ATHENS – Georgia’s defensive backs watched it right after last year’s game, they watched it again Monday and they’ll probably watch it again Tuesday. They might watch it all the way up to Saturday’s kickoff.
It’s the video breakdown of Missouri’s offensive performance against the Bulldogs last year in Sanford Stadium. They’re watching it in the hopes that they won’t have to see it again this Saturday when they face the Tigers in Columbia.
J.R. Reed hustles off the field after his interception against South Carolina prevented a touchdown. (Curtis Compton/AJC)
But with Drew Lock and Emmanuel Hall back in the fold for Mizzou, chances of a rerun are high. The key is making sure this last year’s drama doesn’t turn into a horror flick.
“We saw it again yesterday,” junior safety J.R. Reed said of last year’s 52-28 win over the Tigers. “We’ve just got to not give up those explosive plays this whole game no matter who it is.”
The Tigers gave Georgia a pretty good scare when they came to Athens last October. They had played No. 4 Bulldogs to a 21-all tie midway through the second quarter. The Bulldogs finally distanced themselves on either side of halftime, but not before some serious damage had been done to the defensive psyche.
Most of that was wreaked by Lock and Hall. Lock hit the 6-foot-3, 195-pound senior wideout with a pair of 63-yard touchdown passes – one down each sideline – in the first half and the duo connected four times for 141 yards in the game. Lock finished 253 yards and 4 touchdowns on 15 of 25 passing.
“He has a very big arm,” Reed said of Lock. “We experienced that last year. What I’ve seen that a lot of people don’t see is that he extends a lot of plays. He just sits back there in the pocket and, if it’s not there, he’s just going to wait and wait and does a good job on scramble drill.”
Here’s another scary truth: Lock has gotten better. The 6-foot-4, 225-pound senior from Lee’s Summit, Mo., is 20 pounds heavier than he was when Georgia first met him in 2015. As such, he’s much harder to bring down.
Lock’s passing ability and grasp of the Missouri offense has grown exponentially since then, too. The most common description of pro scouts for him is “there’s not a throw he can’t make.”
After throwing an SEC record 44 TDs (to 13 interceptions) last season, Lock was considered in prime position to make the jump to pro ball. But he passed on the draft and now projects as sure-fire, first-round selection and potential No. 1 pick.
Listen to what Georgia coach Kirby Smart says about him:
“I don’t know if his arm can get any stronger. He can make every throw. He threw the ball outside of the stadium last year on us. I think the biggest thing is his maturity level, his confidence. He’s seen the coverages. He’s seen the checks. He understands where he wants to go with the ball. He’s got as fast of release as I’ve ever seen. He can get the ball out so quick, and he does such a good job of keying your defenders and knowing where to go with the ball. You can tell they really work hard on it, and I think he’s just more mature. I think anytime you play in this conference and you go to the venues he’s gone to to have three years under your belt or being in your third year, it makes it a lot more comforting. He throws the ball with purpose. And he puts them in the right play a lot, and he’s a really good athlete. The guy takes off running on some of his zone reads, he keeps the ball and he exposes people. He runs for 20 and 30 when he takes off. He just doesn’t do it very often. You can tell he’s a good athlete. So, I got a lot of respect for him.”
Meanwhile, Lock comes into Saturday’s game well-motivated for the Bulldogs. He’s 0-3 against them, with two losses totaling four points in the first two meetings.
“We have a semi-decent chip on our shoulders,” Lock said the Bulldogs at SEC Media Days this summer.
Hall also is a tough draw for Georgia’s DBs as well. He has blazing speed to go with his 6-foot-3, 195-pound frame, hence the two deep balls against the Bulldogs last year. Nobody has been able to slow him down yet. He comes in with 430 receiving yards — an average of 143.3 in three games — and has scored four touchdowns.
And Hall’s not the only one. The Tigers rotate nine wideouts, seven of whom are 6 feet or taller.
Missouri has also added a significant rushing attack to its repertoire since the Bulldogs last saw it. Led by sophomore Larry Rountree (86.7 ypg), they’re averaging exactly 200 yards per game.
To defend that, Georgia will take to Columbia, Mo., a young and still rebuilding defense. The Bulldogs have held their own so far against the pass, giving up 157.7 yards a game to rank third in the SEC. But they haven’t faced anything approaching this level of offensive sophistication. Meanwhile, Georgia also is last in the nation in pressuring the passer with just one sack.
Of all these facts, Georgia’s defenders are well aware. And while they recognize the sheer magnitude of Saturday’s challenge, they’re not intimidated by it. They embrace it.
“I love it,” Reed said. “That’s why people come to Georgia, to play against the great competition, to play great teams that can throw the ball. Drew Lock might be a first-round pick, a first-round quarterback. So it’s always fun and I love the challenge.”
Saturday undoubtedly will be a learning experience for both teams. The game will be the SEC opener for the Tigers, who have padded their stats against UT-Martin, Wyoming and Purdue so far. They needed a last-second field goal to escape West LaFayette, Ind., with a 40-37 win last week.
Meanwhile, Georgia has faced back-to-back spread teams in South Carolina and Middle Tennessee State, but nothing approaching what they’ll see on Faurot Field early Saturday afternoon.
“Those guys on the outside are speedy,” Reed said. “We’ve just got to play with good technique and stay over the top and not allow a lot of big plays. We can’t give up those explosive plays this whole game.”
That’d be a nice start.