Two years ago, Georgia and Mizzou basically meant nothing to one another. With the Tigers playing in the Big 12 and Bulldogs in the SEC, the programs had only met once: A 14-0 Georgia win in 1960.
Times change quickly, however, and now these two squads will be facing off every single year. In 2012, Georgia rolled into Columbia and taught the Tigers what “old man football” is like, crushing Mizzou in its first-ever SEC game, 41-20. The outcome proved to be a harbinger of things to come for both teams. Coach Gary Pinkel’s squad limped to a disappointing, five-win season, while the Dawgs went on to win their second consecutive SEC East title.
Can Mizzou change the game just one year later? Now fully healthy, quarterback James Franklin has led a resurgent program to a 5-0 record. The team is coming off a blowout road win over Vanderbilt – but Georgia is no Vanderbilt.
Can they keep their winning ways going, or will the Bulldogs dispatch of yet another ranked foe after opening the year with a brutal, 38-35, loss at Clemson? Since then, quarterback Aaron Murray has engineered huge victories over LSU, South Carolina and Tennessee.
Can he do it again, only this time against a Mizzou squad that has already tallied a whopping 11 interceptions on the year? That number is good for second in the entire nation behind Virginia Tech’s 13 and could spell big trouble for an offense that is really hurting at the moment.
Star running back Todd Gurley sat out the Tennessee game and may be missing Saturday’s contest as well. That’s not nearly the worst of it, however. His mate in the backfield, Keith Marshall, tore his ACL against the Vols and is done for the season. So did wide receiver Justin Scott-Wesley. Michael Bennett missed most of last season with a torn ACL himself, and he will be out for Saturday after getting his knee scoped. All of this after losing leading wideout Malcolm Mitchell to an ACL earlier in the year.
Chris Conley will have to step up for Murray, as will freshman Reggie Davis, but will they be able to find open space against seniors E.J. Gaines and Matt White?
If not, it is going to be up to a young, but talented, defensive corps to slow down Franklin and his developing set of weapons. Having lost Kendial Lawrence to graduation, Pinkel has turned to a running backs-by-committee approach, and has found success. Sophomore Russell Hansbrough leads the way with 379 yards on 7.9 yards per carry, but juniors Henry Josey (3-7, 5.69 and a team-leading six rushing touchdowns) and Marcus Murphy (293, 8.37, four) have proven they can hit the ground running as well.
Franklin himself has tallied 278 yards and two scores on the ground, to compliment his 1,407 yards and 13 touchdowns through the air.
Georgia’s defense has been gashed by LSU and Tennessee in recent weeks, but linebackers Ramik Wilson and Amarlo Herrera look like they are improving. Can they help the young guys, such as defensive back Josh Harvey-Clemons, linebacker Leonard Floyd and defensive back Tray Matthews, continue to develop?
Mizzou entered the SEC along with Texas A&M. The Aggies won a signature game in just its first year in the league, taking down mighty Alabama and going on to blow out Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl. The Tigers enjoyed no such victories a year ago.
Despite five straight wins to open the 2013 season, Mizzou is still viewed as a weak opponent (first impressions, as they say, are everything). From the looks of things, Saturday’s contest is shaping up to play to all of Mizzou’s strengths and very few of its weaknesses. The Bulldogs’ skill position players are hurting, and the Tigers are excellent at creating turnovers. Georgia’s defense has given up a very un-Bulldog-like 32.2 points per game on average this year, and Mizzou is scoring 46.6.
All of these numbers scream “upset!” but can the Tigers actually pull it off? Georgia will have the advantage of being at home. There is still elite, experienced talent at a number of positions. Coach Mark Richt and Murray have proven they can beat just about anyone in the nation.
The time is almost here to prove they can do so once again, but can they make it happen? Dispatching of Tennessee was a shaky prospect, and Mizzou is even better.
Can they turn the Tigers away and continue their march to a BCS bowl, and possibly a national championship?
We have no idea what the answers to these questions are, but perhaps you do. It’s time to settle it.
[Top Photo: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports, Bottom Photo: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports]