Here is what I’m NOT worried about as the team from the acceptable Columbia comes to the Classic City:
1. Spotting the opponent a score (or two). Georgia has found itself trailing in 4 of 5 SEC contests so far in 2023. The Bulldogs have failed to score in the first quarter twice, and only had a single score six times. And again, we’re undefeated. Over the first 5 games this season, UGA was averaging just over 3 points in the first 15 minutes - only due to a tremendous outburst over the last 3 has the average now jumped to… 6 points.
So what’s the cure for starting so slow? Busting out in the 2nd quarter. In 5 of 8 games, Georgia has scored at least 3 times in the 15 minutes before halftime. We average 6 points in the first quarter, but over 15 points in the second. Since our scoring average is 40.5 points, the Bulldogs are getting more than half of that in the second quarter. And our next most productive quarter is just after halftime. Kirby Smart makes sure that we have momentum going into and coming out of the locker room. This team is built for 60 minutes, not a single scripted drive.
2. I’d like to see a deep ball completed, but I’m not worried about Beck’s ability to make all the throws. He errs on the side of caution and if the Red & Black can’t catch it, he throws it where other guys can’t catch it either.
We got used to Fromm hitting the back shoulder fade down the sideline; we got used to Bennett throwing a bomb almost once a game, and now we can count on Carson Beck to hit the deep cross or the dig route. You run the ball to the B gap to bring up the linebackers, you throw the wide receiver screen to spread them out, then you live rent-free in the middle. And Carson Beck is reading defenses well in this area.
3. It’s the little things. The Tigers are not extremely disciplined, sporting a 105 national ranking in penalties. Maybe more telling is that they are #78 in penalty yards. Put together, to me that means lots of false starts, offsides, delay of game, things of the 5 yard variety and not big 15 yarders like facemask, PI, and personal fouls. The rumours are that Head Coach Eli Drinkwitz acknowledges this shortcoming and has brought in referees to practice in order to call everyone’s attention and change the behaviour.
One of these penalties almost snatched victory from the jaws of defeat – in mid-September, Missouri made a valiant comeback against a higher-ranked Kansas State squad and had a chance for a long game-winning field goal. But clock mismanagement cost them 5 precious yards and only the heroics of the “thiccer kicker” Harrison Meavis saved their stripey butts with an SEC record 61 yard kick. That’s Kevin Butler level kicking, my friends, and this should be an area of concern for the Bulldogs. But just know that Meavis may be 1-1 for FGs over 60, yet he’s 2-4 between 50-59 yards, and 0-3 between 40-49 yards. He’s also had a kick blocked, and has missed an extra point. Bulldog Peyton Woodring may have had a shaky stretch there, but he looks much more solid of late.
Now forgive me, as I was weaned at the nipple of Larry Munson’s scratch. So here’s what does worry me about facing the team that almost derailed the 2022 Championship run:
1. Luther Burden III was at one point leading the country in receiving, and he’s still #5 currently. He’s getting about 9 yards after the catch, on average. He’s probably the 2nd or 3rd best receiver in the country behind Marvin Harrison Jr. (oSu) and Malik Nabers (LSU). A former 5 star and top national recruit that Georgia pursued doggedly, and who is really blossoming into what everyone expected – a future NFL 1st or 2nd day draft pick.
No big deal, right? Glenn Schumann and Will Muschamp will scheme the defense to take away this threat and turn the Tigers one-dimensional. Tap those brakes – because the Show Me’s will show you their other 2 big wideout threats: Theo Wease and Mookie Cooper (both transfers). Add those two and you have another 8 catches for 100 yards per game. It truly is a triple threat on the outside for Mizzou. The underneath slants and shallow in-routes are constantly giving us trouble. Both UF and Vanderbilt scored easily and untouched on these short passes, which means our safeties are selling out early to the boundaries. This needs to be tightened up, as this will be the first high quality receiving corps we’ve faced.
2. They have a Kirby too. This one is more offensive-leaning in his philosophy. A Pacific Northwester by birth and blood, you might remember him as a receiver for some of those fun Boise State teams of the late aughts. Or you might remember him turning the Fresno St. program into a high-powered attack. Or you might remember that he is also the son of a revered high school coach, and his brother happens to have played QB in the NFL and served as offensive coordinator of the Dallas Cowboys. So yeah, he has some chops.
Now you better know him for ramping up the Tiger offense, one that spent the 2022 season near the bottom third nationally but is now ranked in the top 25%. Although he brought a new system and took over playcalling duties from Eli Drinkwitz, he had a quarterback ready to learn and one with experience in the SEC (Brady Cook). He has drawn up route trees to take advantage of their skill on the outside, and got the OL to downblock the gap scheme very effectively. If you take away a bad decision against LSU that led to a pick-six, you could easily be talking about an undefeated Missouri Tiger team and one with a better resume’ than UGA.
3. Missouri is holding onto the ball, with very few fumbles or picks thrown. As mentioned above, Cook threw an interception against LSU – that was actually his 2nd of the game. He’s only thrown 2 more all season. And they’ve fumbled twice all year, leading to a top ranking in fewest total turnovers in college football.
Georgia is also fairly stingy with the ball, and thank goodness Carson Beck broke his streak last Saturday of throwing an interception in 4 straight games. The Bulldog defense hasn’t created a ton of traditional turnovers, but count the stops on opponent’s 4th down attempts and it looks much more robust. We can’t count on Missouri to get sloppy with the ball, so we must count on sound gap and coverage assignments against a potent offense with some motivation for a program-changing win.
Call me crazy, just don’t call me late for dinner. Sound off in the comments below what worries you about the Bulldogs of Georgia hosting the Tigers of Missouri. And as always…