Here are the three things that I’m NOT worried about Saturday:
1) Ishtar. Missouri came out of their disappointing loss to Kentucky last week with some happy thoughts: they have a running back they can get behind. One excellently-named Ish Witter. The 5’10” senior is finally getting his due after falling behind in the depth chart to sophomore Damarea Crockett (who had himself a breakout freshman campaign in 2016). But after Crockett’s opening 202 yard performance vs. Missouri State, he’s yet to crack 100 yards since and crowd-favorite Witter took most of the totes last week against UK, racking up 139 hard-charging yards.
All this against the #86 ranked Kentucky Wildcat rush defense. Nevermind, move along folks.
2) Red Zone. Remember when we were worried that Georgia just couldn’t punch it in the end zone consistently? That was so 2016. UGA is now #2 nationally in red zone offense, and #30 in red zone defense. Conversely, Missouri is #126 in red zone defense, and #83 in red zone offense. So I’m not worried about Jim Chaney’s play calls inside the 20, nor our ability to block, nor Chubb and Michel with a head of steam and a nose for goal posts, nor Fromm pulling flawless read-zone runs.
But even with Missouri’s poor red zone offense against our superior defense, that doesn’t mean I’m not worried about them scoring (Editor’s note: foreshadowing).
3) Looking ahead. The difference between having a big game out of town and a big game at home can be sometimes reduced to logistics and accommodations. It’s nice to have your own locker room, but today’s big-time college football often still includes a hotel stay off-campus the night before a home game. Which leaves post-game… having to board a bus to go to the airport, or knowing that you’re an hour away from being back in your apartment with a bye week looming head of you.
All we’ve heard is that it’s next man, next play, next game. Kirby’s message has been consistent, and any player interviews have echoed these sentiments. I really want to be worried that 18-22 year olds won’t stay on message. And we’ve seen too many examples where the inexplicable happens. And Missouri can score in a hurry. But this year just seems… different.
Here are the three things that I AM worried about Saturday:
1) Drew Lock. The 6’4” junior signal caller likes to call pass plays. He came off the bench in his freshman season and won the job and hearts of Tiger fans by spinning it mercilessly. Positioned firmly as the starter last year, this kid ended up top 20 in several national passing categories including yards and yards per completion. And while he’s still slinging it around the yard, his 2017 results have been mixed. Total passing yards per game are as follows: 521, 245, 133, 216, and 355. (I liked the way it initially trended, but now I’m worried about the most recent 3 game trend).
The boy has swag and confidence, misplaced or not. Remember his 1H TD celebrations last year? And they are currently ranked #26 nationally in passing offense (though #53 in passing efficiency). UGA has only faced 1 true pass-first team in Samford, but obviously not a power 5 nor SEC pass-first team. This will be a test we have not yet passed in 2017. It will certainly answer some of the few remaining questions of this Bulldog season.
2) The Bomb. Last week’s first half ending versus Vanderbilt did not leave a good taste in my mouth. The 33 yard pass, setting up Vandy’s first touchdown, is eerily similar to how Missouri has succeeded so far in 2017: the deep pass. Even last season, the Tigers had a pass completion greater than 50 yards in over half their games. And this season they have 3 games where they’ve completed a pass over 60 yards. For what seemed like foreve the longest pass by Georgia was thrown by Todd Gurley.
Very infrequently have 2017 opponents tried to take the top off our defensive backs. And when they have, pass break-ups have been the norm with few exceptions. And I really like Baker in 1-on-1. But I fully expect Missouri to throw deep slants, go routes, and skinny posts when they get the right look (or even if they don’t).
3) Big tall Wide Receivers. This is always a frightening proposition for me – facing tall, rangy wide receivers who (cliché warning) “high point” the ball and present mismatches to defensive backs. Missouri’s top 3 pass catchers are a) 6’3” J’Mon Moore who averages almost 80 yards a game; b) 5’10” (dang it!) Johnathon Johnson – okay, he’s not tall but he’s hauled in more Lock passes than anyone; and c) 6’3” Emanuel Hall who only has 9 catches but is averaging over 25 per reception.
A closer scrutiny of the numbers might assuage the reader, but I’m here to worry and not paint rainbows on your red & black colored glasses. Of our DB’s, Parrish and Baker are both under 6 feet, but Baker especially seems to play taller. And the 6’1” Reed really uses his height well. I’m salivating when and if current freshmen Ameer Speed and Trey Bishop (both 6’3”) are in the regular rotation. Heck, Deangelo Gibbs is 6’1”. But as long as hips and coverage are in alignment, I guess I can shake the ice in my tumbler another time or two.
What worries you about the Tigers from the good Columbia? Leave it in the comments below, and as always…