Where: Davis Wade Stadium, Starkville, Miss.
When: 7 p.m. (official kickoff 7:08 p.m.)
TV: Fox Sports Net
Last meeting: Georgia won, 27-24, in 2006
Georgia faces its final game without A.J. Green, just as it looks like it may be finding a semblance of a downfield passing attack. Aaron Murray and Kris Durham have hooked up on a few long passes, and Murray moved the team downfield twice in the fourth quarter against Arkansas. But the Bulldogs still appear a bit limited, so they need the running game to finally show up. The expected return of Caleb King, allowing King and Washaun Ealey to both be available for the first time, should help. The tight ends have not been involved much so far, will that change?
Mississippi State has had trouble moving the football, a frustration to head coach Dan Mullen, the team's offensive guru. Consistent quarterback play has been an issue, and while Chris Relf will start, backup Tyler Russell also figures to play. Relf is the more athletic of the two, so when he's on the field expect more of the spread option. MSU is also looking for a better running attack: Take out a 51-yard run by leading rusher Vick Ballard, and the team is only averaging 3.5 yards per carry.
Georgia feels it's on the cusp of having a good defense, it just needs to stop the big plays. But as defensive coordinator Todd Grantham pointed out, those count, and they've burned his unit. It also hasn't forced many turnovers, but that chance would seem to be there at MSU, whose quarterbacks have thrown seven interceptions in seven games. The key for Georgia, according to Grantham, will be to prevent MSU from getting the ball to players in open space. Given the tackling issues Georgia has had, that would be a good idea.
Mississippi State also has a new coordinator, Manny Diaz, and its pass defense has looked good so far, ranking fourth in the SEC. It did a good job against Auburn quarterback Cameron Newton. The run defense has been a little weaker, but still not that bad. Where MSU has failed to sustain anything is rushing the quarterback, only recording four sacks. Senior DE Pernell McPhee, a second-team All-SEC pick last year, has been quiet so far.
The safety valve for Georgia's offense is place kicker Blair Walsh, who is perfect on five field goal attempts this year. Otherwise the team needs improvement: Branden Smith (concussion) made the trip to Starkville and will return punts if he's cleared. The kick return unit hasn't had much burst yet. And punter Drew Butler has shanked too many attempts for an All-American candidate.
Mississippi State's kicking game remains a mystery: New kicker Sean Brauchle has missed his only attempt in three games, a 38-yarder. Punter Heath Hutchins is solid, but the Bulldogs, like their opponent on Saturday, have yet to get much excitement from either kick return unit.
Georgia offensive coordinator's Mike Bobo's play-calling will be under intense scrutiny by fans. Will there be more so-called "opening it up" or does that have to wait for Green's return? Will the Bulldogs rely on the play-action as much as they did against Arkansas? Will Murray be put in a position to make more plays, especially with his feet?
Mullen, who coached at Florida for four years, know Georgia well, but not the 3-4 defense. Don't expect him to rely on a ball-control offense, as South Carolina did against Georgia. Look for Mullen to call enough option plays to keep Georgia honest, then try for the long ball to try and catch secondary napping. Defensively, Diaz will probably keep calling for outside blitzes, despite his unit's struggles there, in order to get Georgia's freshman quarterback pressured.
Offense: Georgia's run-blocking vs. Mississippi State's line. Georgia's run issues have been well-documented, with the blocking much to blame. King should be back, so if he and Ealey have holes to run through, that would alter the entire outlook of the game: Murray can relax and time his chances, and not feel he has to shoulder the load. At a minimum, a good run game can consistently win the field position battle, which will be key, given that it's hard to see MSU putting together many 90-yard drives.
Defense: Georgia's linebackers vs. MSU's spread option plays. Justin Houston, Cornelius Washington, Darryl Gamble and the linebackers have been pretty good so far rushing the quarterback, but this will be a wholly different test. First they have to be ready for an option play, against an offense that doesn't run it exclusively like Georgia Tech. Then when the option comes, they have to keep their keys and make the right play.
Prediction: Georgia 27, Mississippi State 17