College football’s most underrated game happens Saturday between the hedges. 5-0 Missouri travels to 4-1 Georgia as the SEC East continues to shake out.
Prior to last weekend, everyone was gearing up for Georgia-Florida as the Bulldogs’ final test amidst a run to Atlanta, and then the injury bug hit. And a close, emotional overtime victory happened in Knoxville, as the Bulldogs escaped by a nose over the rebuilding Volunteers.
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The level Aaron Murray is playing right now isn’t exactly conducive for an upset. He has a distinct advantage and huge opportunity against the SEC’s worst ranked pass defense. But this Missouri team is three times last year’s squad, and they are much better than many think.
Here are five reasons Missouri can upset the Bulldogs Saturday:
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Perfect storm: Missouri is catching Georgia at the perfect time. First and foremost are the injuries. With RB Keith Marshall, WR Justin Scott-Wesley and WR Michael Bennett out, that’s three top offensive playmakers who will miss Saturday. Aaron Murray has been working overtime this week with his young receivers om timing and making sure they’re on the same page. He had a strong feel for Scott-Wesley and Bennett in the passing game, and you take away two of his three biggest weapons and he’ll feel some type of effect. Combine the injuries with a week after such an emotional victory in Knoxville, and this is an upset special waiting to happen. The noon start will affect both teams, but the home crowd may not be awake yet. The only noon start this season came against North Texas, a game in which the Bulldogs had a hard time putting away the Mean Green in the rain.
Michael Sam: He’s played the best of any defensive player in this game through six weeks. Upon Sheldon Richardson’s exit, Sam has answered the call and stepped up his game at defensive end. The senior is tied for the league lead with six sacks, and he creates a nice one-two punch with fellow end Kony Ealy. The Bulldogs’ O-line has played well up to this point, allowing just seven total sacks. Sam isn’t Jadeveon Clowney, but he’s having a big season so far. He’s more comparable to Clemson’s Vic Beasley, who had a big day against the Bulldogs’ O-line opening night.
James Franklin: He’s quietly having a monster season. If you’re expecting 2012 James Franklin, then you’ll be in for a surprise. Finally healthy, with weapons all around him, Franklin has combined for 1,685 yards and 15 TDs. I hear you on the cupcake schedule he’s played thus far, but if you’ve watched him at all, you know his game is at another level. Missouri will spread Georgia’s defense out similar to the way Clemson did. Are Franklin and Tajh Boyd comparable? They have similar styles, and both are senior quarterbacks. But Missouri has similar playmakers around Franklin and a better backfield than Clemson.
Doubtful Todd Gurley: This is probably the biggest reason why an upset could happen. Gurley takes Georgia’s offense to the next level. Keith Marshall is a nice back, but he’s not Gurley. Gurley simply gives them a different dimension and identity on offense. Anytime you take the best running back in the country out of the lineup, it takes so much away from the offense, regardless of how well Murray is playing (and he’s dominating). There’s a chance he may play, but even if he does, he’ll be limited with his ankle. JJ Green and Brendan Douglas are nice backups, and Green looks potent in the running game. But he’s not Gurley or even Marshall. Gurley forces defenses to get physical, and most of them just get tired of tackling him in the fourth quarter. Georgia will miss their bully Saturday, if indeed he doesn’t play.
Third downs: Georgia’s defense can’t get offenses off the field on third down. Sure, they’ve played some explosive offenses in Clemson, South Carolina and LSU, but even last week against Tennessee, the Vols successfully converted three fourth-down plays late in the game. Offenses are converting 44 percent on third down, and that’s good for last in the SEC and 99th in the country. On the contrary, Georgia’s offense is just 12th in the SEC converting third downs at just 37 percent, which is lower than you would anticipate. Missouri’s offense has successfully converted over 53 percent on third down. Mizzou’s defense has held offenses to under 40 percent on third down, good for 9th in the SEC. The money down is so important to both teams Saturday.
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