Missouri's SBNation site, Rock M Nation, is one of the best around. I had the pleasure of exchanging emails with CapnCribbs to see just what Mizzou fans are thinking as we get closer to Saturday's noon showdown between top 25 teams in Sanford Stadium. I somehow broke two fingers and badly sprained my right hip in the process, but still managed to finish the drill. Can the Dawgs do the same come Saturday? (and no, I didn't really get hurt. My couch isn't made from Neyland turf after all)
1) Missouri sits at 5-0, but because of the schedule, they didn't crack the top 25 until this week (and that's the AP poll, as the coaches poll sits them just outside at 26). How much does the early season schedule contribute to the Tigers' success, and how much is finally having key players healthy?
I think a lot of what is being said about Mizzou's early schedule has been overplayed. No, the Tigers did not start the season with an extremely difficult schedule, but Toledo and Indiana were great early season tests for a team that needed to rebuild some confidence after a season of injury and disappointment. (The Hoosiers actually walloped Penn State this week for what that's worth.) Mizzou fans are already getting sick of hearing "Well, let's see how they do against a real test this week" immediately followed by "Well that was a cupcake game, when will they play a real team?" I'm not going to sit here and tell you we expect Mizzou to win the SEC after beating Murray State, Indiana, Toledo, and Arkansas State, but the way Mizzou beat them is what's giving Tiger fans hope. The offensive line has developed some cohesiveness and the QB play/running game has greatly benefitted from that. The overall health of the team has been the biggest reason for the turnaround this season, so we feel for the Dawgs and their plague of injuries. James Franklin is finally back to 100% for the first time since his freshman season, Henry Josey recovered completely after he tore everything he could possibly tear in his knee, and after a year when only one offensive lineman (Evan Boehm) played in every game, we're seeing some consistency up front. This is a different Tigers team because our playmakers are finally back.
2) Averaging over 46 points per game, what should Georgia fans be most concerned with in the Tiger offense? Is it the aerial attack of Franklin, Washington, Green-Beckham, etc? Or the rushing attack of Hansbrough, Josey, and Murphy? And can you get us a little more familiar with what Missouri will try to do offensively now that Franklin is back and fully healthy (which he wasn't when we played last year)?
As far as what Georgia specifically should be most concerned with, it's James Franklin (boring answer, I know). Yes, our receivers are extremely talented, but Franklin is back in full force and will beat you with his arms AND legs. From what I understand, Richt's defenses have struggled with mobile QBs throughout the years so Franklin could make him lose some sleep this week. He also does a fantastic job of distributing the ball to all of the playmakers at his disposal, so the Georgia defense won't be able to zone in on any one player. The rushing attack of our three-headed monster does a great job keeping things balanced as well, so this offense keeps defenses guessing which is what convinces me it is for real. The factor that makes this offense look so much different than last year is Franklin, mainly because we have a QB that can get the ball downfield. He's thrown a couple of picks this season that make you wonder what he was thinking, but other than that he's looked like one of the top QBs in the league.
3) What is going on with Missouri's pass defense? I see they sit last in the conference in yards allowed, but lead the league in sacks per game and interceptions per game. Georgia, even with losing some strong receivers, has the ability to do a lot of damage through the air, so which stat is to be believed, the yardage allowed problem, or the impressive sack/pick numbers?
Well, let's just say Aaron Murray will almost certainly get his share of yardage against our defense. Personally, I believe the numbers are a bit skewed because Mizzou has spent so much of the season playing with a lead, but our defensive backs (with the exception of E.J. Gaines) have had some pretty bad stretches this year. The defensive line has done a great job of getting pressure on the QB these past couple of games with DE Michael Sam winning the SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week two weeks in a row after posting back to back three sack performances. DE Kony Ealy is another guy you really have to watch too as he's a guy that can beat you with his power as well as his athleticism (his pick six against Indiana was evidence of that). All in all, I have called this defense "opportunistic". It's your classic bend-don't-break defense, but will force turnovers as often as they allow big plays.
4) How are y'all doing with the transition into "Old Man Football" of the SEC?
Thank you, Sheldon Richardson, for making this our first impression on the SEC. To answer your question, Mizzou's transition to the SEC has been pretty great. The style of play has actually kind of adapted to what Mizzou likes to do this season in spreading it out and throwing it all over the place, so things have been kind of reminiscent of the Big 12 days of big time quarterback play. I'd say Mizzou fans are generally happy about trading Ames, Iowa and Manhattan, Kansas for Nashville and Athens as well.
5) Considering the players Georgia lost, and how hot Mizzou is coming into this contest, what do you expect to happen? Score prediction?
Georgia may have lost its top three receivers and possibly top two running backs if Gurley is out, but Aaron Murray is still on the field. I predict this will be a very, VERY close game that will probably come down to the last possession. While Mizzou's defense will likely give up some points, Georgia's defense is nothing to write home about either. I think this game will look a lot like a 7-on-7 practice with both QBs posting big time numbers. While I hate to sound like too much of a homer, with Mizzou's glowing confidence and humming offense give me the Tigers 38-35.