COLUMBIA — With No. 7 Georgia and its army full of RV’s rolling into Columbia this week, there’s undoubtedly a lot of hype surrounding Missouri’s first Southeastern Conference match-up. The town is bracing for impact, waiting for a sea of red and black to flood into the surrounding parking lots and rent out Lowry Mall.
But as for the game on the field, what does Missouri have to do to prove it’s not simply a conference pushover? This Missouri team may be the fastest one Gary Pinkel has ever coached, but can it stack up against the speed in the SEC? And more importantly, will Andrew Baggett’s dream of actually attempting a field goal come true this week?
In less than two days, we’ll have all the answers. Until then, here are the plot lines to consider in Missouri’s SEC opener against Georgia.
The battle of two very different quarterbacks
Georgia’s Aaron Murray was in the Heisman conversation in the preseason, but his play in last weekend’s win over Buffalo didn’t exactly separate him from the pack. Yes, the numbers look good. He went 15-26 and threw three touchdowns as Georgia cruised to a 45-23 win.
But the tape wasn’t quite as impressive. Murray, a junior and two-year starter, missed on a number of throws early, including a couple open deep balls, which in the past have been his specialty. He settled into a comfort zone as the game went on, but Missouri hopes he starts as slowly Saturday night as he did last week.
On the other side of things, many SEC writers have anointed James Franklin as the conference’s best dual threat quarterback , not that there’s a bunch of competition in that regard. The junior from Corinth, Texas, was also not at his best in the opener, going 13-21 with a lone touchdown pass in Missouri’s 62-10 win over Southeastern Louisiana.
He did also run for 39 yards, and going into this weekend’s game Georgia coach Mark Richt has stressed the importance of containing Franklin and Missouri’s ground game.
The quarterback who plays better could be the difference on Saturday night.
Freshman playmakers square off
Dorial Green-Beckham, meet Todd Gurley.
Green-Beckham, the No. 1 prospect in the 2012 class according to Rivals, made a mostly quiet debut last week, catching three balls for 32 yards in a lopsided win. The highlight for the 6-foot-6 freshman was an acrobatic 29-yard catch down the right sideline, a play that demonstrated his ability to separate from a corner and catch with his hands.
Gurley’s first college game was slightly more impressive.
The highly recruited running back rushed eight times for 100 yards Saturday, scoring twice on the ground. He also returned a kick 100 yards for another score.
Going into Saturday, Richt vows that Gurley will get a lot more than eight carries against Missouri. The question is, will he be as effective as he was last week? Missouri defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson who has had a very interesting week in his own right, will have a lot to say about that.
Missouri's offensive line: Take two
So far, so good.
With two new starters at the guard positions, Missouri’s offensive line held its ground last week, giving up only one sack and allowing all four of the Tigers’ running backs to average better than four yards per carry.
But that was Southeastern Louisiana. This is Georgia.
With 2011 SEC sack leader Jarvis Jones coming off the edge, the big boys up front will have to work harder to protect Franklin this time around. The lineup may not remain the same, as senior Jack Meiners is listed as questionable at right guard after missing last week’s game with a knee sprain.
Former walk-on Max Copeland carried his weight while replacing Meiners, but the line could certainly use the experience and physical strength that Meiners brings to the table.
In the end, the game may come down to Franklin’s ability to stay on his feet. As long as Jones and company keep their hands off of Missouri's dual threat quarterback, the Tigers will have a chance to sustain long drives.
But as 2011’s SEC quarterbacks can attest, that’s easier said than done.
Who’s more special on Special Teams?
Both teams scored special teams touchdowns last week, with Missouri’s Marcus Murphy returning two punts for scores and Georgia’s Gurley bringing a kick back from his own end zone.
With more disciplined coverage units, those gaps shouldn’t be as large. If either group can repeat their Week 1 success, this game could change in a hurry.
On the kicking side, redshirt freshman place-kicker Andrew Baggett didn’t attempt a field goal last week and missed one of his extra points. After barely stealing the job from senior punter Trey Barrow, Baggett will have to prove he can make kicks in pressure situations.
If he can’t, Barrow will be there, waiting.
Supervising editor is Greg Bowers.