ATHENS — Georgia coach Kirby Smart exited Jacksonville feeling his team left some points on the field with fields goals instead of touchdowns, and he’s hoping that won’t be the case again Saturday against Missouri.
The Tigers have been a matchup challenge, Smart said, and this year’s game doesn’t figure to be much different. Missouri ranks fourth in the nation in fewest passing yards allowed per game, but the Bulldogs know Jake Fromm will need to throw some just to loosen things up.
Georgia (7-1, 4-1 SEC) brings a No. 6 national ranking into the game against a Tigers’ team (5-3, 2-2) that remains in control of its own destiny where the SEC East Division is concerned.
Here are 7 key Bulldogs to watch when the game kicks off at 7:05 p.m. on Saturday at Sanford Stadium (TV: ESPN):
1. QB Jake Fromm
It most always starts at quarterback, and that’s a good thing for Georgia with veteran Jake Fromm under center. Fromm has started 36 straight games, most of any QB in the FBS ranks, and is now 10-5 vs. Top 25 teams.
Fromm has completed 29 of his last 42 passes, and his three interceptions this season came in one game — one off receiver Tyler Simmons’ hands, and another when receiver Matt Landers turned out instead of turning in on a timing throw.
Expect Fromm to have another efficient pass game with a high completion percentage against Missouri.
2. RB/WR James Cook
This is the player Georgia most needs to get involved in this game. His skillset fits the matchup, and he is long overdue for a multi-touch performance.
Cook has proven good things happen with the ball in his hands, and now it’s a matter of Fromm being willing to throw it in his direction, or Dell McGee being willing to line him up in the backfield.
Cook’s vision, quickness and home run speed make him a dynamic option who has been underused this season (12 carries, 13 catches), despite Kirby Smart repeatedly saying UGA needs to get him involved.
3. WR George Pickens
One thing Florida did do well was bottle up Pickens, who had just one catch for 4 yards in the 24-17 win over the Gators.
Pickens had 14 catches in the previous three games dating back to Notre Dame shutting him out, and the guess here is he’s in line for a 4 or 5-catch performance against Missouri’s savvy secondary.
4. RB Brian Herrien
Herrien’s pass-catching skills were on display against Florida, his remarkable one-handed catch turning the heads of NFL scouts giving him a second look.
Herrien has had a strong senior season averaging 5.4 yards per carry and proving himself reliable in short-yardage situations and catching the ball out of the backfield. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Herrien have a showcase game before the end of the season.
D’Andre Swift is the Bulldogs’ top game-changing skill player, no doubt, but Swift has had 20 or more carries in three straight games and might be due a lighter load.
5. SS Richard LeCounte
LeCounte has appeared more active of late, and his stepped up play against Florida was a key to Gators’ all-world tight end Kyle Pitts being held without a catch in the second half.
LeCounte has the skills and personality of a playmaker, while senior J.R. Reed has been the more steady and conservative of the two. The junior could be playing his last season at Georgia, and Missouri’s inconsistent offense could offer him a few more opportunities at the highlight reel on Saturday.
6. OLB Azeez Ojulari
The redshirt freshman outside linebacker has become the most exciting player in the front seven, leading the team with 4.5 sacks and playing with an infectious energy.
Watching Ojulari is one thing, and talking with him is another, as it quickly becomes obvious why Smart made him the first freshman game captain of his tenure. Ojulari has the speed and skills to track down Missouri QB Kelly Bryant.
7. DL Travon Walker
Georgia fans wanting to see the next defensive star in the making need only look for No. 44 on the defensive line.
It’s hard to believe Walker is a true freshman, as he possesses great power for a young man to go along with his quickness and athleticism.
The Bulldogs have a deep and capable defensive rotation, but along with Jordan Davis and Malik Herring, Walker has shown the sort of talents that jump out on film.