No. 8 Georgia will face a very different Missouri this time

Credit: Georgia Athletics

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

Credit: Georgia Athletics

ATHENS — Kearis Jackson was literally walking out his apartment door Friday to head to Georgia’s football complex when he received the text that the Vanderbilt game was off.

“It was about 11:30 or 12 and the whole team was getting ready to report to the facility for meetings,” the Bulldogs’ sophomore receiver said Monday. “We got a text and it said, ‘postponed,’ and I was like, ‘how come?’ We’d already gone through all the COVID testing and all that. But things happen and that was the outcome, so you have to take it and live with it.”

Welcome to 2020 in college football.

It was the second time this season that the Bulldogs had prepared all week for an opponent only to learn, “never mind, y’all aren’t playing this week.” The last time was the back in the second week of November, when Georgia learned it would not be playing on the road at Missouri.

The No. 8 Bulldogs (6-2) and Tigers (5-3), originally scheduled to play Nov. 14, will now make up that game this Saturday in Columbia, Mo. (Noon, SEC Network). That presents a whole different set of issues.

For one, Georgia will play at 11 a.m. local time on a day when the forecast calls for a low temperature in the 20s. Also, the current Missouri team is markedly different than the one the Bulldogs would have faced before Thanksgiving.

The Tigers are presently playing much better, particularly on the offensive side of the ball. Coming into the original contest, Missouri averaged 18.5 points in its previous two games, a win and a loss. Heading into Saturday’s game, the Tigers are averaging 45.5 points in back-to-back wins.

Missouri is likely still riding the emotional high of this past Saturday’s 50-48 win over Arkansas. After falling behind with 43 seconds to play, the Tigers drove the length of the field for a game-winning field goal as time expired. It was the biggest fourth-quarter comeback in school history.

“Their quarterback (Connor Bazelak) is playing at a high level and he understands his coverages, looks,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “(Missouri coach) Eli (Drinkwitz) does a good job of getting passing-game situations based on the looks he gets. He can get really easy, soft-zone throws and they get yards after the catch and they get shots down the field off their play-actions.”

The Tigers feature one of the best running backs in the SEC in senior Larry Rountree. He is averaging 104.4 yards rushing a game and has scored 11 touchdowns. Rountree is counterbalanced by junior Tyler Badie, who is averaging 5.1 yards a carry but is also Missouri’s third-leading receiver with 23 catches for 314 yards and 2 TDs.

Meanwhile, wideouts Keke Chism and Damon Hazelton are both deep-ball threats. Bazelak, a 6-foot-3, 220-pound redshirt freshman from Dayton, Ohio, is completing 69.4% of his passes for 2,002 yards, with 5 TDs and 2 interceptions.

“Missouri runs a very challenging offense,” Georgia cornerback Tyson Campbell said. “They’ve got a lot of talented players and they’ve got a good tempo to their game. They’re versatile; they can run the ball and pass the ball. So, we’re up to the challenge and accept it.”

There is good news and bad news in that the Bulldogs have already prepared for Missouri once. Though the Tigers were struggling more a month ago, their offense has always revolved around the talents and physical running style of the 5-10, 210-pound Rountree. A product of Millbrook High in Raleigh, N.C., which produced Georgia great Keith Marshall, Rountree is a well known commodity around the SEC. He enters Senior Day with 3,583 career yards rushing — third in Missouri history — and 37 touchdowns. He’s averaging 5.9 yards a carry in his career.

The good news is Georgia’s defense, despite some struggles this season, remains stout against the run. The Bulldogs lead the SEC and are second nationally in rushing yards allowed at 75.3 pg. And there is a chance that Georgia’s star defensive tackle, 6-6, 330-pound Jordan Davis, could return to play on Saturday.

But chief difference for the Tigers at this moment is the play of their quarterback, Bazelak.

“You’re playing a guy that’s got more experience and an offense that’s very similar to ours in that it has young payers,” Smart said. “Week 4 or 5, they were making some mistakes you hope in Week 7, 8 or 9 they’re not making, and that’s the case here. They’re playing more efficiently, their backs are strong and physical, they’ve got a big offensive line.”

Combined ShapeCaption
Georgia quarterback JT Daniels (18) competes a pass against the Mississippi State Bulldogs Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020 at Sanford Stadium in Athens. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com

Georgia quarterback JT Daniels (18) competes a pass against the Mississippi State Bulldogs Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020 at Sanford Stadium in Athens. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com

Combined ShapeCaption
Georgia quarterback JT Daniels (18) competes a pass against the Mississippi State Bulldogs Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020 at Sanford Stadium in Athens. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com

Likewise, that’s the bad news for Missouri. Quarterback JT Daniels was going to be making his first start when the Bulldogs were initially scheduled to play in Columbia, Mo. Since then, Daniels has started two games, completing 70.4 percent of his passes for 540 yards and 6 TDs and 1 interception.

The biggest obstacle for Georgia might be overcoming the emotional disappointment of missing out on what was supposed to be its final home game of the season. The Bulldogs’ seniors were due to be honored, and playing the Commodores this past Saturday would have gotten them a step closer to putting this maddening season behind them.

Now that game has been pushed to Dec. 19 — the day of the SEC Championship game Georgia won’t play in for the first time in four years.

“It was a huge disappointment not being able to play this past weekend, especially knowing that we had prepared all week for Vanderbitl and it was going to be our last game in Sanford. That was taken away from us. But, we get another opportunity to go to Missouri and give the seniors what they want, which is to win.”

Said Campbell: “Coach Lanning always says ‘stay ready so you don’t have to get ready.’ … Everyone’s disappointed, but everyone knows we have to move on. Hopefully, next week we’ll be able to send those seniors off out of Sanford Stadium victorious.”