ATHENS — The last time Georgia football took the field against a team playing as well as Missouri it was embarrassing, and Kirby Smart is aiming to make sure that doesn’t happen again.
The Bulldogs (6-2) face a Tigers team on the road that has won five of its past six games and scored 91 points in its last two contests.
“They have caught a really good rhythm, scoring a lot of points, and played really good defense most of the year,” Smart said. “Their defensive personnel is one of the best we have probably played against. They do a lot of different things than people in our conference, defensively, and create a lot of problems.”
Georgia is a 13-point road favorite, but the Bulldogs have failed to cover in four of the five games away from Sanford Stadium this season.
Georgia’s senior class can become the winningest in school history with victories over Missouri, Vanderbilt (provided the Commodores show up for the Dec. 19 game) and in a bowl.
The Bulldogs seniors are also fighting to preserve a streak of three consecutive seasons in the College Football Playoffs Top 10 rankings, dating back to 2017.
The team’s steak of appearances in the AP Top 10 was snapped at 59 earlier this season after the 44-28 loss in Florida to the SEC East champion Gators.
Here are three reasons why the Bulldogs need to be on upset alert in the “Show Me State” against Missouri.
Georgia kicks off in Missouri (5-3) at noon on Saturday with Smart looking to improve on his 3-3 record in SEC games that kick off in that early time slot.
The Bulldogs took a physical beating earlier this season in a noon kickoff at Kentucky. Georgia outscored the Wildcats 14-3 for the win but got pushed around on the field, with four starters getting knocked out of the game with injuries.
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“We haven’t played in that time frame (in 2020), and that’s a time frame where you’ve got to kind of get used to it,” Smart said earlier this season leading up to the road game at Kentucky.
“You’ve got to get comfortable with it, get used to getting up and going. Our kids don’t operate like that.”
The underdog SEC teams that have beaten Kirby Smart-coached teams in early kicks: Vanderbilt, South Carolina and Ole Miss.
The distractions are starting to mount for the Bulldogs, with senior inside linebacker Monty Rice becoming the six UGA player to commit to the Senior Bowl all-star game on Monday night.
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A handful of other players are being lauded for individual honors, including punter Jake Camarda (Ray Guy Award), kicker Jack Podlesny (Lou Groza Award) and outside linebacker Azeez Ojulari (Bednarik Award).
The Bulldogs had last week off after Vanderbilt backed out of the game scheduled for Dec. 5.
The last time Smart’s team was coming off an unexpected open date — coincidentally, Missouri, Nov. 14 — the Bulldogs struggled to beat an undermanned Mississippi State team 31-24 in Sanford Stadium.
The Georgia coaching staff has their share of off-field distractions, as well. The early signing date (Dec. 16) is fast approaching, and that means it’s closing time with several recruits.
Smart said he anticipated more early signees than ever before at Georgia, and that means there’s plenty of roster management taking place behind the scenes, as evidenced on Monday by the two receivers entering the transfer portal.
The perception of Georgia and Missouri is one thing, but the numbers show the programs aren’t as far apart as some might think.
Missouri ranks fourth in the SEC in total offense (434.8 yards per game) while Georgia is eighth (397.1). The Tigers are fourth in the league in total defense (377.4) while the Bulldogs rank second (338.1).
Missouri tailback Larry Rountree lll had 27 carries for 185 yards and 3 TDs against the Razorbacks and ranks fourth in the SEC in rushing.
Tigers freshman quarterback Connor Bazelak is No. 2 among Power 5 freshman quarterbacks in pass efficiency, trailing only Spencer Rattler of Oklahoma, and is coming off a 32-of-49, 380-yard passing performance in the 50-48 win over Arkansas.
“Their quarterback is playing at a high level; he understands coverages and looks,” Smart said. “I just have a lot of respect for the quarterback because he’s got great composure and accuracy. He just does a really good job in the pocket. He throws a very catchable ball.
“Eliah (Drinkwitz) does a great job of having passing-game situations where based on the look he gets he can get really easy soft-zone throws.”