SEC Football: 6 Reasons Why Missouri Tigers Beat Georgia Bulldogs
For fans of the SEC this year, there's been no shortage in quality football to fill their plates. Get ready for that to continue as the Missouri Tigers travel down to Athens to face the Georgia Bulldogs on Saturday.
Georgia is a solid team as we've seen, contending extremely well with the brutal schedule they've played so far. Missouri has had a softer road, but after convincing road wins at both Indiana and Vanderbilt, heads have been turned Mizzou's direction as they've entered the Associated Press Top 25 poll.
Many thought that this could be the year for Georgia, but it's no secret that the shields are down for Mark Richt's team right now due to the wave of injuries. Missouri is rolling with confidence and has started 5-0 while leading the SEC in rushing.
Before the season started, this may have seemed like a no-brainer Georgia win. But is it possible that Missouri is good enough to go into Sanford Stadium and pick up the win? There's more to this matchup than injuries, as we'll see as we take a look at this game from top to bottom.
Last season, Missouri's offensive line was crippled with injuries. When Elvis Fisher went down in last year's contest against Georgia in Columbia, he watched as Jarvis Jones tore the Tigers apart and earned Georgia the 41-20 win.
At that point, Missouri was playing with a patchwork offensive line. Travis Ruth and Jack Meiners were already out. Justin Britt had just come back from a broken foot and had missed training camp, but was being looked to as the veteran of the line. Redshirt freshman Brad McNulty, a second-string center, was forced to come in and play where Mitch Morse usually played at left guard so Morse could shift over for the injured Fisher at tackle.
It was a nightmare scenario that would have destroyed most any team's chances of winning games.
But oh how the tables have turned. The Tigers field a healthy line in 2013, and one that is clicking on all cylinders. Mizzou has even flexed its depth as left guard Anthony Gatti has stepped in for Max Copland with amazing success. What was once a group that made you just hope someone else wasn't going to get hurt, has turned into an extremely successful unit who is controlling the line.
A Georgia fan may point out that Georgia's offensive line is better; bigger so they should get the edge in this department. But not so. Missouri's offensive line will have to face the Georgia defense, and with that being said, their defensive line failed to disrupt the passing game of an unimpressive Tennessee Volunteers team. Georgia allowed the nation's 111th ranked passing offense in Tennessee to put up 31 points on them. Imagine then what Missouri's passing offense—ranked No. 32 in the nation—can do.
That to compliment the nation's No. 8 scoring average and Missouri has got a legitimate threat to win games with its offensive line as its anchor.
To finish up my point about the lines, I have no doubt that Georgia's offensive line is amazing. They are a big, strong unit who are obviously helping their running game tick and have allowed so much time for Aaron Murray to be successful. Not in question.
But they have not played a defensive line like Missouri's. Notice I said line, not individual. Clemson's Vic Beasley was a beast against Georgia with two sacks, and has exploded to take the FBS lead with eight. But glance just three spots lower and you see Missouri's Michael Sam who is tied for fourth in the country with six sacks. The Tigers pose a sack threat comparable to Beasley, but also another duo of defensive linemen in Kony Ealy and Markus Golden that have been turning heads themselves.
Both Ealy and Sam earned back-to-back SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week honors with interceptions returned for touchdowns. The defensive line totaled seven sacks this past Saturday at Vanderbilt to prove that their pressure can come from any direction.
In fact, speaking of interceptions, Missouri's defensive line has contributed to the team's 11 INT's, tied for No. 2 in the nation and No. 1 in the SEC. Georgia's defense has just one interception all season. The surprising Missouri defense is getting hot at the wrong time for the Georgia Bulldogs.
While Georgia players have great star-power that starts with Murray, they don't have a cornerback with the talent of Mizzou's E.J. Gaines.
Even with three interceptions on the year, Gaines has earned one of the most important stats a college player can have: how often the opposing quarterback isn't throwing in their direction.
