Missouri is leading the SEC in scoring defense (13.5 PPG), and that should make any Georgia fan a little nervous. A low-scoring game puts pressure on the Georgia offense of course but also on the defense to keep the opponent off the board while the offense is fighting for every point it gets.
The good news for the defense is that while Missouri’s scoring defense leads the conference, its scoring offense is in the opposite position. The Tigers are averaging only 13.3 points per SEC game, and they managed just 24 points against the South Carolina defense that Georgia lit up. The challenge for Georgia’s defense is to avoid becoming a panacea for the second straight week. At Tennessee we saw a passing game that averaged under 200 yards per game blow past 300 yards.
When a team is struggling on offense, the key to ensuring that they continue to struggle is to make them work for their points. Bernie pointed out one way that Missouri shortens the field: turnovers. “Missouri’s defense…forced three turnovers against South Carolina on Oct. 3 and the team won by two touchdowns. Against Kentucky and Florida, the Tigers didn’t get a takeaway and lost both games.” Missouri got their only second half points against South Carolina on a short 31-yard drive following an interception.
The offense and special teams also have a role in avoiding the short field. Even if Georgia’s offense isn’t scoring, a couple of first downs versus a three-and-out can make a big difference in field position. That puts Barber and the coverage team in the spotlight. Hopefully we’ll get plenty of kickoffs to test that unit too.
Sony Michel: feature back
Can Michel handle the load? We expect to see other backs step up to help, but the focus is and should be squarely on Sony Michel. We know all about his explosive ability running and receiving, but we’re now talking about 20-25 carries per game. The drop-off last week was worrisome: Georgia carried the ball 11 times for 34 yards in the second half of the Tennessee game. Will Georgia’s running game be in a condition to put the game away on the ground in the fourth quarter?
Bill Connelly notes something else about Michel: “He’s more of an all-or-nothing back: whereas 47 percent of Chubb’s carries gained at least five yards, only 30 percent of Michel’s have.” With so much emphasis on third down conversions this week, including the scrutiny of performance on first and second down to make third downs more manageable, that’s a significant stat. Michel can make the big play, but as important are the shorter but still positive gains on earlier downs that keeps the offense ahead of the chains.
The freshman and the senior
The Missouri game usually means worrying about a mobile quarterback like James Franklin and, more recently, Maty Mauk. Mauk remains suspended and the Dawgs will instead face Drew Lock, a stronger pocket passer. Lock isn’t much of a threat to run, though he had an 11-yard scramble at Kentucky. He’s yet to finish a game with positive rushing totals, and Georgia will want to make sure that continues. He’s thrown at least 28 passes in the two games he’s started during Mauk’s suspension, but he’s only averaging 5.57 yards per attempt. The Georgia game will be the true freshman’s first road start, and both the crowd and the Georgia front will have to work to keep him unsettled.
The offense was supposed to be led by Mauk and tailback Russell Hansbrough, now in his 17th season at Missouri. Hansbrough rushed for nearly 1,100 yards in 2014 but has battled an ankle injury this season. He didn’t play against UConn, and the offense was even less productive in that 9-6 victory. Missouri needs him to be at his best in order to do much on offense, and he had his best outing of the season last week against Florida: 74 yards on only 9 carries (8.2 per) with runs of 23 and 26 yards. His carries will still be limited, and Pinkel will continue to bring him back slowly. “We’ll just have to wait and see when that point is where he can play an entire game and rep a little bit more than what we’ve been repping him.” While Hansbrough works back in, the team’s leading rusher is sophomore Ish Witter. No Missouri back has had a 100-yard game this season, but Witter came close with 98 yards against South Carolina. Keeping he and Hansbrough well south of 100 yards should be an objective for the defense.