It’s tough to feel sorry for elite programs, but there’s a part of me that does feel bad for Georgia. Kirby Smart, after years of trying to emulate Alabama 2009, recognized the error of his ways and hired Todd Monken, a dynamic, air-raid-influenced offensive coordinator with successful stints at the college and pro ranks. He nabbed the best transfer quarterback on the market in Jamie Newman and then, for good measure, brought in another transfer, the 5-star USC golden boy, J.T. Daniels. He returned the best defense in the world and was ready to dominate the East, get a rematch with his old boss in the SEC Championship game, and shoot for a 2020 Playoff berth.
Instead, COVID happened, Newman opted out, Daniels wasn’t fully recovered from his devastating knee injury, and Smart’s prized third-string quarterback became a shell of his former self thanks to an offseason medical emergency. The offensive system is, indeed, dynamic and complex and everything it should be with great weapons but, for most of the year, the Dawgs didn’t have a guy who can reliably hit a receiver in the hands.
Football is life. Life is hell.
Smart still has that killer defense, mind you, just absent a few playmakers due to injuries. And J.T. Daniels is finally getting his starts with just two games left on the schedule. Georgia is still incredibly talented and should win this game 9 times out of 10, but if Missouri wants to hang with the Dawgs here’s what needs to happen.
Missouri’s Key Stats vs. Georgia’s Offense
Make ‘em throw
Stetson Bennett IV is completing 55% of his passes while throwing 8 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. D’Wan Mathis is completing 40% of his passes with 1 touchdown thrown to 3 interceptions. JT. Daniels, on the other hand, has a 70% completion rate with 540 yards and 6 touchdown to 1 interception...all against Mississippi State and South Carolina. Georgia’s season passing success rate is 35.9%, 105th in the country. For all of 2020 they’ve only converted on passing downs 30.8% of the time, 70th in the country. Simply put, on the whole, they freaking suck at throwing the ball. Of course, that’s without Daniels at the helm and oh, by the way, they’re also 15th in rushing success rate and 42nd in standard downs success rate so they’re ok if the pass isn’t working. This offense is built around Zamir White running the ball for 3 yards a gain, 30 times per game and busting a big gain once or twice. That’s it. Shut that down and you force an untested (but talented) quarterback to make the right reads against a defense with a pulse. The Tigers will need to keep the rushing success rate under 45% and their standard downs success rate under 40% to force Georgia to do the thing that they’re slightly less good at: passing.
As previously mentioned, Georgia quarterbacks have thrown ten interceptions in eight games and fumbled three times, losing one. They’ll give you the ball, is what I’m saying. Missouri is still not great at accepting gifts from the offense but did nab a Pick-6 against Florida and forced an interception to seal the win against South Carolina. They’ll definitely need to do that to keep Georgia uncomfortable and probably need to add another turnover or two to really have a chance. If Missouri is at least +2 in the turnover department they’ll have a chance.
Missouri’s Key Stats vs. Georgia’s Defense
Explosive Plays (through the air)
Missouri doesn’t really have an explosive threat in the air. Tyler Badie comes the closest but has (surprisingly) had fewer touches as a dual-threat running back far less than we anticipated from a Drinkwitz offense, although his two explosive runs against Arkansas helped spark the comeback. Georgia’s defense has very few weaknesses so Missouri’s offense will have to create some momentum and chunk yardage for themselves. Florida was able to wheel-route Georgia to death (deep, down-field passes to a running back that started in the backfield) and I would look to Missouri to try that a few times. Regardless, the Tigers will need 8 to 10 explosive plays to help create scoring opportunities or tilt the field to put Georgia’s offense in bad positions.
Missouri had a 50% third-down conversion rate against LSU, Kentucky, and South Carolina. They were over 50% against Vanderbilt and Arkansas. All five of those games were wins. They’re 3rd-down conversion percentage against Tennessee and Florida were well below 50%. I doubt that Georgia will give them a 50% conversion rate but it’s imperative that the offense stay on the field and get at least one first down per drive to win a potential field position battle. All I’m looking for is a better third-down conversion percentage than Georgia; it’s not a guaranteed recipe for victory but it will be a good sign if it can happen.
Finish your dang drives
I touched on this in the Beyond the Box Score: Missouri kinda-maybe-sorta has a drive-finishing problem. In shootouts against LSU and Arkansas they’ve generated more than 5 scoring opportunities, and over 4 points per trip but the 5&4 splits are the season average. Same old song and dance: in wins Missouri has averaged better than 4 points per scoring opportunity, in losses they’ve average less than 3.8. 5 scoring opportunities at 4 points per opportunity will be 20 points and I’m not sure that will be good enough to win this game based on the small sample size the Daniels-led Dawgs can do. If the Tigers hit their season-average of 4 points per trip they’ll need to generate at least 10 scoring opportunities OR average 7 points over 5 scoring opportunities.
In this wonky 2020 COVID season I question the motivation for teams that no longer have anything to play for. The Dawgs can’t win the East and, instead, are playing for a New Year’s Six bowl as a consolation prize. Do players really want to sacrifice their college lives for a team in a season when their lofty goals are shot? Do you want to get tested twice a day, stay quarantined, and miss out on all the fun (and, now, dangerous) stuff that college kids like to do so you can not even play for a conference championship? It’ll be interesting to see if Georgia comes out ready to play after a forced bye-week or if they’re more interested in getting back home during a cold a rainy day in Columbia. On paper the Dawgs are way better but I’m excited to see what Drinkwitz and his staff can do with momentum and a full roster.