It’s Georgia week. The No. 12 Missouri Tigers (7-1, 3-1 SEC) visit the No. 2 Georgia Bulldogs (8-0, 5-0 SEC) for the program’s biggest game in nearly a decade — as Mizzou looks to stay alive in the hunt for the College Football Playoff. To do that, the Tigers will need to hand the Bulldogs their first regular season loss since 2020. Easier said than done.
Kick-off on Saturday is set for 2:30 p.m. CST on CBS with Rich Waltz, Aaron Taylor, and Amanda Guerra on the national TV call.
For some insight on Georgia, we talked it over with Palmer Thombs of On3 Sports’ Dawgs HQ to preview this much-anticipated game.
Here’s the Q&A to get you ready:
Sammy Stava: Georgia has won 25 consecutive games, hasn’t lost a regular season game since 2020 and are still one of the top teams in the country for a reason. Having said that, is it fair to say that this year’s team is somewhat vulnerable and not nearly as dominant as Kirby Smart’s previous teams?
Palmer Thombs: I do think it’s fair to say that, and it’s because of the turnover that they’ve had over the last two years. It starts at quarterback of course because Stetson Bennett was such a centerpiece of the championship squads. Having him elevated the game of everyone around him it felt like, especially in 2022. Georgia was always in it if 13 was behind center. While I would give the 2023 team an advantage when it comes to talent of pass catchers, this team also doesn’t have the same running backs that previous ones have had.
Turn it over to the defense and it’s obvious why there would be a vulnerability to this team compared to others. They’ve lost so many talented players to the NFL, and while they’ve been replaced with other talent - allowing UGA to keep that standing at No. 1 - the experience several of those guys brought to the field (i.e. Jordan Davis, Nakobe Dean, Jalen Carter, Nolan Smith, Christopher Smith, etc.) cannot be found on this unit. There was so much turnover on defense from 2021 to 2022 that there is some experience, but guys like Carter, Smith and Smith (all gone from the 2022 team) manned positions for 3+ seasons. So yes, I do think it’s fair to say this team is vulnerable, but it’s also easy to understand why that might be. It’s not for a lack of talent, rather a loss of so many experienced players.
SS: Obviously, it is tough to replace the talent at the tight end position after Brock Bowers’ injury – but how has the sophomore Oscar Delp filled in for Bowers’ absence?
PT: It’s been just one game, but I would say Delp has done a good job in the absence. He had an impressive one handed catch against Florida and made some plays versus Vanderbilt too after Bowers’ exit. However, Bowers’ shoes really are being filled by more than just Delp. Because of the unique nature of his skillset, several receivers are being asked to run the “Brock Plays.” That resulted in Ladd McConkey and Dominic Lovett having big days last week, and it’s a trend I would expect to continue as long as he’s out. As I mentioned before, Georgia’s depth of pass catching options is a strength of this team, and it’s showing with Bowers sidelined.
SS: In eight games this season, Mizzou transfer Dominic Lovett has 35 receptions for 365 yards and only one touchdown. At this point, have you been expecting more from Lovett coming in after his stellar campaign at Mizzou last year?
PT: One thing I think we’re seeing play out this season is that the Missouri system is very advantageous to receivers, especially those in the slot. Lovett put up big numbers there last year, and while replacing him with a talent like Luther Burden helps, the position is thriving once again in the Tiger offense. So, all things considered, I wouldn’t say it’s been a disappointing season for Lovett so far. He has played his best football as of late, so I think it took him some time to find a rhythm and get comfortable with his role. It also doesn’t help him that the Bulldogs have as many other options that they can turn to to target.
SS: Last week against Florida, Carson Beck completed 19/28 of his passes with 315 passing yards, two touchdowns, and zero interceptions. Was that the best version you have seen of Beck so far this season?
PT: I would say no. Beck was absolutely motivated to play his best back in his hometown of Jacksonville, but the best version of Beck came against Kentucky. He started the game off strong and stayed strong all the way through to finish 28/35 for 389 yards and two touchdowns, albeit one interception. That being said, there really hasn’t been a ton of variance in his play from game to game. Kirby Smart credits Beck for his ability to be pretty even keeled, and it shows in his play on a weekly basis. He and Mike Bobo continue to get more and more comfortable with each other, and the players around Beck continue to step up. Add Brock Bowers back into this offense, and the potential is through the roof because even without him it’s still strong.
SS: Georgia begins their toughest stretch of the season with three consecutive games against ranked opponents starting with Mizzou, then Ole Miss and at Tennessee. Where would you rank Mizzou as the toughest of these upcoming three games?
PT: It’s such a tough question because of the talent of all three teams and the location of each of the games. Put them on a neutral field, Missouri might be the toughest with a quarterback that distributes well to the many weapons all around him. But how does playing that kind of team at home stack up against a team that might not be playing as well right now but gets to play you in a hostile environment favoring them? I’ll put Missouri second on the list to Tennessee still, but I really would understand an argument for any order - even having Ole Miss at No. 1 considering Lane Kiffin, his knowledge of Kirby Smart’s system and the weapons he’s got to work with too.
SS: Although in a blowout, Georgia is coming off an emotional rivalry win over Florida just last week. Meanwhile, Missouri is well-rested coming off their bye week. Do you think that’s an important factor coming into this one?
PT: I do think it’s a factor. Having that extra time to heal up is huge, although Georgia just recently had its bye and is close to the healthiest it’s been all season. To me, where the extra time makes a difference is with the coaches. I’m expecting to see something special dialed up from the Tiger staff, likely on both sides of the ball, in an effort to get Georgia off its game.
SS: Georgia comes in as 15.5-point favorites. Do you think the Bulldogs cover the spread on Saturday? Final score prediction?
PT: I’ve gone back and forth on this one all week. A large part of me sees this Missouri team as the best that Georgia has played yet. A smaller part of me wonders if the 7-1 start and impressive stats the Tigers have put up is more so due to the schedule they’ve faced. Finding a balance between the two, I don’t think Georgia covers 15.5, but I do think UGA wins this one. Both offenses have been excellent, but I think the difference here is the defenses. There’s a wider margin of separation between Georgia’s offense and Missouri’s defense than there is between Missouri’s offense and Georgia’s defense. Score: Georgia 38, Missouri 24