be ready to take off running when the edge opens up.
Franklin needs to exploit the huge mismatch that freshman Dorial Green-Beckham poses for Georgia. Green-Beckham, all 6’6”, 220 pounds of him, is not only incredibly athletic but has excellent speed for someone his size.
All in all, Franklin needs to make smart decisions with the ball. Do that, and there’s no reason he can’t find success against the Bulldogs defensive unit every time he’s on the field.
Specifically, this revolves around the punt return unit. Georgia had issues in punt coverage last season and the Bulldogs didn’t look great against Buffalo either, allowing Cordero Dixon to pick up 33 yards on one return.
Missouri has an explosive weapon in Marcus Murphy who returned two punts for scores last week, one for 70 yards and another for 72.
The Tigers need to take advantage of what is one of the few weak spots Georgia has and break Murphy free, allowing the Tigers’ offense to take the field in Bulldogs territory.