We here at DawgSports love to collaborate with our fellow SB Nation team sites whenever the opportunity presents itself. A month ago Sammy Stava of RockMNation and I traded emails before answering five questions from each other ahead of Georgia and Missouri’s matchup. Unfortunately, Covid-19 forced the contest to be postponed.
Fortunately, it looks like the Dawgs and Tigers are going to take the field in CoMo for a Top-25 matchup this Saturday, and wow what a difference a month has made. Missouri is one of the hottest teams in the league, having won five of their last six and making Eli Drinkwitz into a popular choice for SEC Coach of the Year. This month has changed a lot for the Bulldogs too. JT Daniels has shown he’s plenty capable of leading the Georgia offense, and his presence under center has totally flipped the energy around the Bulldogs.
For two teams who have been eliminated from conference championship and playoff considerations, this game feels pretty big. So without further adieu, here’s our Q&A preview of Saturday’s game between the Dawgs and Tigers...
Graham’s Questions For Sammy
Graham’s Questions for Sammy
1) Missouri is on a hot streak, having won 5 of their last 6 games after losing their first two. What has changed for this team since the 35 to 12 loss at Tennessee, and what unit has shown the most improvement from the first game to now?
Sammy: Missouri’s quarterback change from Shawn Robinson to Connor Bazelak has really sparked this team, and I think the win over LSU after the 0-2 start really started something special. Yeah, of course LSU isn’t good right now, but at the time — they were still a Top 25 team, and Drinkwitz got his first win as a Mizzou head coach against the defending National Champions. I just think that gave the Tigers a lot of momentum and belief that they can turn the season around. It’s an underrated position that no one really talks about, but there was a lot of questions surrounding the offensive line heading into this season, but they have done a tremendous job exceeding expectations despite a thin roster, and they’re the unit has made the most improvement. They’re just a well coached group, as offensive line coach Marcus Johnson is a finalist for the Broyles Award.
2) The one loss that Mizzou has had in that stretch was a blowout defeat against Florida. I was pulling hard for the Tigers that evening and it looked like the offensive line didn’t hold up particularly well against Florida’s front seven. Do you have any concerns that Georgia’s pass rushers could create similar problems? What do you think went wrong for the Tigers that night in the Swamp?
Sammy: I just done done praising the offensive line, but yes, it’s fair to say they did have their struggles in their three losses this season to Alabama, Tennessee, and Florida. And I think Georgia’s talented pass rushers could create those same frustrations to Mizzou’s O Line. The loss to Florida in The Swamp was just a reality check for Missouri, they just weren’t ready for primetime yet. Meanwhile, the Gators came out ready to play after they had two weeks off from a COVID outbreak.
3) Missouri was picked to finish sixth in the division during the preseason, but they seem to be the 3rd best team in the East. What’s the general vibe among the fan base around the job Eli Drinkwitz has done so far? He wasn’t the top target of Mizzou’s coaching search last offseason, but he seems to be doing a great job. Do you guys feel like you’ve kinda fallen into a great situation with a young coach who wants to build a program and doesn’t seem eager to use Mizzou as a stepping stone? Do you think Drinkwitz deserves to be SEC Coach of the Year?
Sammy: Hearing from the fan base, Eli Drinkwitz is off to an exceptional start and everybody is certainly thrilled to have him as our head coach. I can’t really explain it, but there’s this buzz around the Mizzou Football program that they haven’t had in quite some time, and that is because his recruiting momentum is off the charts right now. I do want to be careful because it’s only Year One, but I think Drinkwitz is here at the right place and right time. I really think he wants to build this Mizzou program. From everything I’ve heard, he’s an up and comer, and a rising superstar with a brilliant offensive mind — and it’s showing this season. I think the best-case scenario for Mizzou and Drinkwitz is to get what Iowa State has with Matt Campbell. In a dream scenario, maybe Drinkwitz becomes the next Lincoln Riley or Dabo Swinney. I mean, who knows? And sure, it mind sound like a homer pick, but Drinkwitz definitely deserves to be the SEC Coach of the Year from an expectations standpoint. Saban and Mullen did what they’re supposed to do, I’ll listen on Jimbo Fisher, but I think you have to go Drinkwitz.
