Not only is this a match up between two ranked teams in the College Football Playoff rankings with No. 25 Missouri and No. 9 Georgia, but second place in the SEC East standings is on the line as well.
Kick-off on Saturday is set for the usual 11:00 a.m. CT on the SEC Network.
We get you ready for Saturday’s big game as Sammy Stava and Graham Coffey of Georgia’s Dawg Sports break down the match with a Q and A conversation.
Here’s Graham’s overall thoughts on Georgia this season, Drinkwitz’s SEC Coach of the Year chances, and his predictions for the game.
Sammy Stava: Georgia comes into this game with a 6-2 record and their only losses are to the teams that are now in the SEC Championship Game (Florida and Alabama). How would you evaluate the Bulldogs’ season at this point?
Graham Coffey: At this point in Kirby Smart’s tenure, anything short of a National Championship is going to be considered a disappointment by the majority of the fan base. That’s partially due to the standard Smart set when he took Georgia within a couple plays of a national title in his second season, and partially due to the way Georgia has recruited. According to 247 Sports Talent Composite, Georgia’s 2020 roster was the most well stocked in the country based off high-school recruiting rankings. The reality is that this team was decimated by injuries on defense, and was starting a quarterback that was 4th string in fall camp. Contrary to what the results might say, this might have been Smart’s best coaching job. There are a lot of guys on this Georgia team with legitimate NFL futures, and the Bulldogs haven’t had an opt-out since Jamie Newman left before ever playing a snap at UGA. Since JT Daniels became the starting quarterback this team has looked legit. At this point Georgia is building hype for 2021, but there were questions earlier in the season about why all of the offensive talent that’s been recruited to Athens wasn’t translating to explosive plays on the field. With a competent quarterback in the fold I think fans have realized that the Dawgs don’t have coaching or play design issues, they just were missing firepower at the sport’s most important position.
SS: JT Daniels has emerged as the starting quarterback for Georgia these last two games. Against Mississippi State and South Carolina, he is 38/54 (70.4 percent completion percentage), 540 yards, 6 touchdowns and one interception, plus a quarterback rating of 187.3. How would you grade his performance so far and how excited are you for his future?
GC: So far I would say he deserves a A-. He has shown the ability to make all of the throws an elite quarterback needs to, and he has been getting the ball to stud sophomore wide-receiver George Pickens and forcing defenses to play the run honestly. He has had a pass in each of his starts so far that should have been intercepted, and his mechanics aren’t quite right yet coming off his knee surgery. We’ve seen a few deep balls that have been under thrown that would probably have been touchdowns if he trusted his back leg and fully pushed off, but those errors will go away as he knocks the rust off. When he does push off that leg his vertical throws are a thing of beauty. Excited?! I couldn’t be more excited for 2021. Daniels has shown early chemistry with key targets in just two starts, and the thought of what he can do with a full off-season practicing with the talent in this corps of pass catchers is tantalizing. Georgia really hasn’t has great quarterback play during Smart’s tenure except for 2018. The path to winning games against good teams was dependent on the defense playing at a very high level. Daniels has blown the glass ceiling that has been over this program apart, and barring anything unforeseen he could be the #1 pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. Don’t be surprised if Georgia is pre-season #1 next August, and it wouldn’t be shocking if they finally break their 40 year national title drought with Daniels under center.
SS: For the first time since 2016, Georgia isn’t playing in the SEC Championship Game, and that’s obviously the expectation for this program and more. Are you concerned about the Bulldogs’ motivation level coming into this one or do you think they still have a lot to play for and have a chip on their shoulders?
GC: I was concerned about this team after the Florida game, but the scare that Mississippi State put into them seems to have refocused Georgia. They played their best game of the year at South Carolina a couple of weeks ago, but that was against an undermanned team. With Senior Day against Vanderbilt cancelled last week and looking unlikely to be made up, I think the Dawgs will come out fired up to send the Seniors out the right way in what’s probably their last regular season game. Missouri has the staff’s attention, and I would expect Georgia to play focused with a possible NY6 bowl berth still on the table.
SS: This game will (likely) be the deciding factor for second place in the SEC East, and Missouri was picked to finish sixth in the division in the preseason poll. Regardless of the upcoming result in this one, do you think Mizzou first-year head coach Eli Drinkwitz should be the SEC Coach of the Year?
GC: Drinkwitz definitely deserves the SEC Coach of the Year award. Starting your first season off against Alabama down a dozen players due to COVID is not ideal. Next came the blowout loss to Tennessee, and it felt like 2-8 could have been on the table for Mizzou. Inserting a true freshman quarterback against the defending National Champions took guts and personal belief, and that move changed the trajectory of not just this season but seemingly the whole program. Mizzou has been as hot as any team in the country and a string of special wins like the comeback against Arkansas last week is only possible when a team is fully bought into what the staff is telling them. I’ve been impressed with the resiliency the Tigers have shown in adverse game situations and the players clearly believe in the game plan and the calls coming in from the sideline no matter what the score is. That type of culture usually takes years to build and Coach Drink has created it in less than a full season. Give the man the trophy! If I was a Mizzou fan I’d be excited for the future. With what Florida will lose, the Tigers could be a NY6 threat next season, if not deserving of consideration for some first-place votes in the Eastern Division when the preseason predictions are tallied from the media.
SS: Georgia is currently favored around 13 points over Missouri. How do you see this game playing out on Saturday? Have a final score prediction?
GC: This game is a tough one to predict. Georgia has been atrocious when playing in 12:00 EST/11:00 CT games under Smart. If they aren’t sharp in the first half, Mizzou has the ability to get a lead and put Georgia under pressure in the second half. However, I think that Georgia’s stellar rushing defense will do enough to keep Larry Rountree III and Tyler Badie from running wild. They could, however, tear up Georgia catching passes out of the backfield, as the linebacking corps has struggled with eye discipline and pass coverage since being exposed in the Florida game. Connor Bazelak has been good in the quick game, but I don’t think that success will be as consistent on Saturday if Georgia’s stable of pass rushers wear down the Mizzou o-line over four quarters.
When the Bulldogs have the ball it will be interesting to see what Missouri chooses to do. They passed for 401 yards on Mississippi St when the bizzaro bulldogs loaded the box with eight and nine men. South Carolina lined up with more men in coverage and the Dawgs ran for 332 yards while averaging 7.2 yards an attempt and having 4 backs top 75 yards.
To me that defensive line of the Bulldogs feel like the difference in this game, but I could easily see this turning into a high-scoring affair where Georgia’s depth finally takes over late, but the guys in Vegas have the total pegged at 48.5. That means someone smarter than me believe more in the UGA defense against Bazelak than I do right now. Nothing would shock me in this game, including a Mizzou win, and I think if this game happened a month ago the Tigers would have won it. This Georgia team is hot, and I think they are treating the end of 2020 like the start of 2021 as they build towards next year’s big opener against Clemson.
I’m going to say Georgia 41 - Missouri 24 in a game that feels much closer than the final score indicates.