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Georgia at Missouri: Dawgs' offense is run-heavy, and for very good reason

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If you can knock Georgia off-schedule, you can pressure Hutson Mason and make some stops. But your off-schedule opportunities might be few and far between if Todd Gurley is allowed to reach full speed.

Scott Cunningham

We'll save the stat-heavy portion of the Georgia previewing for Friday, but in case you hadn't seen it yet, I should point this out from this week's SEC Win Probabilities post at Football Study Hall:

EAST
Serious contenders: Missouri, Georgia
Minor contenders: Florida

"The East is wide open this year!" We heard that all Saturday, especially in the Florida-Tennessee and Kentucky-South Carolina games, but it's not particularly true, at least not yet. One never knows what chaos may await in the coming weeks, but the winner of the Georgia-Missouri game will very much have the odds in their favor moving forward, especially if Florida falls to LSU. At 2-1, Kentucky could still have a role to play in the race, but as we'll see below, Kentucky has a below-30% chance of winning each remaining conference game on the schedule. And while Tennessee has certainly proven salty at times, the Vols are 0-2 and would likely need to finish 5-1 to have a shot. With trips to Ole Miss and South Carolina on the schedule, along with visits from Alabama and Missouri, that's in no way likely.

So yeah, it's probably Missouri or Georgia.

Mizzou is now a slight underdog via both F/+ (45% chance of winning) and Vegas (+3); if the Tigers pull off a win, they'll be two clear of Georgia in the loss column, and they might be two clear of Florida as well. Their likely record would jump to about 6-2, which would be a very difficult bar for anybody else to clear. Meanwhile, if Georgia wins in Columbia West, the Dawgs would become the most likely winner, but with a win projection closer to 5-3 thanks to remaining trips to Arkansas and Kentucky and a visit from Auburn.

So if you're a fan of any school in the East not named Missouri, you'll probably want Georgia to win on Saturday. If Mizzou wins, the Tigers are relatively significant division favorites. If the Dawgs win, they're favorites, but not with the same magnitude.

So uh ... pretty big game then. Mizzou should probably try to win it. #analysis

Alright, let's talk about the Georgia offense.

Quarterback

Hutson Mason (6'3, 202, Sr.) (69-for-101, 687 yards, 7 TD, 3 INT, 6 sacks, 6.1 yards per attempt; 14 non-sack carries, 55 yards, 2 TD)
Brice Ramsey (6'3, 205, RSFr.) (6-for-12, 97 yards, 1 TD)
Faton Bauta (6'3, 216, So.) (2-for-3, 17 yards; 5 carries, 13 yards, 2 TD)

Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo is not dumb. He understands what he has with the Georgia running game this year, and he understands that he has a smart, less-than-amazing quarterback behind center. He has quite a few receivers who have proven dangerous in their careers (and guys like Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley are, in theory, getting healthier by the week), but his line isn't amazing at the pass blocking, and Hutson Mason hasn't been at Aaron Murray's level when asked to go out and make something happen.

So he doesn't ask Mason to make too many things happen. He's basically asked to occasionally throw 10- to 12-yard passes to Michael Bennett and Chris Conley and hand the ball off really well. Last year, Georgia ran the ball 55% of the time on standard downs and 36% on passing downs; this year it's 63% and 44%, respectively. Georgia was terrifying with its intermediate passing ability over the last couple of years, especially when all of its weapons were healthy. Granted, Mitchell only recently returned, and Scott-Wesley hasn't yet, but still, this is a much more ground-oriented attack, one with a lot more conservative passing.

That's the good news. The bad news is that less passing means more Todd Gurley.

Running Backs

Todd Gurley (6'1, 232, Jr.) (94 carries, 773 yards, 8.2 per carry, 8 TD; 11 catches, 53 yards)
Nick Chubb (5'10, 228, Fr.) (31 carries, 224 yards, 7.2 per carry, 2 TD; 3 catches, 31 yards, 1 TD)

Okay, first, a smidge more good news. Veteran reserve Keith Marshall (leg) and blue-chip freshman Sony Michel (shoulder) are both likely out with injury for Saturday's game. So from a pure "number of dangerous weapons to account for" perspective, Georgia has less than it would in a perfect world. But again, it still has Gurley. And when Gurley is getting a breather, the Dawgs have one hell of a mean, young backup.

Gurley has certainly lived up to any and all expectations set for him in 2014. He battled inefficiency in 2012 (as most freshmen do), and he fought injuries for most of 2013, but he's been healthy and terrifying this fall. You've got about three steps to hem him in after he gets the handoff; if you don't -- if you let him figure out where he wants to go and build some momentum toward getting there -- you're probably in trouble.

Only once has he been held under 131 rushing yards this year, and that had nothing to do with an opponent stopping him. He only carried six times in a 66-0 win over Troy; he gained 73 yards in the process. He had 15 carries for 198 yards in the season opener against Clemson, 20 for 131 against South Carolina, 28 for 208 against Tennessee, and 25 for 163 against Vanderbilt.

