Missouri hosts No. 2 Georgia on Saturday, and in my former life as an editor at Cox Media Group, I had the pleasure of working with Connor Riley, currently a reporter for DawgNation.com.
Riley answered a few questions for us about what Missouri fans can expect from Georgia on Saturday.
1. Georgia is, um, pretty dang good. But at this point of the year, what are the biggest questions or concerns surrounding this Bulldogs team?
CONNOR RILEY: Well this week, there’s a lot being made of the fact that Georgia is last in the country in sacks, with just 1.0 through three games. Personally I think it’s overblown as Georgia has been giving up 4.8 yards per pass attempt, which is the best mark in the SEC. Georgia didn’t have a ton of sacks last season as Roquan Smith, an inside linebacker, led the team in sacks with 6.5. But Drew Lock is considerably better than Jake Bentley, the next best quarterback Georgia has faced. And if he can operate from a clean pocket, Georgia could have some issues.
2. Jake Fromm has yet to throw a pass in the fourth quarter. After a fantastic first year, he looks even better this year. What areas has he improved in the most, and are there any areas he struggles with?
RILEY: He leads the country in completion percentage so far and you can tell he just feels much more comfortable within the offense than he did a year ago. He trusts his reads and his line to give him time to make the best play. He’s thrown one bad pass all year and that was his interception against South Carolina. If there’s a concern, and it’s a small one, I actually think it’s that he hasn’t really been in a position where he’s absolutely had to make a play for Georgia this year. He didn’t do that in the fourth quarter or in overtime of the national championship game, but I don’t know if Missouri is going to be able to put Georgia in a position where he has to do that.
3. What’s going on with D’Andre Swift? Doesn’t seem like he’s been a focal part of the rushing attack so far, yet Kirby Smart says he’s not injured.
RILEY: Part of it is just the competition, and there hasn’t been a need for him to really carry the ball a whole lot. Part of it is that Georgia has really good running backs in Elijah Holyfield, Brian Herrien and James Cook. I also think Swift may have been a tad overhyped coming into the season but that’s more of a personal thing.
I think the biggest reason is that Georgia hasn’t need him to be great yet, and thus hasn’t needed to give him the ball a whole lot for him to make some of the wow plays he made a year ago.
4. Everyone not named Deebo Samuel knows who Deandre Baker is. Who are some of the other defensive players that have stood out this year?
RILEY: I think the big name Missouri fans need to know is Richard LeCounte. He’s been every bit as good as Baker has this season and I actually think he was better against South Carolina than Baker was. LeCounte is a former 5-star recruit and he was the first recruit to commit to Georgia once Kirby Smart became the coach.
I know I mentioned the lack of sacks earlier, but outside linebacker D’Andre Walker is a really great player. He may not put up a lot of counting stats, but he’s been a handful for opposing offenses so far.
Lastly, safety JR Reed is going to be a guy who plays on Sundays. He sometimes get lost in the mix because of how good Baker and LeCounte have been this year, but he’s one of the best safeties in the SEC.
5. Last year, Missouri played with Georgia for a half as the Bulldogs seemed unprepared or out of position for Missouri’s vertical passing attack. That obviously changed in the second half, but are there still some concerns with the defense against a more high-powered passing attack?
RILEY: So yes and no. Georgia’s secondary is much better than it was a year ago. Going from Dominck Sanders, who was a good player, to Richard LeCounte, who is a much better athlete and all-round player, is going to make it much difficult for Missouri to hit plays over the top.
But if there is one person Missouri can exploit is freshman Tyson Campbell. He was also a 5-star recruit but he is a freshman and South Carolina was able to beat him deep for two scores. One of those touchdowns came in garbage time but if Missouri is going to try and exploit someone, it’s him.
Georgia’s linebackers also didn’t do a great job covering the middle of the field against South Carolina and that’s something they’re going to have to better against Albert Okwuegbunam. A year ago, Smith would probably do a great job of trying to take Missouri’s talented tight end out of the game. LeCounte might be asked to do that on Saturday, but he’s not quite the player that Smith was a year ago.
6. Georgia is a two-touchdown favorite. Things will likely have to go perfectly for Missouri to just be in this game late. What would have to happen to Georgia for Missouri to pull off an upset, and what are you predicting?
RILEY: Markus Golden, Shane Ray, Kony Ealy, Sheldon Richardson and Aldon Smith would all need to be granted eligibility for this game. But in all seriousness, I just don’t think this Missouri defense is good enough to match-up with the size and athleticism of the Georgia offense. If Purdue is able to roll up 600 yards on Missouri, you have to wonder what Georgia could do.
Mecole Hardman has been Georgia’s best player this year and he’s going to be a major problem for Missouri. I think the Tigers will move the ball on on Georgia but the Tigers best strategy might be to just try and keep the ball away from Georgia’s offense. I think Georgia wins 52-20 but Jake Fromm does throw a pass in the fourth quarter.