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The Missouri Tigers Will Debut in the SEC With a Bang

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The eight-month long honeymoon between Missouri and the Southeastern Conference abruptly ended late last Saturday night.

Just minutes after No. 7 Georgia officially became Missouri's next opponent, a game that coach Gary Pinkel has said is of "mammoth" proportions, a Tiger had a few elephantine comments with regards to the Bulldogs.

"It's like watching Big Ten football. It's old-man football," junior defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson said.

Despite Richardson's apparent disrespect toward the conference Missouri now calls home, the Tigers are out to earn some respect from the SEC Saturday night on Faurot Field.

"They got a lot of pride in playing here and Mizzou, they got a lot of pride where they came from," Pinkel said. "We're going into a different league, a great football league. And also when you're new you have to prove yourself. You have to earn respect. My mom and dad brought me up that way. And we're new. The good news is you get to go play, and we'll get the chance to earn some respect."

Georgia offense vs. Missouri defense

Ensuring the first chapter of Missouri's SEC existence has a happy ending will be no easy task, as coach Mark Richt's squad brings a top 10 ranking as well as a Heisman candidate quarterback and a star-studded defense.

While Murray tossed three touchdowns and 258 yards in Georgia's 45-23 season-opening victory over Buffalo, UGA's revelation came on the ground.

The running back position was a big question mark heading into UGA's opener following the dismissal of starter Isaiah Crowell in June. However, if last Saturday's opener was any indicator, true freshman Todd Gurley, who had three touchdowns and 100 yards on eight carries in his first collegiate game, will give the 'Dawgs a legitimate ground game.

Stopping the Bulldogs' potent offense starts up front in the trenches, where Richardson will get a chance to "walk the walk".

That'll be easier said than done, though, as UGA's starting offensive line has an average weight of 308.8 pounds, which is considerably heavier than Missouri's defensive line's average of 280.

So, what recent Tiger opponents most closely resemble Georgia offensively?

Defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski mentioned three teams: Iowa, North Carolina and Texas A&M. Missouri went 3-1 against those squads in the past two seasons, with the loss coming to the Hawkeyes in the 2010 Insight Bowl, a game in which the Hawkeyes gashed the Tigers on the ground for 225 yards on 37 carries.

Control of the line of scrimmage Saturday night will be imperative, not only to contain Gurley, but also to pressure Murray, which, subsequently, would take pressure on the Tiger secondary.

Tavarres King is Murray's favorite target, and he'll likely be matched up with junior cornerback E.J. Gaines, he of the first-team All-Big 12 pedigree. Question marks lie elsewhere in the secondary, though, as senior corner Kip Edwards was banged up most of fall camp and safeties Kenronte Walker and Braylon Webb don't have a wealth of experience between them.

Missouri offense vs. Georgia defense

It's quarterback James Franklin and company's success (or lack thereof) in its first SEC contest that will likely determine the postgame mood at Harpo's.

Six Dawg defenders earned preseason All-SEC honors, including linebacker Alec Ogletree and safety Bacarri Rambo, both of whom were suspended for Georgia's season opener. During a Wednesday teleconference, coach Mark Richt said their status for Saturday's showdown wouldn't be disclosed until game day.

"It's about Mizzou, it's about what we do," junior receiver Marcus Lucas said. "It's about how we prepare. Whoever lines up against us we're going to be able to do our game plan and execute."

Regardless of the statuses of Ogletree and Rambo, Franklin, the dual-threat quarterback from Corinth, Texas, is going to have to evade defenders in the pocket and make smart plays on the run.

Missouri's biggest strength is its wide receiver depth, which Franklin will have to exploit Georgia's run-stuffing 3-4 linebackers with.

Look for Lucas and junior L'Damian Washington to stretch the defense vertically, opening up room underneath for T.J. Moe and Eric Waters.

And then there's that Dorial Green-Beckham guy.

Green-Beckham, the nation's consensus top recruit, led all Tiger pass catchers with three grabs for 32 yards in last week's 62-10 win over Southeastern Louisiana. His big-play ability must be accounted for, and whether he gets the ball or not, his mere presence on the field should free up some space for one of Franklin's other targets.

But, again, for Missouri's star wideouts to get the ball, Franklin's protection is going to have to give him ample time against a front-seven that includes 358-pound nose guard John Jenkins and sack master outside linebacker Jarvis Jones, who got to the quarterback 13.5 times last season.

Special Teams

The last time Missouri played such a high-profile game, the Tigers housed the opening kickoff, setting the tone for their 36-27 dismissal of then-No. 1 Oklahoma in 2010.

Could another nationally televised game in Columbia turn on a play from the third phase?

Redshirt sophomore Marcus Murphy returned two punts for scores last week, and Georgia's punt team is suspect -- the 'Dawgs were the league's worst at covering punts last season and ranked 116th nationally, surrendering 14.9 yards per return.

Prediction

There has been tremendous anticipation for Saturday night's showdown on campus and all across town. The atmosphere inside Memorial Stadium should be rambunctious.

"The whole state, people were talking about this in March, April," Pinkel said. "We're honored to be in the SEC. Certainly we want to produce."

And produce they will. Barely. A costly special teams gaffe by the 'Dawgs ensures Missouri's first chapter in the SEC ends happily for the home team.

Missouri 31 Georgia 27

Ryan Hood covers Missouri football for The Maneater, the independent student news paper at the University of Missouri. Follow his coverage here and follow @ManeaterSports for live-coverage of Saturday's game.

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