On Saturday (11:00 A.M., ESPN), the #25 Missouri Tigers (5-0, 1-0) travel to Athens to take on the #7 Georgia Bulldogs (4-1, 3-0) in SEC action. Missouri comes in off of a 51-28 win at Vanderbilt, while Georgia comes home off of a 34-31 overtime win at Tennessee.
"It is obvious that we are playing a great team on Saturday," said Missouri Head Coach Gary Pinkel. "Both teams are excited about playing games like this."
After losing 8 players to the 2013 NFL Draft, Georgia's young team has held up well against one of the toughest early-season schedules in the country. The Bulldogs have sustained a number of injuries, as well, and have played 14 true freshmen this season, including 10 true freshmen on defense. This week, the Bulldogs will have 3 true freshmen starting on defense, and possibly another one on offense.
Yet, as Coach Pinkel quipped earlier this week, "I wouldn't feel real sorry for them."
Georgia is one of the few teams in college football with the depth of talent to be able to sustain the number of injuries that the Bulldogs have suffered.
"They recruit well," said Coach Pinkel in a gross understatement, speaking of Georgia.
While the Georgia defense can be considered youthful, their offense is very, very experienced. And, that begins at the QB position and up front along the offensive line.
"This will be one of the best offensive lines we play all year," explained Coach Pinkel, speaking of the Bulldogs starting unit that features three seniors and two juniors, and that averages 6'4" and 302 pounds.
Georgia's offense is multiple, including single-back pro sets, spread formations, and the power I formation.
At Tennessee, senior QB Aaron Murray became the SEC's all-time leader in passing yardage. Currently, Murray is 7th nationally in passer efficiency (176.9). He's the only QB in SEC history to post three consecutive 3,000-yard passing seasons. The four-year starter has engineered 32 wins for the Bulldogs, and this year, has twice been named the Walter Camp National Offensive Player of the Week after wins over a pair of top-10 teams in South Carolina and LSU.
"He's a heck of a player," said Coach Pinkel, speaking of Murray. "He's got very good accuracy. He's very well-coached. Obviously, he can deliver the ball and make plays. He can make plays in critical situations………………………………….. He just quarterbacks well. He's a good athlete, and he moves well. He moves in the pocket. He has the ability to make plays and be accurate when things break down……………………………………. He does a very, very good job of extending the play."
Murray is the SEC's active leader in total offense (11,908 yards), completions (794), TD responsibility (121), TD passes (109), and passing yards (11,625, #2 nationally among active FBS QBs). He is 325 yards shy of becoming the all-time SEC total offense career leader. He is 6 TD passes shy of becoming the all-time SEC career leader in that category, as well. Barring injury, Murray will almost certainly leave Georgia as the school career record-holder in virtually every passing category.
"Aaron Murray, I think is going to be a great pro quarterback," said Missouri Defensive Coordinator Dave Steckel. "I think he's got a great pro mentality. I think he's extremely intelligent………………………………….. We could sit here and argue all day, but if he's not the number one quarterback in the conference, he's right there."
Although he's listed as this week's starting tailback, 6'1" 232-pound sophomore Todd Gurley is a questionable participant for this week's game. He's getting closer to returning from a high ankle sprain, but as of Tuesday, he had yet to practice.
"Gurley is a great player," said Coach Pinkel. "All their backs are good. Their young players, their freshmen, they're good players."
On the season, Gurley leads Georgia in rushing with 461 yards (6.3 yards/carry) and 4 TDs on 71 carries. Behind Gurley is a pair of talented true freshmen in 5'9" 183-pound J.J. Green (22 carries for 194 yards (8.8 yards/carry) and 1 TD) and 5'11" 202-pound Brendan Douglas (21 carries for 64 yards (3.0 yards/carry) and 1 TD).
Earlier this week, Georgia Head Coach Mark Richt talked about his two freshmen tailbacks.
