As Georgia heads into the long-awaited matchup against Ole Miss, it is important to reflect on how monumental the Bulldogs’ victory over Missouri was and what it means for this team going forward.
Missouri came into Athens this past Saturday ranked as the No. 12 team in the country, and they certainly played like a team worthy of its ranking. Each team understood the immense implications of this game as the winner would control its destiny and have the inside track to the SEC Championship game. Having won the game, Georgia firmly took control of the SEC East and needs just one more victory (or a Tennessee loss) to clinch their ticket back to Atlanta for the third consecutive year, and the sixth time in the past seven seasons.
Coach Kirby Smart was well aware of the challenge Missouri presented, as he stressed to the media this past week. The Bulldogs’ coach is never one to overlook an opponent, but the scare in Columbia last year certainly highlighted how talented and well-coached this Missouri program has become.
Coming into the game, Missouri was known for its highly touted receivers, an excellent veteran running back, and a quarterback in Brady Cook that is playing the best football of his career. The offense was certainly all that was advertised, and even required a shift in defensive formation, something that Georgia has rarely done in Kirby Smart’s tenure as head coach.
The Bulldogs had junior defensive back, Kamari Lassiter, play man coverage against Missouri star wideout, Luther Burden. Missouri does an excellent job disguising Burden’s placement on the field, frequently lining up the playmaker in various offensive positions to get him the ball as many ways as possible. After a promising start to the game where Burden pulled in a 39-yard touchdown grab on sophomore Daylen Everette, Smart elected to put Georgia’s best man cover corner on Mizzou’s best pass catcher, no matter where he was on the field. After the switch, Burden was held to just two catches for 14 yards, a testament to Lassiter’s remarkable coverage skills.
While the Missouri aerial attack is widely appreciated for being elite, the Tiger’s ability to run the football is what kept Mizzou in the game for all four quarters. Cody Schrader, a senior running back from St. Louis, Missouri, accounted for 112 rushing yards on the ground on 22 carries. The highlight of his performance was a twelve-yard scamper into the endzone to make it just a three-point game early in the fourth quarter.
Georgia, who rarely allows anybody to run on them or score rushing touchdowns, was gashed on the ground, particularly, on outside zone plays. The Bulldogs could not find a way to seal the edge, and it was apparent, as Mizzou continued to run the same play repeatedly as the game went on.
Not only was Missouri successful rushing the ball with their running backs, but quarterback Brady Cook also exploited the Bulldogs’ man-coverage defense early in the game, escaping and extending plays with his feet. The Tiger quarterback finished the game with 10 carries for 39 yards on the ground, despite some negative yardage plays.
As the Bulldogs look forward to the final Saturday in Athens for the 2023 season, Georgia will face an Ole Miss team that may present an even tougher challenge for the Bulldogs than Missouri did. The Rebels head into town led by a quarterback in Jaxson Dart that is playing the best football of his career, a running back in Quinshon Judkins that is perhaps the best player at his position in the country, and a defense that is dramatically improved from last season. Georgia clinches the SEC East with a victory over the Rebels, but Ole Miss needs a victory and two Alabama losses to keep their SEC West hopes alive. This will be a motivated team coming to Athens.
Lane Kiffin has been heavily criticized for his inability to win the marquee matchup, and while Ole Miss beat LSU early in the season in one of the most entertaining games in SEC history, knocking off the No. 1 ranked Georgia Bulldogs would far surpass that accomplishment.
Georgia will once again have meaningful players unable to go as Brock Bowers continues to recover from ankle surgery, and Jamon Dumas-Johnson’s broken forearm sustained against Missouri will likely hold him out for some time. Per usual, Georgia has plenty of talent to fill the void, and at Georgia, the “next man up” mentality is a reality. Nevertheless, injuries to All-American players is a real challenge and adapting to the void left by these players is no easy task. Expect the Bulldogs to rely on the athleticism of their young linebackers in Jalon Walker, CJ Allen, and Raylen Wilson to fill Dumas-Johnson’s void. Oscar Delp and Lawson Luckie will need to continue to produce in Brock Bowers’s absence.
With College Gameday officially heading to Athens, the city will be buzzing. The Bulldogs are once again in the thick of late season drama. Georgia has a chance to extend its unbeaten streak and continue its march to another championship with a victory over the best Rebel team in years. With a lot on the line, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Go Dawgs!