ATHENS — The Georgia Bulldogs are still scraping off the “ick” from last Saturday’s narrow escape from Nicholls as they prepare to go out on the SEC road for the first time this season.
The opponent is Missouri, which at the outset of the season brought no shudders of fear. But after the spooking the Bulldogs received from a traditional FCS bottom-feeder this past week, every foe looks formidable now. And there is evidence these Tigers have grown some teeth.
After a mistake-filled, season-opening 26-11 loss at West Virginia, Missouri rebounded this past Saturday with a 61-21 win over Eastern Michigan in Columbia. And while that was a lopsided win over an over-matched opponent, it showed the Tigers have moved toward overcoming their biggest shortcoming of the previous season — offensive ineptitude.
Meanwhile, Missouri, like Georgia, is enduring a lot of change. Barry Odom, the former defensive coordinator, succeeded longtime head coach Gary Pinkel, who retired after last season at age 64 and is still living in Columbia as he undergoes treatment for lymphoma. Odom was the players’ choice, as this video from the team meeting the day he was announced illustrates.
Georgia has had its way with the Tigers in Columbia in recent years. The Bulldogs won 41-20 on their first trip there in 2012, then went back without the suspended Todd Gurley in 2014 and won anyway. That proved to be the breakout game for a freshman named Nick Chubb. In his debut as Georgia’s starting tailback, he rushed for 143 yards on 38 carries and scored a touchdown.
Now for this week’s plan.
Expect an air raid
Missouri was last in the SEC in scoring (13.6) and total offense (280 ypg) a year ago. But indications are the Tigers have gotten that fixed. With the addition of offensive coordinator Josh Heupel and the establishment of sophomore Drew Lock at quarterback, Mizzou is throwing the ball all over the yard once again. Utilizing a quick-tempo, spread offense, the Tigers ran off a national-high 100 plays in their opener against West Virginia. Then Lock came back last Saturday recorded career highs with 450 yards passing and 5 TDs against Missouri.
Georgia, which led the nation in pass defense, was able to stand up to such an aerial barrage in its opener against North Carolina. The Bulldogs, who have two interceptions so far, will have their veteran secondary led by junior safety Dominick Sanders tested to the limits this week.
Give Chubb some room to run
Nick Chubb, who averaged 8.1 yards a carry last season and has averaged 7.4 a carry for his career, was averaging 1.9 yards a carry at halftime of this past Saturday’s game against Nicholls State. He rallied in the second half and finished with 80 yards to help the Bulldogs put away the 26-24 victory. But it was the first time in the junior’s career that he didn’t gain at least 100 yards as Georgia’s starting tailback.
It wasn’t that Chubb was affected by his surgically-repaired left knee. It was that he had absolutely nowhere to run behind the Georgia’s overwhelmed offensive line. That was against the Colonels’ FCS defensive line. It would stand to reason that Missouri’s defensive front will be better. The Tigers’ interior defensive line averages 322.5 pounds and the group is led by All-SEC candidate Charles Harris at defensive end. The Bulldogs simply have to play better up front.
Revolving QB rotation
For the third consecutive week, the Bulldogs head into a game with their quarterback position undecided at midweek. But at this point, it appears obvious that both freshman Jacob Eason and senior Greyson Lambert are going to play in every game. Lambert started the opener, Eason started last week and played most of the game and Lambert finished both games. Smart said which one would start this week and serve as the primary signalcaller would be determined during practice by their ability master and implement the game plan.
So far is looks like Eason is the designated passer of the duo. He has attempted 32 passes to Lambert’s 11, has completed 59.4 percent of them and already has logged TD passes of 66 and 51 yards.
Tighten up special teams
The Bulldogs will be looking once again to clean up what so far has been some fairly ragged special teams play. Though they got a 55-yard punt return from Isaiah McKenzie this past week, McKenzie also muffed a punt that led to a Nicholls State touchdown and fumbled kickoff out of bounds. They also had another personal-foul penalty in punt coverage and missed another field goal. In an SEC night game on the road, Georgia will simply have to play a cleaner game on special teams if it hopes to win.