No. 1 Georgia’s defense expected to rock on vs. Missouri

10/30/21 - Jacksonville -   Florida Gators running back Nay'Quan Wright (6) stopped by  Georgia Bulldogs defensive lineman Jordan Davis (99),Georgia Bulldogs linebacker Robert Beal Jr. (33) and Georgia Bulldogs linebacker Channing Tindall (41) during the second half of the annual NCCA  Georgia vs Florida game at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville. Georgia won 34-7.  Bob Andres / bandres@ajc.com

Credit: robert.andres@ajc.com

Combined ShapeCaption
10/30/21 - Jacksonville - Florida Gators running back Nay'Quan Wright (6) stopped by Georgia Bulldogs defensive lineman Jordan Davis (99),Georgia Bulldogs linebacker Robert Beal Jr. (33) and Georgia Bulldogs linebacker Channing Tindall (41) during the second half of the annual NCCA Georgia vs Florida game at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville. Georgia won 34-7. Bob Andres / bandres@ajc.com

Credit: robert.andres@ajc.com

ATHENS – Georgia is heavily favored over Missouri on Saturday - and the margin has gone up.

The Bulldogs (8-0, 6-0 SEC) play host to the Tigers (4-4, 1-3) at Sanford Stadium at noon Saturday (ESPN). Lines in Las Vegas sports books opened up this week with Georgia at 37.5 points and have only gone up from there. Friday afternoon’s average was 39.5 points, according to Vegas Insider’s weekly composite.

ExploreGeorgia-Missouri: TV, online, radio information

So, the money’s still heavily flowing toward Georgia. A likely mitigating factor was Friday’s news that Missouri quarterback Connor Bazelak apparently is not going to play.

Multiple media outlets, citing sources, were reporting Friday that last year’s SEC co-freshman of the year is not going to play because of a “soft-tissue injury” suffered late in Saturday’s win over Vanderbilt. If true, that means the already overmatched Tigers will face Georgia’s No. 1-ranked defense with either one of two freshmen, Brady Cook or Tyler Macon. They have nine career pass attempts between them. On the upside, they’ve completed eight of those and have thrown a touchdown apiece.

Whatever the case, Missouri coach Eli Drinkwitz apparently plans to carry the mystery into Saturday’s game.

“They’ve all tried to do investigative journalism,” Drinkwitz said on his Wednesday night radio show. “(The University of Missouri) is a journalism school; I get that. But I’m pretty good at playing poker.”

Drinkwitz better be holding some good cards. No opponent so far has dealt well with the Bulldogs’ defense all season. To wit:

  • Georgia has allowed only five touchdowns all season while the defense has scored four itself.
  • The defense did not allow a touchdown until the third game, and that came late in the fourth quarter of a 27-point win over South Carolina.
  • Including opponents’ defensive scores, Georgia has given up 53 points all season. That’s the lowest eight-game tally since the 1971 team allowed 46 in that span.
  • Thirty of opponents’ points scored this season have come in the fourth quarter, or garbage time of contests that the Bulldogs have won by an average score of 40-7.
  • Georgia leads the nation in red-zone defense. In fact, opponents have been inside its 20-yard line only 14 times in eight games. That has resulted in four touchdowns, four field goals and six times failed to score.
  • The Bulldogs have allowed the fewest points in college football. Those 6.6 points per game are more touchdown fewer than the nation’s No. 2 team, Cincinnati, which allows 14.3.

This is not say that Missouri is hopeless on offense. Actually, the Tigers are quite good, at least with Bazelak at the trigger.

They come to Sanford Stadium averaging 452.8 yards per game. That’s twice the yards, almost exactly, that Georgia’s defense has been allowing (226.6), which ranks second nationally.

Missouri also features the SEC’s leading rusher in senior Tyler Badie. He has scored 11 touchdowns on 989 yards, or 123.6 per game. Georgia counters with the nation’s No. 2 ranked rushing defense (75.6 ypg).-

The Bulldogs faced the SEC’s leading rusher one other time this season. Kentucky’s Chris Rodriguez finished with 7 yards on seven carries.

Badie did not have a carry against Georgia last year in Columbia. Larry Rountree was Missouri’s leading rusher with 16 yards on 14 carries. He did score one of the Tigers’ touchdowns in a 49-14 victory for the Bulldogs.

One of Georgia’s most fascinating defensive tidbits this season is the fact that the Bulldogs have had seven different leading tacklers in eight games this season. The only one to repeat was inside linebacker Quay Walker, who in the past two games led Georgia with nine tackles against Kentucky and 13 against Florida.

Looking at the Bulldogs’ defenders individually, here are some of the accolades that have come their way so far (listed alphabetically):

  • DT Jalen Carter - SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week (Oct. 18)
  • SS Lewis Cine - Jim Thorpe Award semifinalist (Oct. 25)
  • NG Jordan Davis - Bronko Nagurski National Defensive Player of the Week, SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week (Sept. 6), Chuck Bednarik Award semifinalist (Nov. 1), Senior CLASS Award finalist (Nov. 4)
  • LB Nakobe Dean - 2021 Allstate AFCA Good Works Team (Sept. 24), College Sports Madness National Player of the Week (Oct. 31), Butkus Award semifinalist (Nov. 1), Chuck Bednarik Award semifinalist (Nov. 1), Wuerffel Trophy semifinalist (Nov. 3)
  • FS Christopher Smith - SEC Defensive Player of the Week (Sept. 6)
  • OLB Nolan Smith - SEC Defensive Player of the Week (Sept. 20, Nov. 1)
  • DT Devonte Wyatt - SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week (Oct. 4)

These are some of the reasons that Georgia’s 2021 defense is being compared with some of the best units in modern history. ESPN college football analyst Matt Stinchcomb told the AJC “it’s the best defensive unit that really anyone has seen since Alabama in 2011.”

Of course, Georgia’s Kirby Smart coordinated that Alabama defense for Nick Saban.

Georgia defensive star Adam Anderson is under investigation and is currently suspended for the game Saturday. Specific to Anderson’s position of outside linebacker, Georgia happens to be particularly well-stocked with high-pedigree players there.

Technically, Anderson plays “Sam,” or strongside, linebacker. However, that’s rarely where he would actually line up. But Anderson’s backup at Sam is listed as sophomore MJ Sherman. Like Anderson, Sherman also is a former 5-star prospect.

Senior Robert Beal, who got 5-star grades from ESPN.com and PrepStar Magazine coming out of Peachtree Ridge High, also can play the Sam. Other candidates for increased playing time Saturday include freshmen Smael Mondon and Xavian Sorey. According to 247Sports, they both were consensus 5-stars coming out of high school. Also, freshman outside linebacker Chaz Chambliss, a relative project as a consensus 4-star coming out of Carrollton, has played in every game this season.

Of course, inside linebackers Nakobe Dean, Channing Tindall and Walker all cross-train at outside linebacker and could pop outside and play there.

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