Rejuvenated Dawgs should add to Tigers’ road woes

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Rejuvenated Dawgs should add to Tigers’ road woes

UGA football players celebrate with Dawg fans after Georgia defeats Florida 24-17 at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville on Saturday, November 2, 2019
UGA football players celebrate with Dawg fans after Georgia defeats Florida 24-17 at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville on Saturday, November 2, 2019

The Georgia team all Bulldog fans were expecting to see this season showed up at Jacksonville’s TIAA Bank Field this past weekend and proceeded to put a sound spanking on a Florida Gators team that had ascended to the No. 6 spot in the national rankings and one that surely thought it was going to halt a two-game losing skid against UGA.

The Bulldogs, entering the game with a No. 8 ranking, handled Dan Mullen’s Gators much more convincingly than that final 24-17 score indicates. Georgia, coming off a dismal overtime loss to South Carolina and a ho-hum 21-0 rain-soaked win over Kentucky, played with perhaps more fire than the Bulldogs have shown all season (the Notre Dame game maybe being the exception) in dominating Florida on both sides of the line of scrimmage. Only a nullified D’Andre Swift touchdown run and a late Gator score prevented Georgia from winning that game by 21 points or more.

But the Florida game is in the rearview mirror now and, for the Bulldogs’ sake, it had better be. Georgia must now catch a Tiger by the tail. And that’s for the next two Saturdays. The Missouri Tigers prowl onto Dooley Field at Sanford Stadium Saturday night and then, the following weekend, these now 6th-ranked Dawgs head for the Loveliest Village on the Plains, aka known as Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Ala.

The Mizzou Tigers of Barry Odom have truly been a Jekyll-and-Hyde football team this fall. Missouri has won five games — all in the friendly confines of their Memorial Stadium/Faurot Field in Columbia — and have lost three games … all on the road.

The Tigers opened the 2019 slate at Wyoming and proceeded to be stunned by the Cowboys, 37-31. Then, and how about this schedule, Missouri played five consecutive home games — and won them all! The Tigers blew out West Virginia 38-7 and then reeled off wins over Southeast Missouri State (50-0), South Carolina (34-14), Troy (42-10) and the Ole Miss Rebels (38-27).

That pasting of the Gamecocks surely jumps out at you because I believe this is the same Will Muschamp-coached South Carolina team that came between the hedges and put egg on the Bulldogs’ faces.

But then, Missouri took its 5-1 record on the road and, inexplicably, was embarrassed by both Vanderbilt and Kentucky. The Tigers went down to the Commodores in Nashville 21-14 and then, two weekends ago, all but got blown out by the Wildcats, by 29-7.

So following this past weekend’s open date, everyone is wondering which Mizzou team will show up between the hedges for Saturday’s 7 p.m. kickoff? Will it be the Tigers that pummeled both West Virginia and South Carolina or will Missouri continue to flounder away from Columbia, Mo.?

Kirby Smart has talked all week how tough the Tigers are and he’s truly expecting the early-season Mizzou bunch to arrive in Athens this weekend. The Tigers do have some playmakers in the likes of Clemson transfer quarterback Kelly Bryant — though he’s been nursing a hamstring injury this week — ace running back Larry Rountree III, and 6-5, 255-pound Albert Okwuegbunam, who ranks among the nation’s leading tight ends. And defensively, Missouri has some offensive disruptors in defensive tackle Jordan Elliott and linebacker and leading tackler Nick Bolton.

Who the Tigers don’t have now is do-everything senior linebacker Cale Garrett, who was Missouri’s leading tackler last season. Garrett sat out the second half of the Oct. 5 win over Troy and had to have surgery to repair a pectoral tendon injury. Despite missing the past three-and-a-half games, Garrett still ranks second on the team to Bolton in tackles and had recorded 5.0 tackles-for-loss, two sacks and three pass interceptions for the Tigers. So, clearly, Missouri will be attempting to stop the Bulldogs’ offense minus their best all-around defender.

Offensively, the Tigers enter the game against Georgia’s SEC-leading defense with just a No. 10 ranking in the conference’s total offense category. That’s not a good statistic when you’re going against a defense that limited Florida to a measly 21 yards net rushing last weekend. Defensively, Missouri is somewhat better, ranking fifth in SEC total defense (ahead of No. 1-ranked LSU) and surrendering just 281 yards per game.

So Jake Fromm, D’Andre Swift, Lawrence Cager and the Bulldog receiving corps and Georgia’s offensive line will all need to have top-notch execution against the Tiger D Saturday night. And duplicate the balanced performance the Bulldogs staged on the banks of the St. Johns River this Saturday past.

There’s simply no reason for Georgia not to be primed and ready for this football game. The Bulldogs know what’s at stake now each and every time they take the field. Every game for Georgia from here out is truly a playoff game, that is, if the Bulldogs intend to play in the SEC Championship Game and hopefully, beyond that Dec. 7 game as well.

Make it Dawgs 31, Tigers 14.

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Murray Poole is a 1965 graduate of the University of Georgia Journalism School. He served as sports editor of The Brunswick News for 40 years and has written for Bulldawg Illustrated the past 16 years. He has covered the Georgia Bulldogs for 53 years.