Tiger Opponent Preview: Georgia Bulldogs

On Saturday (11:00 A.M., CBS), the #23 Missouri Tigers (4-1, 1-0) play host to the #13 Georgia Bulldogs (4-1, 2-1).

On Saturday (11:00 A.M., CBS), the #23 Missouri Tigers (4-1, 1-0) play host to the #13 Georgia Bulldogs (4-1, 2-1).

Georgia comes in off a 44-17 home win over Vanderbilt, while Missouri is coming off of a bye week, following their 21-20 come-from-behind win at South Carolina.

“Georgia is a very, very good football team,” said Missouri Head Coach Gary Pinkel. “I have great respect for Mark Richt and the job he’s done there.”

Georgia brings the SEC’s number two scoring offense (45.0 points/game) onto Faurot Field. The Bulldogs have the second-ranked rushing offense (288.8 rushing yards/game) in the league, and the league’s leading rusher in 6’1” 232-pound junior Todd Gurley (154.6 rushing yards/game, 8.2 yards/carry). Gurley is also the leading scorer (10.8 points/game) in the conference. Coach Pinkel thinks Gurley may be the best back in the country.

“He’s a great, great player,” said Coach Pinkel, speaking of Gurley. “I have great respect for him. He’s strong! He breaks tackles really well………………………………………….. He’s probably the leading candidate for the Heisman Trophy right now. He’s big. He can run. He’s got great speed and acceleration. He breaks tackles really well.”

Through five games, Georgia is averaging 65 offensive plays from the line of scrimmage per game. The Bulldogs have run the football 41 times per game, or 64% of the time. If they have their way, they’ll run it even more. And, nearly half of those carries have gone to Gurley. And when Gurley isn’t running the football, he’s a threat in the passing game, on short flares or screens, where he’s even more difficult to tackle.

Georgia is down a couple of running backs this week, so Gurley and 5’10” 228-pound true freshman Nick Chubb will carry most of the load for the Bulldogs at Missouri. Thus far, Chubb has averaged 6 carries/game, and 7.2 yards/carry. In Gurley and Chubb, the Bulldogs have the type of backs who will wear a defense down over the course of four quarters. If Georgia has the lead late in the game, the Bulldogs will stay on the ground, and Gurley and Chubb will try to grind the Missouri defense into pulp.

“This season, we’re going to be tilted more toward the run,” said Coach Richt. “We’ve got some very talented backs, and it’s just wise to give them the ball right now.”

Just when your defense is focused on trying to slow down Gurley, and your safeties and LBs are coming up hard to stop the run, Georgia 5th-year senior QB Hutson Mason will fake the hand-off and pass the football. Mason is a smart and capable game manager, but he’s not the kind of QB who will beat you in the passing game alone. If Georgia falls behind, and has to rely on Mason’s arm, the Bulldogs are not playing to their strong suit.

On the season, the 6’3” 202-pound Mason is 69-101-3 (68.3%) for 687 yards (6.8 yards/attempt) and 7 TDs (142.38 passer efficiency rating). While those are good passing numbers, they’re definitely a reflection of the strength of Georgia’s run game, and the resultant increased effectiveness of their play-action passing game. When Georgia is winning, they are beating you up in the run game, and then they break your back with the play-action pass.

Mason’s favorite targets are 6’3” 205-pound senior WR Michael Bennett (14 receptions, 147 yards, 2 TDs) and 6’3” 206-pound senior WR Chris Conley (13 receptions, 200 yards, 2 TDs). Gurley is the Bulldogs third-leading receiver. He averages just over 2 receptions/game.

Georgia’s top two tight ends, 6’5” 232-pound freshman Jeb Blazevich and 6’6” 254-pound junior Jay Rome have combined for 12 receptions for 164 yards and 1 TD. Blazevich is the starter, and he’s averaging nearly 20 yards/reception.

Another freshman, 5’8” 164-pound starting slot receiver Isaiah McKenzie, has 6 receptions for 67 yards on the season. He’s ultra-elusive and super quick.

Up front, the Bulldogs are experienced, but they’re not particularly big. They average over 6’5”, but under 300 pounds.

Somewhat surprisingly, Georgia is only converting 38% on third down. Yet, on fourth down, Georgia is a perfect 5-for-5. This is a telling statistic that supports what I’ve seen from Georgia. They’re very good in short-yardage, including favorable down and distance in the red-zone. But, if you can get the Bulldogs behind the chains on first and second down, Mason struggles in overt passing situations.

The Georgia defensive staff underwent a complete overhaul following the 2013 season. Coach Richt hired Jeremy Pruitt away from Florida State following the Seminoles national championship run a year ago, and Pruitt has assembled a completely new defensive staff. Pruitt is also coaching the Georgia secondary, which has been hit by injuries and suffers from youth and a lack of depth.

So, if the Bulldogs’ secondary is their Achilles’ heel, their front seven is the strength of their defense. Although Georgia officially lists their base defense in a 3-4-4 personnel distribution, on the field, they’ll line of with a four-man front as often as they do a three-man front. Maybe more often, since 6’4” 220-pound sophomore Leonard Floyd, though listed as a LB, is really a rush end. So is 6’3” 246-pound junior Jordan Jenkins.

In passing situations, when Georgia goes to an extra DB, they leave all of their LBs on the field, and remove their nose man. Their 6’5” 284-pound senior DE Ray Drew slides inside, and Jenkins and Floyd line up on the outside to give the Bulldogs a 4-man front in their nickel personnel package.

“They’re a four-down team most of the time,” said Coach Pinkel, speaking of Georgia’s defense. “Their defensive front is real strong. Their linebackers are real good players. Their defensive ends are a little bit like ours, good speed rushers…………………………………….. They’re playing real good defense.”

Georgia is giving up 21.6 points/game. Overall, the Bulldogs have been better against the run than against the pass. And in terms of their efficiency against the pass, the Bulldogs rank in the bottom half of the conference.

With 12 sacks through 5 games, Georgia’s done a good job of getting after the QB.

Georgia’s starting LBs are four of their five leading tacklers. Their other leading tackler is 5’11” 178-pound senior corner Damian Swann, the Bulldogs’ best defensive back. Georgia’s LBs have almost all of the Bulldogs’ sacks. But keep in mind that Floyd and Jenkins function more as DEs than LBs. Their inside LBs, 6’2” 244-pound senior Amarlo Herrera, and 6’2” 232-pound senior Ramik Wilson, are the Bulldogs’ leading tacklers, and they’re among the league leaders, as well. Herrera has 43 total tackles on the season, including 5 TFLs, 3 sacks, and 5 QB pressures. Wilson has 37 total tackles, including 5 TFLs, 1 sack, and 1 QB pressure. Jordan Jenkins has just 2 sacks, but he also has 14 QB pressures. Floyd has 3 sacks and 8 QB pressures.

Georgia is +4 in turnover margin, having forced 8 turnovers, while turning it over just 4 times through 5 games.

Everyone agrees that Georgia at Missouri is a big game. The stakes are high. And, it’s going to be very physical down on Faurot Field.

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