This weekend is undoubtedly a big game for both Georgia and Missouri, but more-so for Missouri, and for good reason. Ever since the SEC schedule was released last winter, there has been an inundation of chatter in our great state about how much the game will mean for the new pledges of the conference. For Mark Richt and his Dawgs, it is just another inner-division road game in the SEC.
Missouri fans have taken to the blogosphere and Twitter over the summer to remind UGA fans that their "Zoo" is going to be a tough place to win, especially under extraordinary circumstances. We at LeatherHelmetBlog.com agree, but what they fail to realize is that Mark Richt leads his program into places like Tennessee, South Carolina, LSU, and Bama and wins regularly (check recent records if you think I'm lying). Those places are much bigger and louder than anything Missouri fans think they can throw our way. In fact, during Richt's first 11 seasons in Athens, he has racked up a 30-8 record in true SEC road games. This should not be overlooked.
As far as the game itself, well, nobody has any idea what UGA team will be on the field. By now it is old news that UGA may have as many as four defensive starters watching from the sidelines, and not because of injury. We already know Senior DB Sanders Commings and Junior OLB Chase Vasser will be suspended for being knuckleheads, and it has been widely rumored for months now that All-American Senior FS Bacarri Rambo and star Junior ILB Alec Ogletree may be suspended. Without the latter two, the defense will be very thin and perhaps vulnerable to a duel threat quarterback like the one Missouri will throw at us in James Franklin. However, it has been widely rumored and speculated this week that one or both of them might actually touch Faurot Field on Saturday night. But Richt has taken a new approach this year when it comes to suspensions and, basically, only he and his coaching staff know anything about players' statuses until it's time for kickoff, citing competitive advantages.
Players to watch for UGA Saturday night include All-American Junior OLB Jarvis Jones, who many consider to be the best linebacker in the nation this season. Last year, Jones feasted on opposing quarterbacks, accumulating 14.5 sacks to go along with 70 tackles (19.5 for loss). In addition, Junior QB Aaron Murray is entering his fourth season in the program, third behind center. Last season, Murray threw for a UGA record 35 touchdowns, and a total of 3,149 yards. Plagued by several costly mistakes in 2011, UGA players and coaches alike have made it clear that Murray has emerged as a true team leader and shown vast mechanical improvements going into this season.
The biggest question for UGA, besides how many of their defensive players will be allowed to play, will be the play of an inexperienced offensive line. With three starters graduating to the NFL from last year's squad, young players, including true freshman RT John Theus, are being asked to step straight into the trenches and produce. While they looked good at times, Aaron Murray was still sacked three times last week against the University of Buffalo. Keep an eye on this line, as they will dominate the offensive approach depending on what works and doesn't work on the first couple possessions.
Dawg fans have been exceptionally excited this week after the breakout performance of true freshman RB Todd Gurley, who rushed for 100 yards and two touchdowns, on top of a 100 yard kickoff return for another score. It was reported he was lighting it up during camp and it was obvious he was in no way intimidated by 92,446 fans in attendance last Saturday.
A major storyline for UGA this Saturday night will be the play of Malcolm Mitchell, who emerged as the No. 1 WR as a freshman last season, but was moved to CB (where he was originally recruited) to supplement the abundance of suspensions in the secondary early this season. Mitchell has reportedly turned many heads in camp back at his natural position, but has yet to be seen by UGA fans on the defensive side of the ball. Mitchell was not only hurt during the annual G-Day game in April, but was out last week with a sprained ankle. Reports Thursday of this week had him practicing in a non-contact jersey, with no visible limitations.
LeatherHelmetBlog.com expects somewhat of a high-scoring shootout, especially if UGA has all the suspensions that have been long anticipated. However, Missouri fans may have the impression that giving up nearly 400 yards a game and operating with an undersized offensive line will create a name for themselves. But they are no longer in the "run-and-gun," lollipop Big 12. We have nothing but the utmost respect for the fine University of Missouri, its fans, and traditions, but Saturday night there will be some sad faces wearing that ugly yellow color. Just because the SEC patch will be sewn onto the jersey, doesn't instantly make the talent wearing it any better than the 8-5 team that visited Shreveport just a few months ago.
Dawgs 34 Tigers 23