Missouri at Georgia preview: Tigers' chances will never be better

Bill Carter

Missouri is hot, and Georgia is banged up. This is the best possible time to play between the hedges.

Confused? Visit the Advanced Stats glossary here. Or just skip to the words. I won't be offended. (Okay, I'll only be a little offended.)

Missouri at Georgia

Record AP
Rank
F/+ Rk S&P+ Rk Off. S&P+ Rk Def. S&P+ Rk
Missouri 5-0 25 12 18 22 24
Georgia 4-1 7 10 10 12 21

So last week's win probabilities got a decent amount of attention and seemed pretty optimistic overall. Okay, really optimistic overall.

Well, guess what happened to them after a ridiculously good Mizzou performance? Pretty much what you think. We're getting into "yeah, this is ridiculous" stage, but ... hey, the numbers also haven't been wrong yet.

Mizzou's win probability
Tennessee 87% (last week: 70%)
Kentucky 80% (66%)
Texas A&M 70% (60%)
South Carolina 77% (56%)
Ole Miss 69% (43%)
Florida 44% (31%)
Georgia 37% (26%)

A few things here:

1. The numbers are still quite volatile. Obviously. That they changed that much in one week means they could just as easily revert if Mizzou plays poorly in Athens.

2. Win probability in conference: 5.6. Get to 6-2, and you can start thinking about the East title. Of course ... that the losses are most likely to come to Georgia and Florida pretty much precludes that. So never mind.

3. South Carolina has not looked very impressive of late. And by "of late," I basically mean "all season." The Gamecocks are down to 28th in the F/+ rankings, and the probabilities have adjusted accordingly. Meanwhile, Texas A&M's defense has been pretty mediocre, and the Aggies rank only 20th because of it. So when you see those high probabilities, that's why.

4. As exciting as this is to look at, it does reinforce one thing: The next two (or three) games are hell.

Actually, one more thing:

5. It's been a popular line this week that "We'll finally learn if Missouri's any good this week," or something to that effect. I've been fending it off, left and right, and I was forced to do so on the radio a couple of times as well. Missouri has very clearly proven it is a good team, and you only need marginal knowledge of opponent-adjusted numbers to understand that. We'll see if the Tigers can continue being a very good team, but they've been just that to date. We won't "learn" that this weekend -- what we'll learn this weekend is whether this is a nearly elite team.

LSU couldn't win in Athens a couple of weeks ago. Yes, there have been more injuries since then, but it will take a ridiculously good team to take down Aaron Murray and company. Falling short while playing well won't change anything we know about Missouri. (Getting whomped while playing poorly, on the other hand, would be a tremendous disappointment after the way the Tigers raised the bar last week.)

When Georgia Has The Ball…

Quarterback
Aaron Murray (6'1, 208, Sr.) -- 98-for-151 (65%), 1,534 yards, 14 TD, 3 INT
Hutson Mason (6'3, 202, Jr.)

Against Tennessee, Aaron Murray started the game 10-for-14 for 109 yards, an unspectacular but sufficient day. But as receivers began to drop like flies, so did Murray's production; he finished the game 9-for-21 for 87 yards, though obviously he did still manage to drive the Dawgs 75 yards in under two minutes to send the game to overtime.

Murray struggled in Knoxville, but ... well, imagine what might happen if James Franklin suddenly lost Marcus Lucas and L'Damian Washington in the middle of a game (and Henry Josey and Russell Hansbrough, too, for that matter). There would be an acclimation period. But Murray's had all week to get used to this new receiving corps, and I assume he'll be just fine. He's one of college football's best.

Running Back
Todd Gurley (6'1, 232, So.) -- 71 carries, 450 yards (6.3), 4 TD -- DOUBTFUL
J.J. Green (5'9, 183, Fr.) -- 22 carries, 194 yards (8.8), 1 TD
Brendan Douglas (5'11, 202, Fr.) -- 21 carries, 64 yards (3.0), 1 TD

Gurshall is, temporarily, a thing of the past. Todd Gurley missed the Tennessee game with an ankle injury, and Keith Marshall tore up his knee against the Vols.

