No. 1 Georgia Bulldogs heavily favored over Missouri

Georgia football-Florida-official statement-Jacksonville



10/30/21 - Jacksonville - Georgia Bulldogs quarterback Stetson Bennett (13) directs the offense with Georgia Bulldogs offensive lineman Warren Ericson (50) and Georgia Bulldogs offensive lineman Sedrick Van Pran (63) during the second half of the annual NCCA Georgia vs Florida game at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville. Georgia won 34-7. Bob Andres /

ATHENS – The Georgia Bulldogs will put their newly minted No. 1 College Football Playoff ranking on the line Saturday against Missouri. Kickoff at Sanford Stadium is noon, and the game will be televised on ESPN.

The Bulldogs (8-0, 6-0 SEC) are coming off a 34-7 win over Florida in Jacksonville. The victory secured the Eastern Division championship for Georgia for the fourth time in the past five seasons under coach Kirby Smart. The Tigers (4-4, 1-3 SEC) got their first conference win of the season Saturday against Vanderbilt in Nashville, 37-28.

Here are some of the storylines heading into Saturday’s game:

Top Dogs

For the fourth consecutive game, and fifth consecutive week, Georgia enters the weekend as the nation’s No. 1-ranked team. This weekend, that distinction includes the all-important CFP ranking, which came out for the first time this season Tuesday. Those rankings will determine which teams will compete in the national semifinals Jan. 1.

Georgia’s status wouldn’t appear to be in jeopardy Saturday. Las Vegas sports books posted the Bulldogs as a 38-point favorite over Missouri, which remains in transition in its second season under coach Eli Drinkwitz. But the Bulldogs are taking nothing for granted. Smart reminded his team that “humility is a week away,” especially with such a big target now on their backs.

Even Drinkwitz admitted to being motivated by facing the nation’s consensus No. 1 team.

“As a head coach, I’ve never gone against the No. 1 team in the country, so that’s a pretty exciting opportunity,” Drinkwitz said. “Are you kidding me? That’s what you do it for. I mean, you want to test yourself against the best. Part of the reason that I chose to move on from Appalachian State to go to Mizzou was to come coach in the SEC, which is to test yourself against the best as a competitor. That’s what you want. See where you’re at, man.”

QB debate Part VIII

For the eighth time in nine games, the Bulldogs head into a contest with their quarterback starter undeclared. That’s not to say “undecided.” We’ve learned that Smart has communicated his plans to Stetson Bennett and JT Daniels by midweek each week.

For the fifth game in a row, it’s the senior Bennett who is expected to get the nod. That’s mainly because Bennett has remained healthy. Daniels evidently remains short of 100 percent recovered from a back-muscle strain that sidelined him Sept. 25 and is still “shaking off the rust,” according to Smart.

Also, Georgia’s offense continues to perform well with Bennett at the controls. The Bulldogs have averaged 386.8 yards and 33.8 points with him running the point. They also run the ball more effectively with Bennett, averaging 208.3 yards rushing over the past four games. That’s an element Smart likes with Georgia winning its games this season by an average score of 40-7.

But Daniels was the original starter for a reason. The 6-foot-3, 210-pound junior is an incredibly accurate passer, with a 76% completion rate this season. The Bulldogs need to get him back on the field eventually.

Now six weeks removed from a Grade 1 lat strain, this would seem like a good time to reintroduce Daniels, especially facing a Missouri defense that ranks 123rd nationally in yards allowed (475.9). A rotation would be a logical way to go.

The quarterbacks’ offensive mates insist there is no preference.

“I love both Stetson and JT,” sophomore receiver Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint said this week. “I feel like both our QBs are great. We have trust in both of them that they’ll be able to go out every week, no matter who’s starting, and be able to execute the plan that we have to execute and perform at a high level. So, it doesn’t matter who’s in or who’s starting, we feel like they can both get the job done.”

Mizzou’s mystery

Drinkwitz and Missouri have a quarterback situation of their own. The status of starter Connor Bazelak, a third-year sophomore and SEC co-freshman of the year in 2020, is questionable after he suffered a “soft-tissue injury” late in the win over Vanderbilt. But Bazelak wasn’t playing particularly well before getting hurt, so the Tigers have been taking a close look at redshirt freshman Brady Cook and freshman Tyler Macon this week.

There’s a possibility could start, or Missouri also could play more than one quarterback.

“We’re going to play the best person that gives us a chance to win a game,” Drinkwitz said. “So, if we felt like multiple quarterbacks gave us the best chance to win a game, then we would do that. Up unto this point, that hasn’t been the case.”

Bazelak hasn’t been bad. He enters Week 10 averaging 267.3 yards on 68.2% passing, with 13 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Macon and Cook have played well but are very inexperienced. Between them, they’ve played in only three games, and then in finish-the-game roles. Meanwhile, pressure has been a problem for the Tigers and that could be a factor facing Georgia’s vaunted defense.

Thursday was a big day in Columbia because Drinkwitz was expected to release the Tigers’ injury report, which he does every week on that day. Before that, Drinkwitz refuses to discuss player injuries in detail.

Richt recognition

Former Georgia coach Mark Richt will be honored in a halftime ceremony for his 15-year tenure with the Bulldogs. That resulted in two SEC championships and his 145-51 record makes his the program’s second-winningest coach of all time, behind Vince Dooley.

Originally, UGA planned to honor Richt in 2022 on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the 2002 team winning the SEC Championship. But Richt was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease earlier this year, and they decided to move it up.

Richt has stayed busy since retiring as coach for Miami, his alma mater, after the 2018 season. He currently works as a studio analyst for ESPN’s ACC Network, which gave him the day off Saturday. He also recently published his first book. Richt will be signing copies of his autobiography, “Make the Call,” at the UGA Bookstore from 3-5 p.m. Friday.

Richt and his wife, Katharyn, moved back to Watkinsville, just outside of Athens, earlier this year to be closer to his family and grandchildren. They still have a home near Destin, as well.

Richt joked that he’s afraid there won’t be many fans in the stands for his recognition, between the Bulldogs’ penchant for putting away early overmatched opponents and Chick-fil-A sandwiches being available at in Sanford Stadium. But Richt said nobody is pulling harder for Georgia to do under Smart what it was unable to do under him.

“I’m still close with a bunch of people on staff there,” Richt said. “We’d be thrilled for Georgia if they could get it done.”

Georgia’s improved health

The Bulldogs are finally getting healthy. Lost in Georgia’s dominating run has been able to do it without some of their best players on the field.

No, star receiver in George Pickens hasn’t returned, but the scenario of him making it back from a spring ACL injury in time for a postseason run now seems more realistic. More pertinent is the full participation of one-time starting wideouts Jermaine Burton (groin), Rosemy-Jacksaint (ankle) and Arian Smith (leg). Dominick Blaylock (hamstring) is not expected to play.

Georgia also has gotten well in the secondary, with safety Christopher Smith (shoulder) returning last week and cornerback Ameer Speed (ankle) ready to increase his role. Outside linebacker Adam Anderson (finger) is expected to play in a club cast for a second straight game.