Georgia Football: Two Trips West to Define the Season?
With a rudimentary knowledge of geography, one recognizes the silliness of having Missouri compete in the SEC East.
With a rudimentary knowledge of SEC football history, one recognizes the necessity for having Missouri in the SEC East, but the following map underscores my first point:
Silliness aside, Georgia has two trips to cities that one struggles to call ‘Southeastern’ in the next two weeks, and with them go Georgia’s hopes of not only winning the SEC East, but also of sneaking back into the College Football Playoff picture.
Oct 11: at Missouri
Missouri is tough to peg because of games in consecutive weeks where they inexplicably lost at home to Indiana, followed by a rousing victory at South Carolina (which has since been invalidated by the Cocks’ loss to Kentucky).
The Tigers represent a serious challenge to the Dawgs because their strengths match up so well with Georgia’s weaknesses.
Maty Mauk has not markedly improved on his completion percentage from last year to this year, jumping only to 56% from 51% in 2013, but he has still been very effective pushing the ball down field. Bud Sasser and Darius White, his top two receivers, are averaging over 15 yards per catch and will face a secondary that has been…well, you know the story. Six dismissals, transfers, or career-ending injuries since March is ridiculous. Vanderbilt didn’t set the world on fire against the Dawgs, but 188 passing yards represented their second-best effort on the season.
On the defensive side, they have not missed a beat without 2013 stars Michael Sam and Kony Ealy. Shane Ray and Markus Golden have combined for 11 sacks in 9 games (Golden missed the opener), and its not a stretch to think that they can exploit the perimeter of Georgia’s line.
At 3.67 yards per carry allowed, the Mizzou D has proven more stout than last year against Georgia’s strength as well. That is a full half yard better than last year, so Georgia will need to diversify its attack. Expect quick hitters to the faces the Tigers didn’t have to face last year, as Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley need to be more involved for Georgia to keep Ray and Golden from pinning their ears back.
This game represents a toss-up from what I can see. Very similar to the South Carolina game, the Tigers have the weapons to exploit Georgia’s porous pass D, spread out the front seven, and create enough negative plays in the run game to keep the Dawgs off schedule. We’ll have a lot more on this as the week goes along, as I think this game ultimately decides the SEC Easy (not a typo).
An 11am local kickoff plays into the hands of the Dawgs a little bit, as a team 0-1 on the road needs all the non-liquored-up Midwesterners it can get.
Oct 18: at Arkansas (in Little Rock– I know the Hogs generally play in Fayetteville)
Following Missouri is a game we all had penciled in as a win six weeks ago. Now, we have to look at this game with a seriously healthy respect for a team that has exceeded expectations in year two of the Bret Bieleima era.
This running game is a PROBLEM. 6.91 yards per attempt, even when you know its coming, is ridiculous (to be fair and balanced and guardedly optimistis, Georgia checks in at 7.01, 3rd in the nation). At home, that number balloons to 8.32 YPA. There is no dropoff between Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams, but Andrew Hall could run for 4 yards per attempt behind the biggest OL in football (college or pro…that’s just ridiculous. It makes me wonder if there’s a Japanese team of sumo wrestlers out there that could challenge that claim).
The scarier thing, for me, is the efficiency of a passing game that is (see above) overlooked. Brandon Allen has 9 TD’s and just 1 INT, but throwing against man coverage off play action with 8-9 in the box SHOULD be efficient.
Perhaps driven askew by their losses to Auburn and Texas A&M, the Arkansas defense isn’t enough to make me call for a loss just yet. Auburn was able to gash them as they gash everyone, and they’ll be coming off a hopefully-physically-punishing game against an angry Alabama team. Better yet, they pull the upset of Alabama and suffer a letdown against the Dawgs.
What am I trying to say here? A few things. One, two fairly innocuous-looking games from an August peer at the schedule are set to define the season. Win these, go into a bye before Florida, and the Dawgs are back in the top 5-7 in the country with one tough game (Auburn) in the November portion of the schedule. Two, Missouri represents the challenge of ‘their strengths vs. our weaknesses’ like South Carolina did. Three, Georgia is going to have to throw the ball successfully to beat Missouri, and faces the possibility of playing a 38-35 game which lasts under three hours in Arkansas.
I’m going to handicap the odds of getting through these two unscathed at about 35-40%. It’s time for the Dawgs to evolve or face the possibility of another low-stakes November.