Second place in SEC East on line for No. 9 Georgia vs. No. 25 Missouri

Credit: Georgia Athletics

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Georgia football coach Kirby Smart comments on the postponement and rescheduling of games and preparing for Missouri.

Credit: Georgia Athletics

ATHENS – Georgia will be well-advised to head to Columbia, Mo., this weekend toting plenty of motivation because they are going to encounter a very motivated opponent.

The No. 25 Missouri Tigers (5-3) entered the College Football Playoff rankings for the first time in two years this week. Meanwhile, first-year coach Eliah Drinkwitz has emphasized several times this week that a win over the No. 9 Bulldogs (6-2) not only would be a victory over a top-10 team, it would would allow the Tigers to move ahead of Georgia into second place in the Eastern Division based on the head-to-head tiebreaker.

That would be, of course, pending the results of their final games -- the Bulldogs at noon Dec. 19 against Vanderbilt, and the Tigers at Mississippi State at 3:30 p.m. that day.

ExploreGeorgia-Missouri: TV, online, radio information

Georgia has won six consecutive in the series and eight of nine overall, but their games mostly have been close and competitive. Mizzou’s last win came in 2013 in Athens (41-26).

Here are some factors to consider heading into Saturday’s contest:

Brrrrr!

There is a chance Georgia could play its first-ever game in the snow. At the least, it’s going to be very cold.

As of Thursday, the forecast for Columbia, Mo., calls for a high of 40 degrees, a low of 28 and a 45 percent chance of precipitation, which could arrive in the form of rain, sleet or snow. The game will kick off at 11 a.m. local time.

That prospect created some interesting conversations with the Bulldogs this week about playing in the cold. Generally, the players say they’ve done it before, and it won’t be a factor.

Then again, nobody on the team has played in more extremely cold and snowy games than Jermaine Johnson, and he said it’s definitely a factor. The Bulldogs’ senior outside linebacker hails from Eden Prairie, Minn. He said the coldest conditions he ever played in was minus-18 degrees and snowing.

“For me, it was always about getting the first couple of plays out of the way,” Johnson said. “After that, it’s all a mental game. Just put it in the back of your head and you’ll be good. … You can’t let it beat you.”

Smart pointed out that Georgia’s weather has helped them, with temperatures near freezing the early part of the week.

Here and now

With their championship hopes dashed, the Bulldogs could turn their attention toward next season both with the players they play and the style of football they play. But Smart said that’s not going to be Georgia’s approach.

“I just think that the goal is to win the game,” he said. “It’s not experiment time. We have been out of control of our destiny for a while. There is not a lot we do differently and say, ‘Oh, I’m going to do this or this.’ I think that you owe it to the best players on our team — not necessarily the oldest players on the team, but the guys that are the best players and practice the best and prepare well — to go play the game and play the game to win. That’s what we want for our seniors. We want to send them out on a positive note.”

The only area in which Georgia might be compelled to experiment would be on offense, where it’s trying to develop a more explosive passing game with quarterback JT Daniels at the controls. Daniels has thrown for 540 yards and six touchdowns and one interception in two games.

But Smart made it clear in the win over South Carolina, if Georgia is able to move the ball effectively on the ground, that remains the preferred plan.

Welcome back, JD?

Smart was far from definitive about it, but his comments this week suggest that Jordan Davis could return to the lineup Saturday.

That would be a big deal. While freshman Jalen Carter and senior Devonte Wyatt have done an exceptional job holding up the nose guard position in Davis’ absence, the Bulldogs simply don’t have anybody who can clog up the middle and tie up blockers like the 6-foot-6, 330-pound Davis.

Davis has been out since the first half of the Oct. 31 game against Kentucky with a fractured elbow. Smart has pronounced the junior as being close to a return the past several weeks, but Davis has yet to dress out.

Georgia could definitely use him against Missouri. The Tigers feature senior tailback Larry Rountree, who averages 104.4 yards per game. The Bulldogs lead the SEC and are ranked No. 2 in the nation against the run at 75.2 ypg.

Returning home

The game Saturday will represent a homecoming of sorts for defensive coordinator Dan Lanning. He and his wife, Sauphia, hail from the Kansas City area.

Lanning grew up in Richmond, about 100 miles west of Columbia, attended college on a football scholarship at William Jewell in Kansas City, and he completed his master’s degree in secondary education at Williams Wood University, about 30 miles from the Missouri campus.

Lanning has been Georgia’s defensive coordinator the past two years after joining Smart’s staff as outside linebackers coach in 2018. The Bulldogs have remained one of the nation’s top-rated defenses under his guidance. But they’ve struggled some this season, especially in their two biggest games against No. 1 Alabama and No. 6 Florida.

“As a young coordinator, you go through that,” said Smart, himself once a young coordinator under Nick Saban. “You own up to things that you could do better and you confront and demand things that the players could better. But we’re never going to be a staff that points blame at the players; that’s not what we’re about. You go back to work and try to find a better way to do it. That’s what he’s done.”

Missouri, which averages 434.8 yards per game, represents the most challenging offense Georgia has faced since Nov. 21, when it held on to defeat Mississippi State 31-24.

Center of attention

Georgia will be playing for the first time in 27 games without Trey Hill as its center. The 6-4, 330-pound junior was sidelined for the season after undergoing arthroscopic surgery last week to address meniscus problems in both knees.

The Bulldogs will turn to either sophomore Warren Ericson (6-4, 305) or freshman Sedrick Van Pran (6-4, 300) against the Tigers. Both have taken snaps at center this season, though Ericson primarily plays guard.