3 matchups Georgia must exploit against Missouri
After a mediocre showing last weekend against Nicholls, Georgia is out to prove that it is a team to be feared in the SEC East. That begins Saturday, when the Bulldogs travel to Missouri for their first conference road test.
Much like Georgia, Missouri has had its share of highs and lows in 2016. Drew Lock has been one of the best quarterbacks, statistically, in the SEC through two games and he has a talented group of receivers to throw to. The defensive line, however, hasn’t been as stingy or formidable as many expected. Offseason departures didn’t help.
Saturday’s affair could be close, but the Bulldogs do have some advantages over the Tigers.
Here are three they must exploit:
The running game: This is an aspect of Georgia’s offense that should be an advantage every game. After last week, however, it’s clear that even a player as talented as Nick Chubb can’t run free if the line loses up front.
Missouri will be a good place for the Bulldogs’ linemen to get back on the right track. The Tigers have allowed more than 4 yards per carry to two teams that aren’t as talented on the ground as Georgia. The most telling stat, however, comes on 3rd-and-short where Missouri is allowing an average of 5 yards per carry.
Simply put, the Tigers haven’t been able to generate a push on short-yardage situations, which has been a similar problem for the Bulldogs’ offensive line. What should help Georgia, is the diversity of players in the backfield.
Chubb is the rare talent who is able to make plays between the tackles and around the edge, but Georgia has other backs capable of taking advantage of what the defense gives them. All of the Bulldogs can run into the teeth of the defense and have the skills to burn them on the outside.
Missouri’s defense will have a difficult time setting the edge and generating a push on the interior, which should give the Bulldogs and advantage at the line of scrimmage.
Quick passes and screens: Missouri’s defensive backs might be among the most underrated in the SEC. Senior Aarion Penton (below) has been one of the top cornerbacks thus far, and Anthony Sherrils and Thomas Wilson are a good pair of safeties.
The Tigers’ lack of pass rush might make it easier for the Bulldogs to take shots on deep plays that take longer to develop, but Missouri leads the country with 20 passes defended and shares the SEC lead with 4 interceptions. Instead, Georgia should be able to rely on its quick passing game with jet sweeps and screens out of the backfield mixed in.
This is where Isaiah McKenzie’s versatility shines. While Penton and company are strong in pass coverage, the Tigers’ linebacker corps is less so and the Bulldogs should be able to create mismatches.
In the first two games, Missouri’s linebackers surrendered 15 completions on 26 passes thrown their way for 159 yards. They have an interception returned for a touchdown, but that happened at the opponent’s 1-yard line.
West Virginia, a closer comparison to Georgia than Eastern Michigan, completed 10 of its 15 passes for 99 yards when targeting Missouri’s linebackers.
By using a combination of McKenzie, its talented tight ends and the running backs, Georgia should win the intermediate battles in the passing game.
Focus on stopping the passing game: Offensively, Missouri has relied on its passing game in 2016. These Tigers are nothing like the 2015 version that finished last in the league in passing yards per game.
The scheme is different under new coordinator Josh Heupel, and Lock, too, is different in Year 2.
Georgia already has experience limiting a strong passing game. Against North Carolina, the Bulldogs were largely successful against the pass and should use a similar plan Saturday. While focused on the pass, Georgia was susceptible to the Tar Heels’ run game, but that should be less of a factor against the Tigers.
Alex Ross left Missouri’s win over Eastern Michigan with an ankle injury; he should play against Georgia, but it remains to be seen how effective he will be. Regardless, the Tigers are likely to have more of a power running game than the Tar Heels.
Ross, Ish Witter and Damarea Crockett are a talented trio, but none is at the level of Elijah Hood or T.J. Logan. Of that group, Crockett is the most intriguing, and the freshman is someone Georgia has never faced.
Still, the Bulldogs’ primary motive on defense should be limiting Lock and the Tigers’ passing game. Missouri has had four receivers top 100 yards in a game already. By contrast, Georgia has not allowed a receiver to reach the century mark.
Something has to give, but the clear threat on the Tigers’ offense is the passing game. Georgia has a talented secondary that might not require much help to get the job done, but stopping Missouri through the air will go a long way to securing a win.
William McFadden covers the University of Georgia for Saturday Down South. For news on everything happening between the hedges, follow him on Twitter @willmcfadden.