Chubb, meanwhile, had eight carries for 78 yards against Vandy last week and four for 70 against Clemson. He's still putting the pieces together overall (he had 15 carries for 42 yards against Troy and Tennessee), but he's dangerous, and unlike Gurley, he doesn't really try to run by or around you in the open field -- he just tries to run through you.

This game will be a stiff, sustained test of Mizzou's linebacking corps. Mike Scherer has quickly proven to be smart, fast, and consistent from his middle linebacker position, but while Andrew Wilson was one hell of a fullback destroyer last year (we all still have the image of him not only standing up Georgia fullback Quayvon Hicks on a lead block, but knocking him straight to the ground), we don't really know what Scherer has in that regard. We'll find out really quickly.

Receiving Corps

X
Michael Bennett (6'3, 205, Sr.) (21 targets, 14 catches, 147 yards, 2 TD)
Malcolm Mitchell (6'1, 195, Jr.) (2 targets, 1 catch, 11 yards)

Y
Chris Conley (6'3, 206, Sr.) (19 targets, 13 catches, 200 yards, 2 TD)
Kenneth Towns (6'3, 201, So.) (5 targets, 3 catches, 21 yards, 1 TD)

Z
Isaiah McKenzie (5'8, 164, Fr.) (9 targets, 6 catches, 67 yards)
Reggie Davis (6'0, 159, So.) (4 targets, 3 catches, 30 yards)

TE
Jeb Blazevich (6'5, 232, Fr.) (11 targets, 7 catches, 139 yards)
Jay Rome (6'6, 254, Jr.) (5 targets, 5 catches, 25 yards, 1 TD)
Quayvon Hicks (6'2, 257, Jr.) (2 targets, 1 catch, 1 yard; 7 carries, 49 yards, 1 TD -- also FB)

It's mostly been Bennett, Conley, and freshmen so far. Bobo was using Michel in a run-or-catch arrangement before his injury, and tight end Jeb Blazevich and receiver Isaiah McKenzie have proven versatile as well. Throw in freshman Shakenneth Williams (one catch, 35 yards) and Chubb (three catches), and you've got freshmen contributing quite a bit for a senior-heavy lineup.

I'm curious how much that changes now that Mitchell is getting back into the swing of things. He caught 45 passes for 665 yards and four scores as a freshman in 2011, and after filling in as a defensive back, he still caught another 40 for 572 in 2012. But he injured his knee on the first drive of 2013 and didn't see the field again until last week. Scott-Wesley should be ready to see the field for the first time on Saturday, too.

As I wrote in my Georgia season preview, when everybody's healthy, Georgia will have the luxury of four players who, because of injuries to others, have seen time as the No. 1 receiving option. Conley had seven catches for 129 yards against Georgia Tech and five for 112 against LSU last fall. (He had five for 60 against Mizzou.) Bennett had 24 catches and 345 yards through five games in 2012 (eight for 79 against Mizzou) before he was lost to injury. Mitchell was the No. 1 for much of 2011 and 2012. And Scott-Wesley stepped up after Mitchell's injury and caught 10 passes for 234 yards against South Carolina, North Texas, and LSU before getting injured himself.

Mitchell and Scott-Wesley still have quite a bit of rust to shake off, but I'm curious what (if anything) changes in Georgia's attack if or when these guys are rolling, perhaps by late-October. Does he open up the passing game more to take pressure and hits from Gurley? Does he continue to ride the running game until somebody stops it? It's unlikely things will get opened up too much against Mizzou, but I'm curious to watch this unit the rest of the year.

Offensive Line

LT
John Theus (6'6, 298, Jr.) (27 career starts, 5 in 2014)
Mark Beard (6'5, 300, Sr.) (2 career starts)

LG
Brandon Kublanow (6'3, 290, So.) (5 career starts, all in 2014)
Isaiah Wynn (6'2, 283, Fr.)

C
David Andrews (6'2, 295, Sr.) (32 career starts, 5 in 2014)
Hunter Long (6'4, 312, Jr.)

RG
Greg Pyke (6'6, 326, So.) (5 career starts, all in 2014)
Dyshon Sims (6'4, 302, Fr.)

RT
Kolton Houston (6'5, 280, Sr.) (11 career starts, 5 in 2014)
Watts Dantzler (6'7, 307, Sr.)

The Georgia line has it pretty easy this year. Even without Michel and Marshall, the Dawgs have one of the scariest running back units in the country. Their line stats, therefore, have been great, and it's hard to figure out how much of that is because of the line and how much is because Gurley, Chubb, etc., are just awesome.

It doesn't really matter, though, does it? Georgia is thriving in its run game with two first-time starters at guard, and as long as Gurley is healthy, the run game will probably thrive regardless.

The trick against Georgia isn't necessarily stopping the Dawgs, it's simply stopping them enough. The UGA run game is going to do well because it is awesome, but the Tigers will need to take advantage of passing downs. Again, we'll go over this more on Friday, but UGA is 13th in Standard Downs S&P (unadjusted for opponent) but only 60th in Passing Downs S&P. You can get to Mason with a good pass rush (and lord knows that Mizzou has a good pass rush), and you can make stops if you knock them off-schedule. So give Gurley his random gains; just focus on making them as infrequent as possible, and on taking advantage of the stops you do make.