"I was pretty comfortable with them (last week)," explained Coach Richt. "When you watch them practice enough, we see things that the rest of the fans don't get to see. We see guys running the ball with power, or guys that have good vision. We see guys that are learning how to pass protect at a faster rate than most freshman tailbacks do. We see guys that have secured the ball well at this point, so when you get them into the game, unless their nerves get to them, they're probably going to perform about like they did in practice. We've had good confidence in them."
Georgia is averaging 530 yards/game (7.3 yards/play) and 39.8 points/game. They've been extremely efficient in the red zone, scoring TDs on 69% of their red-zone opportunities. Yet, the Bulldogs are only converting 38% on third down.
The Bulldogs have been hardest hit by injury at the wide-receiver position. Only two of Georgia's top five receivers will be suited up for Missouri. Yet, the Bulldogs are able to put talented, experienced receivers on the field. The Bulldogs leading receiver is 6'3" 206-pound junior Chris Conley, with 20 catches for 318 yards and 3 TDs. He'll be joined in the starting line-up by 6'0" 180-pound senior Rhett McGowan (6 receptions for 58 yards) Another veteran receiver, 5'10" 176-pound senior Rantavious Wooten (8 receptions for 84 yards and 2 TDs) is being called upon to step into a more prominent role. A true freshman, 6'0" 159-pound Reggie Davis (4 receptions for 167 yards and 1 TD) is an explosive receiving threat. And, 6'3" 201-pound red-shirt freshman Kenneth Towns may see action against Missouri.
Georgia's 4th-leading receiver is 6'5" 254-pound senior TE Arthur Lynch, with 11 receptions for 169 yards and 2 TDs.
Georgia is very good in all phases of the kicking game.
Georgia's base defense is a 3-4. Their outside linebackers are really hybrid DE/LBs, and they often line up at or near the line of scrimmage.
Up front, the Bulldogs rotate a number of talented players, including one of just two returning starters on defense from a year ago, 6'3" 299-pound senior Garrison Smith, who is very productive from his position on the nose with 26 total tackles, including 1.5 TFLs, 0.5 sacks, and 1 QBH. He's joined by another productive player in 6'3" 282-pound sophomore DE Sterling Bailey, who has 22 total tackles this season, including 1 TFL, 1 sack, 1 PBU, and 3 QBHs. On the other side, Ray Drew has 15 total tackles, including 4 TFLs, 3 sacks, 1 PBU, and 8 QBHs.
The inside linebackers are their two leading tacklers, and they are almost always line up off the line of scrimmage, although the Bulldogs do sometimes bring their inside linebackers on a blitz.
Leading Georgia and the SEC in tackles is 6'2' 232-pound junior ILB Ramik Wilson, who has 52 total tackles on the season to go along with 3.5 TFLs, 1 sack, 1 PBU, and 1 QBH. He's joined on the inside by 6'2" 244-pound junior ILB Amarlo Herrera, who is second on the team in tackles with 47 total tackles, including 1.5 TFLs, and 0.5 sacks, to go along with 5 PBUs, and 2 QBHs.
Another playmaker at outside linebacker is 6'3' 246-pound Jordan Jenkins, who has 18 total tackles on the season, including a team-high 5 TFLs. He's also racked up 1 sack, 1 PBU, and an amazing 9 QBHs, indicative of the true role of Georgia's outside LBs/ stand-up DEs. His counterpart on the other side is 6'4" 220-pound true freshman Leonard Floyd, who has 21 total tackles on the season, including 4 TFLs, 3 sacks, and 10 QBHs. Jenkins and Herrera were part-time starters a year ago.
"We're getting better and better each week," said Herrera, assessing Georgia's young defense. "We're just working hard trying to put together a complete game. We just have to close out the game and play better football."
The other full-time returning starter from a year ago is 5'11" 178-pound junior corner Damian Swann (18 total tackles, 3 PBUs), who according to Coach Richt has struggled this year. On the other side, Georgia starts 5'10" 165-pound true freshman corner Shaq Wiggins (7 tackles, 2 TFLs), and he is backed up by another true freshman, 6'1" 181-pound Brendan Langley (12 tackles, 2 PBUs).