We still might see Gurley on Saturday, of course, but what happens if we don't? Obviously J.J. Green has been the more productive of the two freshman backs so far, but Brendan Douglas got a lot of playing time late in the game against Tennessee. The usage of the two backs suggests that the coaching staff doesn't necessarily trust Green yet; like, his upside his higher and his downside is much lower. Or his blocking is terrible. We'll see.

(Both Green and Douglas are three-star true freshman; a four-star freshman, A.J. Turman, could potentially see his redshirt torn off if circumstances require it.)

If Gurley does play, it's unclear how well he'll be able to play. He's a wrecking ball, and while he's got solid explosiveness, his biggest value comes in softening up defenses like a Marcus Lattimore. (He's actually got quite a bit more big-play potential than Lattimore.) Georgia's is typically a run-first offense, content with grinding away between the tackles then catching you with a big play when you fall asleep; but if Gurley's only got one good ankle, he won't be quite as difficult or exhausting to bring down. We'll probably see quite a bit of Green and Douglas regardless.

Fullback
Quayvon Hicks (6'2, 257, So.) -- 8 carries, 67 yards (8.4), 1 TD; 2 catches, 61 yards
Merritt Hall (5'11, 226, So.) -- 1 carry, -1 yards

Gurley or no Gurley, Quayvon Hicks is a load. He's also a "fullback," whatever that is.

Mizzou handled Vanderbilt's power blocking with relative ease last Saturday, but when Gurley is healthy, he and Hicks form a pretty vicious hammer. Mizzou's linebacking corps appears more well-built for dealing with this style of offense more than a spread, though, and without Gurley I'm almost tempted to give the Tigers' front seven the edge here.

Split End
Rhett McGowan (6'0, 180, Sr.) -- 6 catches, 58 yards
Kenneth Towns (6'3, 201, RSFr.)

Flanker
Chris Conley (6'3, 206, Jr.) -- 20 catches, 318 yards, 3 TD
Rantavious Wooten (5'10, 176, Sr.) -- 8 catches, 84 yards, 2 TD
Reggie Davis (6'0, 159, Fr.) -- 4 catches, 167 yards, 1 TD

In a word, Chris Conley is terrifying. He's Danario-like, actually, and that's about the highest praise I can give. He still sometimes runs like he doesn't quite know where his legs are taking him; he's a colt, like pre-senior Danario or Devin West. But wow, when he reaches full speed, he is untouchable. And his backup, Reggie Davis, caught a 98-yarder against North Texas. Georgia uses the flanker on a lot of deeper routes. Of course, they use a lot of deeper routes, period.

Perhaps the player I'm most curious about is McGowan. He is listed as the starter, and he got some chances against Tennessee, but the former walk-on hasn't really shown much when he's seen the field. Conley isn't incredibly reliable yet, and Murray will need somewhere else to go with the ball, and I'm figuring Wooten will get at least as many targets as McGowan. And I'm also curious to see if the tight ends become a bigger factor.

Tight End
Arthur Lynch (6'5, 254, Sr.) -- 11 catches, 169 yards, 2 TD
Jay Rome (6'6, 254, So.) -- 3 catches, 43 yards

Left Tackle
Kenarious Gates (6'5, 327, Sr.) -- 31 career starts
Mark Beard (6'5, 300, Jr.) -- 2 career starts

Left Guard
Dallas Lee (6'4, 295, Sr.) -- 25 career starts
Brandon Kublanow (6'3, 290, Fr.)

Center
David Andrews (6'2, 295, Jr.) -- 19 career starts

Right Guard
Chris Burnette (6'2, 314, Sr.) -- 29 career starts
Watts Dantzler (6'7, 307, Jr.) -- 0 career starts,
consistent Twitter greatness

Right Tackle
Kolton Houston (6'5, 280, Jr.) -- 5 career starts
John Theus (6'6, 298, So.) -- 15 career starts

This is not an amazing line, but it's an experienced one. Mizzou needs an advantage up front, and it could generate one, but that's not a given.