4) Connor Bazelak has been a revelation at quarterback after backing up Shawn Robinson to start the season. The true freshman has completed over 69% of his passes while helping turn the Tigers into a team with legitimate hype for 2021. Was this expected from him? Is there any “what-ifs” amongst the fan base on what this season might have been if he had been named the starter in the preseason?
Sammy: Not only is Bazelak a freshman, but he was coming off a torn ACL injury a season ago. That’s the biggest reason why he didn’t get the starting job right away. Growing pains was expected from him this year, but I think he has really surprised this season. He isn’t perfect, but he just has this calmness, poise, and moxie that gives Mizzou their best chance to succeed with him at QB1. He certainly has a bright future. But I don’t think there was any “what-ifs” from the fan base if they went with him as the starter in the preseason, because there was nothing this team could have done against Alabama, and they just played Tennessee at the wrong time. It is what is, and I just think starting Robinson at the beginning of the season was the right call due to his experience, but Bazelak is clearly the guy now.
5) Georgia has won six straight in this series, but everytime the Dawgs come to CoMo it seems to be a shootout that produces plenty of anxiety for Georgia fans. The Dawgs are favored by 13 on Saturday, but the Tigers have had a can’t lose attitude lately, scoring 27 points n the 4th quarter to come from behind and beat Arkansas 50-48 in what was, to this point, the game of the year in the SEC. It should be a good one with both offenses humming right now. Can Georgia’s defense limit Missouri? Can the Tigers hold down the suddenly resurgent Georgia offense? How do you see it playing out and what’s your score prediction?
Sammy: This Georgia-Missouri series has been fun and I think we could be in for a good one on Saturday. Mizzou’s just playing with a ton of momentum, but just like Alabama and Florida, going up against the big boys will present quite the challenge for this team. Missouri will have their chances and make this interesting because they have the pieces to do so, but in the end, I just don’t think the Tigers are quite there yet to beat these caliber of teams. I’ll say UGA 30, Mizzou 21.
Sammy’s Questions for Graham
1. Georgia comes into this game with a 6-2 record and their only losses are to the teams that are now in the SEC Championship Game (Florida and Alabama). How would you evaluate the Bulldogs’ season at this point?
Graham: At this point in Smart’s tenure, anything short of a national championship is going to be considered a disappointment by the majority of the fanbase. That’s partially due to the standard Smart set when he took Georgia within a couple plays of a national title in his second season, and partially due to the way Georgia has recruited. According to 247 Sports Talent Composite, Georgia’s 2020 roster was the most well stocked in the country based off high-school recruiting rankings. The reality is that this team was decimated by injuries on defense, and was starting a quarterback that was 4th string in fall camp. Contrary to what the results might say, this might have been Smart’s best coaching job. There are a lot of guys on this Georgia team with legitimate NFL futures, and the Bulldogs haven’t had an opt-out since Jamie Newman left before ever playing a snap at UGA. Since JT Daniels became the starting quarterback this team has looked legit. At this point Georgia is building hype for 2021, but there were questions earlier in the season about why all of the offensive talent that’s been recruited to Athens wasn’t translating to explosive plays on the field. With a competent quarterback in the fold I think fans have realized that the Dawgs don’t have coaching or play design issues, they just were missing firepower at the sport’s most important position.
2. JT Daniels has emerged as the starting quarterback for Georgia these last two games. Against Mississippi State and South Carolina, he is 38/54 (70.4 percent completion percentage), 540 yards, 6 touchdowns and one interception, plus a QBR of 187.3. How would you grade his performance so far and how excited are you for his future?
Graham: So far I would say he deserves an A-. He has shown the ability to make all of the throws an elite quarterback needs to, and he has been getting the ball to stud sophomore wide-receiver George Pickens and forcing defenses to play the run honestly. He has had a pass in each of his starts so far that should have been intercepted, and his mechanics aren’t quite right yet coming off his knee surgery. We’ve seen a few deep balls that have been under thrown that would probably have been touchdowns if he trusted his back leg and fully pushed off, but those errors will go away as he knocks the rust off. When he does push off that leg his vertical throws are a thing of beauty. Excited?! I couldn’t be more excited for 2021. Daniels has shown early chemistry with key targets in just two starts, and the thought of what he can do with a full off-season practicing with the talent in this corps of pass catchers is tantalizing. Georgia really hasn’t has great quarterback play during Smart’s tenure except for 2018. The path to winning games against good teams was dependent on the defense playing at a very high level. Daniels has blown the glass ceiling that has been over this program apart, and barring anything unforeseen he could be the #1 pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. Don’t be surprised if Georgia is pre-season #1 next August, and it wouldn’t be shocking if they finally break their 40 year national title drought with Daniels under center.
