Georgia takes its nationally-ranked No. 2 act to the Show-Me State this weekend and both the Bulldogs and host Missouri Tigers will be encountering a brand of football they haven’t yet faced in the young 2018 season.
For Kirby Smart’s 3-0 Dawgs (1-0 SEC), the Georgia defense is bracing to attempt to slow down maybe the country’s No. 1 passer in Mizzou senior quarterback Drew Lock. At least, Lock was No. 1 in at least one category in 2017 as his 44 touchdown passes were tops in the NCAA FBS division. And the 6-4, 225-pound Lock has picked right up in 2018 where he left off last season.
In the Tigers’ three outings to date, Lock has thrown for 1,062 yards and 11 touchdowns. That’s an average of 354 passing yards per contest, and he’s completing 69 percent of his attempts.
While the Georgia secondary pretty well shut down the Austin Peay and Middle Tennessee quarterbacks, South Carolina senior Jake Bentley did manage 269 yards through the air in the Gamecocks’ 41-17 beating by the Bulldogs.
And in Lock, Georgia is about to face a QB that is a big step up from Jake Bentley … at least when it comes to getting the ball into the hands of Missouri’s fleet receiving corps. Lock can throw the deep pass, and the short-to-medium-range passes with equal efficiency. He can especially hook up consistently with his favorite receiver, senior Tiger wideout Emanuel Hall. Hall goes into Saturday’s game with 18 catches in the first three games, for 430 yards and three touchdowns. In Missouri’s first two outings against UT Martin and Wyoming, he chalked up identical 171-yard reception totals.
But Smart, defensive coordinator Mel Tucker, and the Bulldogs know full well what Lock and Hall are capable of. Last year in Sanford Stadium, Lock threw for 253 yards and four touchdowns in the Tigers’ 53-28 loss to Georgia while Hall pulled in two 63-yard scoring bombs from Lock while finishing the night with four catches for 141 yards. And, remember, that game was a battle royal into the second quarter before the Bulldogs put the thing away in the second half.
Likewise, in this high noon (ET) game Saturday at Mizzou’s Faurot Field at Memorial Stadium, the Missouri Tigers will be facing something they haven’t yet seen this season … namely, a Georgia football team that is hardly in the same stratosphere as the Tigers’ first three opponents, UT Martin, Wyoming and a winless Purdue team that Missouri nipped 40-37 last weekend in West Lafayette, Ind. on a field goal in the final seconds.
Nope, Barry Odom’s Tigers haven’t faced an offense like sophomore quarterback Jake Fromm directs, one that can pound you on the ground and also inflict great damage with the passing game, with both Fromm and freshman backup Justin Fields hooking up with the Bulldogs’ talented receivers corps.
Nor has the Missouri offense, explosive as it is, seen a ball-swarming, gang-tackling defensive unit like the one the Tigers will encounter on Saturday … as well as a Georgia secondary that is capable of running and matching up with Mizzou’s top pass catchers.
Most certainly, with this game being the Tigers’ SEC opener, the home team and a highly-partisan crowd will be pumped to the gills to deal the second-ranked team in America its first defeat of the season.
But just as these Dawgs went to the other Columbia, in South Carolina, earlier and more than took care of business with the blowout of the host Gamecocks, I’m thinking they will do exactly the same thing in Columbia, Mo. on Saturday.
I’m looking for Mr. Lock to throw the ball all over the lot and come close to getting his 354-yards per game average and, yes, I think the Tigers will put some points on the board against a Georgia defensive unit that is playing a whole lot of new faces this fall.
But, bottom line, Missouri won’t stop Georgia. With the Bulldogs blending the run and pass quite nicely, controlling the ball and thus keeping Lock, Hall and the Tiger offense on the sidelines for sizable stretches of the game, look for the Bulldogs to fly back east to Athens with a 48-28 win under their red and black belts … and a 4-0 season record!