The tendency is to think Georgia needs to guard against a letdown coming off a resounding win over a bitter rival such as Florida. But the Bulldogs’ current situation should remedy that Saturday night vs. Missouri (7 p.m., ESPN).
Thanks to the anomalous loss to South Carolina in Week 7 of the season, Georgia (7-1, 4-1 SEC) is in a must-win situation the rest of the way to reach its SEC championship goal. The 24-17 win over the No. 10 Gators simply made the No. 6-ranked Bulldogs 2-0 to that end.
Likewise, they should be fully focused on an always dangerous Missouri team (5-3, 2-2) for Saturday’s matchup in Sanford Stadium. Chilly temperatures and a night-time kickoff should help. If it’s in the 50s at kickoff, it’s not expected to stay there for long, and it could be in the 30s by the time it’s over.
“I’m from Ohio, so this ain’t chilly at all,” Georgia tight end Eli Wolf said with a laugh. “It feels good to me. Football weather. I think any scenario we’d be out there ready to play. It just happens to be a night game.”
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Here’s some things other considerations as the Bulldogs seek their eighth win in nine games against the Tigers:
Hold that line
Only Kentucky (201.4 ypg) and South Carolina (184.6) have brought better run games into Sanford Stadium this season than Missouri will. The Tigers are led by junior Larry Rountree, who ranks sixth in the SEC in rushing (80.5 ypg) and has run for more touchdowns than Georgia’s D’Andre Swift this season (8-7) and in his career (25-20).
That’s notable because the Bulldogs enter Saturday’s game carrying the distinction of being the only team in college football not to have allowed a rushing touchdown this season. Georgia leads the SEC and ranks fourth nationally in rush defense (69.8 ppg) and scoring defense (11.4 ppg).
Meanwhile, Georgia coaches have been carrying and posting signs all over the football complex with the number 182 on them. That is how many rushing yards the Bulldogs allowed Mizzou last year, when the Tigers scored three rushing TDs in a 43-29 loss in Columbia.
Masters of third down
If you’ve thought Georgia’s offense seems pretty good on third-down conversions, you’d be right. The Bulldogs are converting those into first downs at a rate of 47.5 percent, which is good, but perhaps not as great as suspected. That ranks only 18th nationally and third in the SEC behind Alabama (55.2) and LSU (50.5).
But Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm is extra special when it comes to that particular down, which was on display last week in Jacksonville when he helped the Bulldogs convert eight of 12 against the Gators. Fromm has completed 63.8% of his passes on third downs, a percentage that actually goes up to 66.7% on third-and-medium (4-6 yards) and the same on third-and-long (7-9 yards). He has a 53.3% completion rate when it’s more than 10 yards.
Missouri is proud of its defensive work on that down as well. The Tigers rank second in the league (behind Georgia) at 30 percent, and they’re also among the country’s four best teams in pass defense (144.5 ypg).
Takeaway on takeaways
It’s disappointing – and borderline ironic – that the Bulldogs are doing so poorly at getting takeaways in a season in which “creating havoc” on defense has been such an emphasis. The facts are that Georgia is 10th in the SEC in interceptions (5), ninth in fumble recoveries (4) and ninth in turnover margin (plus-1, or 0.13).
It’s not like it has prevented the Bulldogs from playing good defense, but they’d like to do better.
“We've got to do a better job getting turnovers, there's no doubt about that,” coach Kirby Smart said. “That comes with forcing them, havoc, tipped balls, batted balls, strip outs, knocking the crap out of people, ripping the ball out.”
Smart blames the lack of interceptions on playing so much man coverage.
Another QB quandary
The uncertainty seems to have waned as game day approached, but Missouri was concerned about whether quarterback Kelly Bryant would be able to play against Georgia. He will.
“He’s on track to play,” coach Barry Odom said Wednesday.
The high-profile graduate transfer from Clemson was dealing with a hamstring pull after the Oct. 26 game at Kentucky. But Bryant healed during the off week and has been preparing with the Tigers’ No. 1 offense all week.
Bryant, a 6-foot-3, 225-pound senior, is a true dual-threat. He has completed 62.2 percent of his passes for 1,845 yards and 14 TDs with five interceptions. He has rushed for 205 yards and one score.
If Bryant comes out, Taylor Powell, a 6-2, 200-pound freshman, will go in.
Once again, the Bulldogs are playing an opponent that has had an extra week to prepare. Missouri is one of five foes facing Georgia this season coming off an open date. It’s the second time where UGA didn’t have the same luxury, and that will go up to three when the Bulldogs travel to Auburn next week.
The No. 11-ranked Tigers (7-2, 4-2 SEC) will be sitting idly Saturday waiting for Georgia to come to the Plains on Nov. 16. The Bulldogs have come up short in two of their past three trips to Jordan-Hare Stadium.
A win over Missouri coupled with one over the Tigers next week would clinch a third consecutive SEC Championship game berth for Georgia.