3. For the first time since 2016, Georgia isn’t playing in the SEC Championship Game, and that’s obviously the expectation for this program and more. Are you concerned about the Bulldogs’ motivation level coming into this one or do you think they still have a lot to play for and have a chip on their shoulders?
Graham: I was concerned about this team after the Florida game, but the scare that Mississippi State put into them seems to have refocused Georgia. They played their best game of the year at South Carolina a couple of weeks ago, but that was against an undermanned team. With Senior Day against Vanderbilt cancelled last week and looking unlikely to be made up, I think the Dawgs will come out fired up to send the Seniors out the right way in what’s probably their last regular season game. Missouri has the staff’s attention, and I would expect Georgia to play focused with a possible NY6 bowl berth still on the table.
4. This game will be the deciding factor for second place in the SEC East, and Missouri was picked to finish sixth in the division in the preseason poll. Regardless of the upcoming result in this one, do you think Mizzou first-year head coach Eli Drinkwitz should be the SEC Coach of the Year?
Graham: Drinkwitz definitely deserves the SEC Coach of the Year award. Starting your first season off against Alabama down a dozen players due to Covid is not ideal. Next came the blowout loss to Tennessee, and it felt like 2-8 could have been on the table for Mizzou. Inserting a true freshman quarterback against the defending national champions took guts and personal belief, and that move changed the trajectory of not just this season but seemingly the whole program. Mizzou has been as hot as any team in the country and a string of special wins like the comeback against Arkansas last week is only possible when a team is fully bought into what the staff is telling them. I’ve been impressed with the resiliency the Tigers have shown in adverse game situations and the players clearly believe in the game plan and the calls coming in from the sideline no matter what the score is. That type of culture usually takes years to build and Coach Drink has created it in less than a full season. Give the man the trophy! If I was a Mizzou fan I’d be excited for the future. With what Florida will lose, the Tigers could be a NY6 threat next season, if not deserving of consideration for some first-place votes in the Eastern Division when the preseason predictions are tallied from the media.
5. Georgia is currently favored by around 13 points over Missouri. How do you see this game playing out on Saturday? Have a final score prediction?
Graham: This game is a tough one to predict. Georgia has been atrocious when playing in 12:00 EST/11:00 CT games under Smart. If they aren’t sharp in the first half Mizzou has the ability to get a lead and put Georgia under pressure in the second half. However, I think that Georgia’s stellar rushing defense will do enough to keep Rountree III and Badie from running wild. They could however tear up Georgia catching passes out of the backfield, as the linebacking corps has struggled with eye discipline and pass coverage since being exposed in the Florida game. Bazelak has been good in the quick game, but I don’t think that success will be as consistent on Saturday if Georgia’s stable of pass rushers wear down the Mizzou o-line over four quarters. When the Bulldogs have the ball it will be interesting to see what Missouri chooses to do. They passed for 401 yards on Mississippi St when the bizzaro bulldogs loaded the box with eight and nine men. South Carolina lined up with more men in coverage and the Dawgs ran for 332 yards while averaging 7.2 yards an attempt and having 4 backs top 75 yards. To me that defensive line of the Bulldogs feel like the difference in this game, but I could easily see this turning into a high-scoring affair where Georgia’s depth finally takes over late, but the guys in Vegas have the total pegged at 48.5. That means someone smarter than me believe more in the UGA defense against Bazelak than I do right now. Nothing would shock me in this game, including a Mizzou win, and I think if this game happened a month ago the Tigers would have won it. This Georgia team is hot, and I think they are treating the end of 2020 like the start of 2021 as they build towards next year’s big opener against Clemson. I’m going to say Georgia 41 - Missouri 24 in a game that feels much closer than the final score indicates.