There will be no rest for the weary this weekend when a struggling young Georgia Bulldogs defense faces off against Missouri’s prolific offensive attack. Georgia has already allowed 30 or more points in four of five games this year, and the Tigers will bring the nation’s eighth-best scoring offense to Athens, Ga.
Injuries on the offensive side of the ball will compound this game’s difficulty for the Dawgs, as simply relying on Aaron Murray and company to get things done in a shootout may not be a viable strategy. With as many as five offensive starters expected to miss this game, Georgia’s defense will need to get some stops.
Knowing the Competition
The challenge to stopping Missouri transcends the Tigers' raw statistical output. Not only does Gary Pinkel’s squad rank seventh in the nation in total offense (543.8 yards per game), but his team is getting things done with both the passing and the running game.
Quarterback James Franklin (1685 yards of offense, 5 TDs) could become a dark-horse Heisman candidate with an upset of the Bulldogs, and he has done a masterful job of commanding a balanced offense that ranks 32nd in passing yards per game (285) and 15th in rushing (258.8 yards per game). Thirteen of Missouri’s offensive touchdowns have come through the air to six different receivers. Meanwhile, five players have combined for 16 rushing scores.
The balance continues within the Tigers’ quarterly scoring dispersion:
- First-Quarter Points Scored: 64
- Second-Quarter Points Scored: 55
- Third-Quarter Points Scored: 58
- Fourth-Quarter Points Scored: 56
Where are the Weaknesses?
At first glance, Missouri’s offense has no weaknesses. The Tigers score early and often while moving the ball effectively both on the ground and through the air. Missouri has scored six offensive touchdowns on plays greater than 35 yards, but the Tigers have also put together seven scoring drives of 10 or more plays.
Fortunately for Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, there are a few trends that the Bulldogs can take advantage of.
Passing on First Down
Missouri has opened nearly 45 percent of its offensive drives with a passing play. On many occasions these drive-opening, first-down passes have been screens to Dorial Green-Beckham or other receivers. When Missouri has passed on a drive’s opening play, the Tigers have only picked up three or more yards 62 percent of the time. A sharp and attentive defense that is prepared to make a tackle out in space will be able to get the Tigers behind the chains early.
Unfortunately for Georgia, the Bulldogs have been all too susceptible to missed tackles on the perimeter. That must change on Saturday. Veteran cornerback Damian Swann and true freshmen Shaq Wiggins and Brendan Langley will need to wrap up on Missouri’s large receivers (Green-Beckham is listed as 6’6”, 225 while L’Damian Washington is 6’4”, 205) when they have the chance. Additionally, Georgia’s pass rushers need to put pressure on Franklin and disrupt short passing lanes.
Third Down Troubles
If Georgia can limit Missouri’s productivity on first down, then the defense can put a lot of pressure on the Tigers. When Missouri’s offense has stalled out (which has not been often) it has typically been in the face of 3rd-and-long.
On 30 occasions this season, Missouri has seen a drive end in something other than a touchdown or a game clock expiration. The most common cause for these drives coming to an early end has been 3rd-and-long situations. Twenty of these drives ended because the Tigers failed to convert 3rd-and-6 or longer.
By keeping Mizzou behind the sticks and stopping the run—which Georgia has done on occasion, but not consistently—the Bulldogs can back Franklin and company into a corner.
This year’s defensive squad has lacked the opportunistic knack for big plays that defined recent Georgia teams. Georgia has been credited with five forced turnovers over the first five games of the season, but two of those turnovers were fumbled punt returns.
Missouri will give Georgia chances to make plays. In five games against mediocre competition, Missouri has thrown three interceptions and lost three fumbles. The Bulldog defense must be prepared to capitalize on Tiger mistakes and get the ball back to Aaron Murray and the offense.
Perhaps the best thing that this young Georgia defense has going is that it has already picked up a wealth of experience over the course of five hard-fought games. Georgia has grinded out wins (and one loss) against some of the best teams in the country and against tremendous adversity. Although the offense gets most of the credit, the defense has made enough plays to preserve wins.
Missouri, on the other hand, has yet to play a team of Georgia’s caliber and has not been in a game decided by fewer than three scores.
Georgia’s young defense has weathered the storm and come out better for it. Missouri’s offense will meet its greatest challenge to date in Sanford Stadium.