Standard Downs
UGA
Offense
Missouri
Defense
SD % Run 63.5%
(30th)

S&P+ Rk 16th 14th
Success Rate 52.1% 47.3%
PPP 0.69 0.40
S&P 1.212 0.873
Rushing S&P 1.036 0.791
Passing S&P 1.517 0.944

Again, Georgia is very much a run-first team. That continued to some degree even when Gurley and Marshall were both hurt last week. Green and Douglas still got 27 carries. Without Gurley and Marshall, Georgia will use the run mostly to keep Missouri honest. But the Dawgs will indeed continue to run the ball even if it's not incredibly effective.

Honestly? The more running, the better. The passing is still scary, even with three of the top five targets out.

Targets & Catches
Chris Conley: 16 targets, 12 catches (75%), 200 yards (12.5 per target)
Justin Scott-Wesley: 15 targets, 10 catches (67%), 150 yards (10.0 per target)
Arthur Lynch: 11 targets, 8 catches (73%), 123 yards (11.2 per target)
Michael Bennett: 11 targets, 7 catches (64%), 97 yards (8.8 per target)
Keith Marshall: 6 targets, 5 catches (83%), 94 yards (15.7 per target)

Rhett McGowan: 6 targets, 4 catches (67%), 35 yards (5.8 per target)
Rantavious Wooten: 5 targets, 4 catches (80%), 23 yards (4.6 per target)

A potential Conley vs. E.J. Gaines matchup could be really, really interesting, and if there is any specific benefit to Georgia's injuries, it's that Mizzou's lesser corners will likely be going up against McGowan, Wooten, etc. When Georgia had Conley, Justin Scott-Wesley, and Michael Bennett, there was basically a guaranteed mismatch on any given play (like what Mizzou attempts to establish on offense), but Mizzou might be able to hold its own against this version of the receiving corps.

Passing Downs
UGA
Offense
Missouri
Defense
PD % Run 39.7%
(29th)

S&P+ Rk 26th 60th
Success Rate 36.0% 32.7%
PPP 0.64 0.54
S&P 1.009 0.868
Rushing S&P 0.563 0.899
Passing S&P 1.303 0.855

Georgia still runs quite a bit on second-and-long; offensive coordinator Mike Bobo is pretty conservative at heart. But it behooves the Dawgs to air it out, especially if Murray is getting protection. It's up to Missouri to make sure he isn't getting protection.

Targets & Catches
Conley: 16 targets, 8 catches (50%), 118 yards (7.4 per target)
Scott-Wesley: 10 targets, 6 catches (60%), 161 yards (16.1 per target)
Bennett: 9 targets, 7 catches (78%), 79 yards (8.8 per target)

Lynch: 5 targets, 3 catches (60%), 46 yards (9.2 per target)
Wooten: 5 targets, 4 catches (80%), 61 yards (12.2 per target)

When Missouri Has The Ball…

Georgia passes the eyeball test, that's for sure. But there's quite a bit of youth here to exploit, especially in the secondary.

Defensive End
Ray Drew (6'5, 276, Jr.) -- 13.0 tackles, 4 TFL (3 sacks), 1 PBU, 6 QB hurries
Josh Dawson (6'4, 254, So.) -- 1.5 tackles, 0.5 TFL

Nose Tackle
Garrison Smith (6'3, 299, Sr.) -- 18.5 tackles, 1.5 TFL (0.5 sacks), 1 QB hurry
Chris Mayes (6'4, 321, So.) -- 5.5 tackles, 1 TFL (1 sack), 1 QB hurry
Toby Johnson (6'4, 305, Jr.) -- 1.5 tackles, 1 TFL

Defensive End
Sterling Bailey (6'3, 282, So.) -- 15.5 tackles, 1 TFL (1 sack), 1 PBU, 3 QB hurries
John Taylor (6'4, 336, RSFr.) -- 2.0 tackles, 0.5 TFL, 1 QB hurry

Ray Drew is a solid disruptor for a 3-4 end, Garrison Smith is quite active for a nose tackle, and this is certainly a physically impressive line. The Bulldogs handled LSU's running game quite well, and this will be a lovely test for Mizzou's resurgent offensive line.

