The Big Five: Missouri

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The Big Five: Missouri

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[su_spacer size=”20″] After the Tennessee Volunteers snapped a five- game losing streak against Georgia this past Saturday in Knoxville while also leaving the Bulldogs’ SEC East title hopes hanging by a mere thread, Mark Richt’s struggling team returns to Sanford Stadium Saturday night (7:30-SEC Network) for the 2015 homecoming game against the Missouri Tigers.
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The past two seasons, of course, Coach Gary Pinkel’s Tigers defied all the so-called experts by capturing consecutive SEC East Division titles, before being whacked both times — by Auburn and Alabama — in the league championship game in Atlanta. Missouri went 11-3 overall last season, 7-1 in the SEC.
[su_spacer size=”40″] From that team, Pinkel greeted six returning starters on each side of the ball. And after Saturday night’s home loss to the unbeaten and 11th-ranked Florida Gators, the Tigers are 4-2 on the season (1-2 SEC) with wins over Southeast Missouri (34¬3), Arkansas State (27-20), Connecticut (9-6) and South Carolina (24-10) and the other loss coming at Kentucky (21-13).
[su_spacer size=”40″] Missouri’s leading rusher thus far is sophomore tailback Ish Witter (5-10, 190) and prior to going against the tough Gator defense, Witter was followed by junior quarterback Maty Mauk (6-0, 200) and senior running back Russell Hansbrough (5-9, 195). Hansbrough led the Tigers last season with 1,084 yards and 10 touchdowns while sharing time with Marcus Murphy and, in the win over the Game-cocks, moved past the 2,000-yard rushing mark for his career.
[su_spacer size=”40″] Mauk is Missouri’s leading passer with 654 yards and six touchdowns but was suspended indefinitely prior to the South Carolina game for violating team policies. True freshman Drew Lock (6-4, 205) assumed the QB reins and proceeded to complete 21-of-28 passing attempts for 136 yards and two touchdowns while leading the Tigers to the two-touchdown win over the Gamecocks. As of Bulldawg Illustrated’s Sunday deadline, it was unknown whether or not Mauk would be reinstated for the Georgia game.
[su_spacer size=”40″] A pair of sophomores, Nate Brown (6-3, 205) and J’Mon Moore (6-3, 190) are far and away Missouri’s leading receivers.
[su_spacer size=”40″] Defensively, senior linebacker Kentrell Brothers (6-1, 235) and junior linebacker Michael Scherer (6¬3, 235) are the Tigers’ top tacklers while sophomore Charles Harris (6-3, 255) and redshirt freshman Walter Brady (6-3, 255), both defensive ends, have brought considerable pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
[su_spacer size=”40″] Last season, the Bulldogs went to Columbia, Mo. and proceeded to pummel the Tigers 34-0 behind Nick Chubb’s coming-out party; however, Missouri was still able to win another East crown due to the Bulldogs spitting the bit in Jacksonville.
[su_spacer size=”40″] So the Tigers come between the hedges Saturday night bent on extracting revenge for last year’s beat-down by Georgia, and here are the Big Five factors Missouri must achieve to topple the Dawgs this time around:
[su_spacer size=”40″] 1. Don’t turn the ball over
[su_spacer size=”40″] The Bulldogs intercepted Mauk four times last year in Columbia. A similar turnover-plagued game would mean another one-sided loss to Georgia.
[su_spacer size=”40″] 2. As always, a balanced offensive performance
[su_spacer size=”40″] Whether it’s Mauk or Lock calling the signals, the Tigers must have an efficient day throwing the ball as well as a big day running the football behind Witter and Hansbrough. A one-dimensional offensive attack will spell doom against Jeremy Pruitt’s Georgia defense.
[su_spacer size=”40″] 3. Quiet the Sanford Stadium crowd early on
[su_spacer size=”40″] Tigers, make some big plays early in this game and jump into a first-half lead. That worked pretty well for Alabama two weeks ago and went a long way in silencing the vociferous Bulldog faithful.
[su_spacer size=”40″] 4. Remember UGA rushing attack last season
[su_spacer size=”40″] Replacing the suspended Todd Gurley at tailback, freshman Chubb rumbled for 143 yards on 38 carries against your defense in 2014. Beat Georgia’s blockers, gang tackle and limit Chubb’s replacement the talented, sophomore, Sony Michel.
[su_spacer size=”40″] 5. Above all, play with great confidence from the get-go
[su_spacer size=”40″] You’re the two-time defending SEC East champions. Bring that confidence and swagger between the hedges Saturday night and let Georgia know it will be in for a grueling, four-quarter fight.
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[su_spacer size=”40″] Make sure to check out Bulldawg Illustrated’s latest print edition: Don’t Jump Ship, digital issue available for free online click HERE.
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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.