Welcome to the Week Ten edition of the Three by Three. Allow me to be your college football sherpa, guiding you through the intrigue of the sport each week. I will try to avoid just covering the big obvious stuff, but sometimes a Hollywood Heisman face-off is the most interesting thing, you know?
Each week I will highlight three interesting storylines each from the Missouri contest, in the SEC, and around the nation. With Mizzou taking on its biggest challenge of the season, I’m going to highlight what the team will need to do to spring the monumental upset.
Let’s get to it.
Missouri at Georgia – 2:30 PM on CBS
Best offensive line game of the season – The SEC is a trenches league. I mean, is there a bigger cliche about God’s Own Conference at this point? (Maybe “it just means more.”) Missouri’s offensive line has improved from last season’s woeful performance, but I am not ready to call it a good offensive line just yet. Penalties still plague this unit – it will have to play a clean game in front of a rowdy Georgia crowd. The pass-blocking will have to keep Brady Cook clean, although Georgia does not have the same ferocious pass-rush of previous seasons.
Most importantly, this offensive line will need to clear room in the run game. Kirby Smart loves to defend the run with as few bodies as possible in order to junk up coverage and confuse opposing passers. (Watch how his team handled Tennessee last season for evidence of this style of defense working extremely well.) With recent stars in his front like Jalen Carter, Jordan Davis, and Nakobe Dean, that sometimes meant just five in the box. Missouri’s offensive line needs to punish lighter boxes and force Georgia to commit more men up front, opening things up for Cook. If Georgia is able to contain Missouri’s ground attack with light work, it will be lights out.
Best defensive line game of the season – The complementary football days of Georgia’s offense are long gone. This offense has developed into a peer of the excellent Bulldog defense, not just a complement to it. Carson Beck is a legitimately efficient passer, and even without Brock Bowers, the Georgia roster is full of good weapons.
But the Bulldogs have struggled to create big plays through the air. Georgia ranks fifth in the nation in passing success rate, but only 111th in explosive pass rate. Missouri’s defensive line must keep that split intact – if Georgia adds big plays to their portfolio, it will be a long and deflating game in Athens. Coverage and tackling will be critical to preventing explosives that are earned by YAC, but it all starts up front. A hellacious pass rush will prevent Carson Beck from getting comfortable in the pocket and hitting long-developing pass plays.
Best wide receiver game of the season – Yes, the bar is set high on this one, but I believe Missouri’s excellent wide receivers can rise to the occasion. Luther Burden, Theo Wease, and Mookie Cooper have received their flowers for their efforts this season, but the job has been easy as they have dominated some questionable secondaries. PFF grading is a broadsword, not a scalpel, but it can give us some insight into the caliber of coverage the Tigers have faced. Kansas State rates the highest of all teams in PFF’s coverage grade at 47. Three other FBS opponents are in the bottom 15 in that metric: South Carolina, MTSU, and Vanderbilt.
Georgia ranks ninth. Javon Bullard and Malaki Starks might be the best safety duo in the country. Veteran corner Tykee Smith is healthy and playing some of the best ball of his career; he will shoulder most of the weight of the Luther Burden burden. Kamari Lassiter is a future NFL corner. Missouri’s receivers have played like a top ten unit this season – in Athens, they will need to show out against the nation’s best.
In the SEC
LSU at Alabama – 6:45 PM on CBS
After the East division semifinal comes the CBS primetime nightcap, which is also essentially a West division semifinal. This game has elevated to can’t-miss status since Nick Saban arrived in Tuscaloosa; this year’s entry promises to be no different. These teams have opposing identities, unlike matchups like 2011 (9-6) or 2019 (46-41). Alabama is back to grinding teams into a paste on defense, with a running quarterback and occasional deep shot on offense. LSU is generous on defense, but brings the best offense in the country into Bryant-Denny. This will be a “style makes the fight” game, and I can’t wait to enjoy another instant classic from this rivalry.
Arkansas at Florida – 11 AM on ESPN2
Two of Missouri’s four remaining opponents meet in The Swamp, and it is worth scouting how these teams will finish their season. Arkansas is 2-6 and has lost all of those games consecutively, and just fell to lowly Mississippi State 7-3 before their bye. But the underlying play has not been awful; the Hogs are 0-5 in games decided by a touchdown or closer. A win here gets them back on track and could have a four-game win streak in play. Florida needs one more win to clinch bowl eligibility, and with LSU and FSU remaining, the Missouri game will become critical to the program if they can’t win against Arkansas.
A Florida victory on Saturday both ends Auburn’s season and decreases Florida’s fight when they visit Missouri. Chomp chomp, baby.
Jacksonville State at South Carolina – 11 AM on ESPNU
While most of the SEC is playing high-stakes showdowns, the league’s cellar offers an intriguing upset opportunity. South Carolina has stumbled through a miserable, injury-ravaged season, and could absolutely lose the Battle of the Gamecocks with some bad luck or lack of focus. Rich Rodriguez’s Jacksonville State Gamecocks are new FBS promotions and thus ineligible for a bowl game; it seems likely they have had this one circled for a year. On the other hand, South Carolina’s weakness has been in the trench, and it is unlikely a Group of Five team will be able to whip them up front like SEC peers have.
Around the Nation
Red River Exits the Big 12: Oklahoma at Oklahoma State – 2:30 on ABC; Kansas State at Texas – 11 AM on FOX
Texas and Oklahoma are seemingly on a collision course for a Red River Rematch in the Big 12 title game, which would frustrate the league to see these two dominate it one last time on their way out the door. But first, each team has to navigate tough contests this weekend. Texas must dispatch a white-hot Kansas State: the defending league champs have pieced things together after a pair of early-season losses. And Oklahoma must escape the last Bedlam ever; Stillwater will be absolutely on fire as the Cowboys will look to give their archrival a goodbye present.
Washington at USC – 6:30 PM on ABC
A pair of shootouts are promising in the afternoon and evening. Washington and USC is the Hollywood matchup with the reigning Heisman winner taking on the current Heisman favorite. Despite all the rumors and questions swirling around the USC program right now, and despite back-to-back mediocre efforts for Washington, these are still two of the best offenses in the country. The quarterbacks are stars, the wide receivers are gamebreakers, the running backs are talented, and the playcallers are vicious. Don’t miss it.
Georgia Southern at Texas State – 4 PM on ESPN+
The other game of the weekend with a projected total in the 70s. Last year Georgia Southern took the Sun Belt by storm with a new head coach, a transfer quarterback, talented wideouts and an up-tempo scheme. Texas State is replicating that recipe line by line. Texas State head coach GJ Kinne and Georgia Southern offensive coordinator Bryan Ellis are two of the best offensive minds in football right now. Kinne is from the Gus Malzahn tree and runs a similar style of offense as his mentor, and Ellis’ RPO-offense has been lighting up scoreboards. Quarterbacks TJ Finley (Texas St) and Davis Brin (Georgia So) are the big names here, but the skill position talent are the real gamebreakers. Joey Hobart and Ashtyn Hawkins are killers for the Bobcats from the slot, and running back Ismail Mahdi is averaging over seven yards per carry. Georgia Southern’s Jalen White puts the “R” in RPO, and receiver Khaleb Hood is the best pass-catcher in school history.