Outside Linebacker
Leonard Floyd (6'4, 220, Fr.) -- 14.5 tackles, 4 TFL (3 sacks), 10 QB hurries
James DeLoach (6'3, 265, So.) -- 1.0 tackles

Inside Linebacker
Ramik Wilson (6'2, 232, Jr.) -- 37.5 tackles, 3.5 TFL (1 sack), 1 PBU, 1 QB hurry
Tim Kimbrough (6'0, 228, Fr.) -- 0.5 tackles

Inside Linebacker
Amarlo Herrera (6'2, 244, Jr.) -- 32.0 tackles, 1.5 TFL (0.5 sacks), 1 FF, 5 PBU, 2 QB hurries
Reggie Carter (6'1, 229, Fr.) -- 3.0 tackles, 0.5 TFL

Outside Linebacker
Jordan Jenkins (6'3, 246, So.) -- 15.0 tackles, 5 TFL (1 sack), 1 PBU, 9 QB hurries

Amarlo Herrera is a solid sideline-to-sideline guy, and Jordan Jenkins is just loaded with potential (so is Leonard Floyd, for that matter). The production here hasn't been consistent, however.

Cornerback
Shaq Wiggins (5'10, 165, Fr.) -- 6.0 tackles, 2 TFL
Brendan Langley (6'1, 181, Fr.) -- 10.0 tackles, 2 PBU

Cornerback
Damian Swann (5'11, 178, Jr.) -- 15.5 tackles, 3 PBU
Sheldon Dawson (5'11, 190, So.) -- 3.5 tackles

Free Safety
Tray Matthews (6'0, 196, Fr.) -- 14.5 tackles, 0.5 TFL, 1 INT, 3 PBU (4 games) -- DOUBTFUL
Quincy Mauger (6'0, 200, Fr.) -- 12.5 tackles, 1 PBU, 1 QB hurry

Strong Safety
Josh Harvey-Clemons (6'5, 214, So.) -- 21.0 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 3 PBU, 1 FR, 1 QB hurry (4 games)
Corey Moore (6'2, 214, Jr.) -- 7.5 tackles
Connor Norman (5'10, 201, Sr.) -- 10.0 tackles, 0.5 TFL, 1 FR, 1 PBU, 1 QB hurry (4 games)

Of the nine defensive backs listed above, four are true freshmen, and two are sophomores. The only senior is a reserve. Tray Matthews is going to be ridiculously good one day, but he's a little unstable, and he's supposedly doubtful after missing the Tennessee game. That's a good thing.

One other noticeable aspect of this secondary: size. Outside of the hulking Josh Harvey-Clemons (and his backup), there isn't much here.

Standard Downs
Missouri
Offense
UGA
Defense
SD % Run 52.4%
(103rd)

S&P+ Rk 34th 19th
Success Rate 57.6% 44.3%
PPP 0.69 0.55
S&P 1.264 0.989
Rushing S&P 1.194 0.843
Passing S&P 1.340 1.207

We know the routine by now. Mizzou is going to try to stretch Georgia from sideline to sideline with quick passes on standard downs, and if Georgia misses some tackles (which happens from time to time), that opens up everything. But if the Dawgs tackle well and hold Mizzou to minimal gains on standard downs, the Tigers will be forced to continue to come up big on passing downs. That will be difficult to accomplish.

Targets & Catches
L'Damian Washington: 24 targets, 16 catches (67%), 248 yards (10.3 per target)
Dorial Green-Beckham: 23 targets, 14 catches (61%), 248 yards (10.8 per target)
Marcus Lucas: 21 targets, 13 catches (62%), 112 yards (5.3 per target)
Bud Sasser: 10 targets, 7 catches (70%), 72 yards (7.2 per target)
Jimmie Hunt: 9 targets, 8 catches (89%), 83 yards (9.2 per target)
Jaleel Clark: 6 targets, 5 catches (83%), 38 yards (6.3 per target)

When tossing in the three different running backs and James Franklin's ability, Mizzou's incredible balance comes out most clearly on standard downs. Four guys split targets (LDW, DGB, Lucas, and Budmie Husser), and three guys split carries (four including Franklin), and with a line that seems to know what it's doing this year, it's really difficult to stop everything. Mizzou should be able to find some advantages to exploit.