He's shown that with his speed and ability to break up plays offenses have to plan their attacks around him. If Georgia is going to try to rely on Rantavious Wooten as they did against Tennessee—or on any other single receiver for that matter—Mizzou has the luxury of matching Gaines on him to virtually take him out of the game.
With Georgia's running back position taking such a hit with injuries, there's no doubt that the successful Murray will want to establish his arm to move the ball against the Tigers. But with Gaines in the game, and his counterpart Randy Ponder stepping up to the plate as well, Missouri certainly has the edge in the secondary and will challenge the Georgia receivers in every kind of route.
This may be the obvious comparison, but with Keith Marshall sustaining a devastating knee injury and Todd Gurley at 50/50 according to Richt, it's questionable as to whether Georgia will have a successful running threat against the Tigers.
But Mizzou has no questions about what they're referring to as their "three headed monster" led by Henry Josey, Russell Hansbrough and Marcus Murphy. The amazing Missouri trio has shown that three amazing backs can thrive at the same time.
Although none of them is averaging more than 100 yards per game, they are collectively the top rushing squad in the SEC at 258.8 yards per game. With the amount of success each player is having on their turns with the ball, it's hard to point out which player has more NFL potential.
Ask the fans and they'll say Josey is the best, based of his incredible 2011 season which saw him leading the Big 12 conference in rushing before getting his knee blown out against Texas. Others will say that the best player is Murphy, given his ability to return punts is almost reminiscent of Jeremy Maclin. Still others will point to Hansbrough, who has shown he can break the big runs and keep the chains moving when he's called upon.
It's a great problem for the Tigers to have and one that Georgia is going to have difficulty with. Even if you think you've got that trio figured out, don't forget that quarterback James Franklin hasn't been afraid to rush the ball and has rushing stats comparable to all of his star backs.
It's the great untrackable stat: confidence.
Missouri has it. You can say whatever you want about their schedule and everything else that you can chart with a stick, but the Tigers have it together right now.
I won't say that Georgia is un-confident, but they could be in serious danger of losing it. With the injury bug sweeping over the team, especially this past week against Tennessee, they may question whether they have the best personnel in the game.
Not only that, but what Tennessee did was expose a side of Georgia that won't let them stay in the Top 10, and that's their secondary.
Missouri feels they can score on anyone now, and why not? Until someone steps up and shows they can stop the offense, they will keep on trucking. Stepping into Athens, they're not concerned about not being able to move the ball.
All of the pressure will be on Georgia to perform in all areas. Even allowing Missouri to stay in striking range in Athens will get them playing off the ropes. Will they be able to withstand two high-pressure games in a row after almost dropping the game against Tennessee?
We've touched on the offensive line health compared to last year. We've mentioned Georgia's woes at running back with injuries.
Generally speaking, the health of Georgia isn't great. The health of Missouri is good. Nowhere is this more evident than in Missouri's leadership position of quarterback.
When it comes to a quarterback comparison, Murray and Franklin have very similar numbers with Murray getting the obvious edge with respect to the level of competition that Georgia has played. But Franklin's health is what doomed Missouri last year as he dealt with nearly every kind of setback under the sun. A healthy Franklin has allowed Missouri to do everything it couldn't last year.
It's starting to look like shades of Franklin's sophomore season where he led the Tigers into College Station to beat Texas A&M. Could he even eclipse the success of his 2011 campaign? A win at Georgia would certainly put a feather in the cap of the senior.
I'm certainly not going to say that Franklin is a better quarterback than Murray, but health is what is on the Tiger's side and a huge advantage against Georgia.
We all wondered what Mizzou would have been capable of had they not had a host of injuries in 2012. Well, they decided to show us.
Missouri doesn't have the respect of other SEC teams yet because they haven't done anything to earn it, and understandably so. But other SEC teams have yet to really notice Missouri's weapons, which will be on display for all to see on ESPN with a noon ET kickoff.
Putting my neck out on the chopping block, I'm calling a Missouri victory in Athens this Saturday with a 34-24 score. This will be Missouri's big win they are lacking, and the game that has fans in Georgia saying that Richt is back on the hot seat.