The safety position is manned by 6'2" 214-pound sophomore Josh Harvey-Clemons and 6'0" 200-pound true freshman Quincy Mauger (16 tackles, 1 PBU, 1 QBH), or 6'2" 214-pound junior Corey Moore (9 tackles). Harvey-Clemons is Georgia's third-leading tackler, with 30 total tackles, including 2.5 TFLs, to go along with 3 PBUs, and 2 QBHs. Another true freshmen, 6'0" 196-pound Tray Matthews, is listed as the starter opposite Harvey-Clemons, and has 20 tackles, 3 PBUs, and an interception on the season, but he missed last week's game with a hamstring injury, and according to Coach Richt, he is "doubtful" for this week.
It's in the secondary where Georgia is especially youthful, but those are very talented young players back there. Coach Richt talked about one of his young defensive backs, Quincy Mauger, who has recently been pressed into duty as a starting safety.
"Quincy Mauger has done a great job," explained Coach Richt. "He's another true freshman. He was here at mid-year, and that was very helpful for him to be here. He's got a pretty good working knowledge of what we're trying to do. He's not lost back there. He communicates well, and he's really a pretty good open-field tackler. He still makes mistakes. You'll get your eyes in the wrong spot and find out that your guy is wide open over there, and you should have been there, every once in a while. That happens even to the best of them……………………………………… But I like what he's doing. For a freshman, he has a very professional attitude towards becoming good at what he does, and he's done well on special teams for us."
Coach Richt talked about his talented, young defense.
"We're obviously a work in progress," said Coach Richt. "We're battling. We're fighting. And, we're winning as a team right now. We don't care about the stats. We don't even really care what everybody thinks about us right now. We're just every day lining up and trying to get the best plan and trying to execute it to the best of our abilities as coaches and players. I'd much rather have a defense or an offense that make the play at the moment of truth. I've been saying it for two years now. It doesn't matter what your stats are if you can't get the stop when you need it. If you can't get the touchdown when you need it, or kick the field goal when you need it, you're going to lose. There's going to be a lot of close games because we play in that type of league. We've been playing that type of schedule so far. The goal is to win and move on, and that's kind of what we've been doing after game one. So hopefully, we can continue to do that."
(NCAA Ranking in Parentheses)
MIZZOU _____CATEGORY_____ GEORGIA
543.8 (7)_____Total Offense______ 530.0 (11)
258.8 (T-15)__ Rushing Offense____214.8 (27)
285.0 (32)____ Passing Offense____ 315.2 (17)
158.49 (20)____Pass Efficiency____ 178.67 (6)
46.6 (8)______Scoring Offense_____ 39.8 (23)
412.4 (76)_____Total Defense_____ 403.8 (66)
118.6 (26)____Rushing Defense____ 139.2 (42)
293.8 (113)__Passing Yds. Allowed__264.6 (97)
122.98 (49)__Team Pass Effic. Def._147.64 (100)
22.4 (41)_____ Scoring Defense_____32.2 (95)
1.0 (T-18)____ Turnover Margin____ 0.0 (T-66)
0.538 (9)____3rd Down Conv. Pct___ 0.375 (81)
0.667 (T-19)__4th Down Conv. Pct___ 0.750 (8)
0.395 (65)____ 3rd Conv Pct.Def. ___ 0.440 (99)0.828
(T-67)__ Red Zone Offense____ 0.862 (50)0.875
(T-86)___Red Zone Defense___ 0.889 (94)37.60
(T-53)_____Net Punting______ 38.25 (44)5.92
(82)_______Punt Returns______ 3.09 (114)
38 (T-60)___ Kickoff Returns___ 18.75 (T-103)
141 (11)_____First Downs Offense___ 123 (34)
105 (63)_____First Downs Defense___ 95 (T-38)
4.00 (14)____Fewest Penalties / Gm. _ 6.20 (T-77)
30:53(44)____ Time of Possession____ 31:25 (33)