Passing Downs
Missouri
Offense
UGA
Defense
PD % Run 36.0%
(49th)

S&P+ Rk 18th 21st
Success Rate 49.4% 32.2%
PPP 0.74 0.56
S&P 1.232 0.883
Rushing S&P 1.335 0.595
Passing S&P 1.174 1.019

On second-and-long, Mizzou loves to catch up by grabbing seven yards back on the ground, and on third-and-5 on multiple occasions, the Tigers have run an option to pick up the first down. That will be difficult here. Georgia doesn't blitz incredibly well, but the Dawgs aren't overly aggressive, either, taking risks to get to the quarterback. They handle the run well, even on passing downs, so we might see Mizzou passing a bit more than normal in these situations.

Targets & Catches
Lucas: 14 targets, 13 catches (93%), 140 yards (10.0 per target)
DGB: 11 targets, 8 catches (73%), 113 yards (10.3 per target)
Sasser: 5 targets, 3 catches (60%), 23 yards (4.6 per target)
Washington: 5 targets, 4 catches (80%), 74 yards (14.8 per target)

Lucas and DGB are the standout guys for Franklin on passing downs. I assume defensive coordinator Todd Grantham has noticed that, too, huh?

Special Teams

Place-Kicker
Marshall Morgan (6'3, 200, So.) -- 15-for-15 PAT, 6-for-8 FG (3-for-4 under 40) (long: 56)
Patrick Beless (5'9, 162, So.) -- 10-for-10 PAT, 2-for-2 FG (long: 37)

Punter
Collin Barber (6'2, 200, So.) -- 16 punts, 46.8 avg, 6 FC, 4 I20
Adam Erickson (5'10, 171, Jr.) -- 2 punts, 35.0 avg, 1 I20

Kickoffs
Marshall Morgan (6'3, 200, So.) -- 20 kickoffs, 62.8 average, 8 touchbacks (40%)
Collin Barber (6'2, 200, So.) -- 14 kickoffs, 61.9 average, 4 touchbacks (29%)

Kick Returns
Reggie Davis (6'0, 159, Fr.) -- 4 KR, 17.2 avg (long: 19)

Punt Returns
Damian Swann (5'11, 178, Jr.) -- 8 PR, 3.5 average (long: 12)

Marshall Morgan bombed in a 42-yard field goal to beat Tennessee last week, and punter Collin Barber has a cannon. But Marcus Murphy could get some return opportunities on kickoffs, and the return game has been non-existent for UGA so far.

Summary

It certainly isn't hard to figure out the path for a Missouri victory here, huh? Georgia can't run the ball very well, and while Aaron Murray still has some success throwing the ball, Mizzou forces (and punishes) enough passing downs to get a few stops. Meanwhile, Georgia's young, small(ish) secondary cannot prevent mismatches in the passing game, and the Tiger running game does better than Tennessee's, which a) isn't as good as Missouri's and b) produced 5.7 yards per carry for the running backs. And Andrew Baggett is once again Road Warrior Andrew Baggett and now Awful Homefield Kicker Andrew Bagget. If things play out like that, then it's difficult to figure out how Georgia wins this game.

Still ... I'm picking Georgia by a touchdown. Over the last year or so, I've come to trust the Dawgs pretty well (and why not?), and I've seen Murray and company come through with big plays late in basically four consecutive games now. I fear Conley's ability to rip off a few 20+ yard catches, and I think Georgia is good enough in the trenches (on both sides of the ball) to prevent the Tigers from creating the same advantages we've seen in recent weeks.

The smart money is still on Georgia by about 5-7 points -- say, in the 37-31 range or so -- but look at it this way: About 2-3 weeks ago, I'd have basically picked another 41-20 Georgia win and been semi-satisfied with a loss by only that amount. Georgia's injuries have moved the bar a little, but Mizzou's own play has moved it a lot. Win or lose, Mizzou is going to have a lot to play for in the coming weeks. But let's try the "win" part of that, huh?

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