Missouri’s exciting offense could challenge Georgia this season

Cy Brown

Welcome to your one-stop shop for Georgia football news and takes every Monday through Friday. Today, we look at what to expect from the Missouri Tigers in 2017.

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2017 Opponent Preview: Missouri

In its first few years in the SEC, Missouri made its bones the way any SEC team worth its salt would: on defense. The Tigers won the SEC East in 2013 and 2014 on the back of a stellar defense led by defensive coordinator Barry Odom, a stark reversal from the offensive juggernaut they were in the latter years of their Big 12 run. During their two East-winning seasons, the offense was just good enough, but the defense was the major reason for their trips to Atlanta.

Suddenly, in 2015, although the defense still was one of the best in the country, the offense stopped producing, leading to a 5-7 record and coach Gary Pinkel’s retirement. Odom stepped in as head coach, and with his experience leading the Tigers defense, you’d have expected the defense to stay up to the standards it had set during his run as DC.

Instead, in 2016, the unit stalled and finished 118th in the country in total defense. Surprisingly, though, the offense rebounded. Josh Heupel was hired as offensive coordinator and his air-raid system torched the SEC, going from 124th in the nation to 13th in total offense in the course of a season. That stellar offense did little for the team as a whole, though, and the Tigers finished 4-8, last in the East.

That dichotomy was on full display during the 28-27 loss to Georgia in Columbia. Drew Lock threw for nearly 400 yards and 3 touchdowns (plus 3 interceptions), and receiver J’Mon Moore hauled in close to 200 yards. On the other side of the ball, Jacob Eason threw for 308 yards and 3 touchdowns, while engineering a late-game comeback and a game-winning 20-yard touchdown pass to Isaiah McKenzie, the signature moment of his freshman campaign. It was a prime example of the Tigers offense doing what should have been enough to win a game, while the defense broke down at the end.

Missouri’s hope in 2017 lies with the offense. The Tigers return their top passer, runner and receiver from last season, as well as all five offensive lineman. And while Missouri’s offensive unit will undoubtedly be high powered and exciting, questions remain about whether it will improve enough to make up for a defense that’s still looking for its footing under this young staff. The Tigers should be better this season, probably good enough to become bowl eligible. But to return to the days when the Tigers were competing for the East crown, they’ll either need a major improvement from the defense, or the offense will have to be even more powerful and more exciting than most folks predict. The latter seems more likely than the former.

Their offense

Lock is the leader of this unit after putting up 3,399 yards and 23 touchdowns last season. With a full season as a starter in Heupel’s system, he’ll be given even more responsibility in 2017, and you should expect the tempo to see a bump as well. Moore also returns, with his 1,012 yards receiving. But the Tigers have things to improve offensively. Namely, gaining yards in bigger chunks. Lock threw a lot of passes and gained a lot of yards, but averaged only 7.83 yard per attempt. The team went 3-0 in games with more than 10 yards per attempt, so if he can improve his big-play capability, he’ll also boost Mizzou’s chances of winning.

Don’t sleep on RB Damarea Crockett, either. He isn’t a household name, but he ran for 1,062 yards at 6.9 yards per carry last season. With another season behind an experienced line, those numbers could improve, and a lot more people could learn his name.

Their defense

The Tigers’ sack leader, Charles Harris, and top tackler, Donavin Newsom, are both gone. But DE Marcell Frazier seems as if he can carry the mantle of Mizzou’s top pass rushers a la Michael Sam. They also lose both starting corners but return a crew of talented safeties. Between what they lose and what they bring back, the Tigers are full of uncertainty on defense. They could suffer from losing those starters from last season or they could improve by virtue of replacing them with players who have the potential to be more outstanding players who receive better instruction. The defense’s fate in 2017 will be mostly determined by what Odom learned in his first season in charge of the team and the changes he’s made because of them.

What to expect vs. Georgia

Georgia’s offense was hampered quite a bit against Missouri last season by the form of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, both of whom were coming off injuries in the season’s early going. Neither was able to crack 100 yards or more than 4 yards per carry. Both players should be healthy and in midseason form by the time the game with Missouri rolls around in 2017, giving the duo a prime opportunity to exploit what should be a weak Missouri run defense. Even if Missouri puts up some points, this shouldn’t be a tight game for the second year in a row.

FPI Projection — Georgia has an 83.1 percent chance to beat Missouri

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Police investigating alleged drug theft within Georgia tennis

Over the weekend, two UGA assistant tennis coaches were mysteriously suspended indefinitely. Now, we have more details about what’s possibly at the root of the suspensions. From a police report obtained by Chip Towers of DawgNation:

“On May 5 at approximately 1700 hours (5 p.m.) the UGA Police Department received a complaint related to the possible theft and mishandling of prescription involving a number of individuals within the tennis program,” police said in the incident report released Tuesday.

[Manuel] Diaz, the men’s tennis coach, is listed as the reporting party and the UGA Athletic Association is listed as the victim. The alleged crimes are listed as “theft by taking” of no more than $1,500 and possession of a schedule I and/or schedule II substance.”

Towers has been on the front end of all the reporting of this developing scandal, so make sure you keep checking with DawgNation for all the latest as it unfolds. Here are links to the three pieces he wrote about the situation on Tuesday:

Budget talk

Georgia fans have expressed plenty of unhappiness with the UGA athletic department, and particularly AD Greg McGarity, about its decision to stockpile $77 million in reserve instead of spending it on the school’s programs, particularly football. In some news that will perhaps make those fans feel a bit better about the priorities at Butts-Mehre, Georgia athletics announced plans to raise the annual athletics budget by roughly $4.5 million.

Check out Seth Emerson’s story on DawgNation for all the details of the new budget.

Uncertain times

One thing that’s become apparent about the new early signing period rule: Coaches, like fans, have no idea what to expect from the change.

Alec Shirkey of SEC Country gathered thoughts on the new signing period from 12 SEC coaches, and pretty much all of them expressed their uncertainty as to how the change will play out. It was Kirby Smart’s answer that perhaps summed that up best.

“I’m very interested to see how this plays out. We’re dealing in a world we haven’t dealt in. When you have that, there’s usually things you haven’t thought of. Repercussions you haven’t thought of. It’ll be interesting to see who handles it best. You’re going to have some kids who want to sign early. You’re going to have others that don’t. There’s going to be a lot of pressure on kids not to sign from other schools, to wait and see what becomes available. In basketball, you only have a few signees a year. When you’re dealing in the 20s, or a high number of signees, it’s musical chairs sometimes.

Like the rest of us, coaches will just have to wait and see how it all plays out between now and December.

ICYMI

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