I’m not gonna lie to you: I’m a little uneasy about tonight’s puppy.
Not because of the setting. No offense, Missouri fans. I’m sure the joint will be jumping. I get the historical significance of the game, too. But this isn’t Georgia’s first dance. Richt’s done a better than decent job shepherding his team through hostile environments over the years. I don’t expect the Dawgs to lose their composure.
Believe it or not, it’s not because of the suspensions. (Although you wouldn’t have heard me complain if Ogletree had suited up tonight.) Georgia has sufficient talent to win tonight, even with the missing. If you doubt that, just look at this recruiting comparison between the two schools. Sure, it’s closer than it should be, with four starters out, but the Dawgs are still more than functional on defense.
No, it’s about an old, familiar bugaboo. Richt’s proven this week that he hasn’t lost control of the media and he hasn’t lost control of player discipline.
It remains to be seen if he’s regained control of the team’s focus.
Your guess on that is as good as mine. All I know is that I’ve seen this team play with heart and direction against good teams for a half or three quarters, only to let things go late, more than enough to say it can’t happen tonight. And I’ve also seen this team fart around with programs far worse than Missouri. So while I can say if these Dawgs play as well as they should for an entire game, they’ll be hard to beat, I can’t say with absolute certainty that’s what we’ll get.
Okay, enough with the gloom and doom part of the post. Here’s what I like going into the game:
- Grantham’s calm. His guys didn’t always show their best against Buffalo, but far from being perturbed by that, Grantham came off as a man in control of things last week. We may have been caught up in the swirl of uncertainty about which suspended players were due to show up tonight, but don’t forget that Grantham’s known all along about their status. He’s formulated his game plan accordingly. The weather looks to be much more cooperative than last week’s, which can only help. Even Mitchell’s injury, which was the one blip unaccounted for earlier, is in the rear view mirror. We’ll find out tonight how good a judge of talent Grantham’s been with these last two recruiting classes.
- Bobo’s gameplan. I’ve watched the Buffalo game three times now. I come away more impressed each time with what the offense did. It’s not so much that Bobo didn’t show his cards; it’s that he showed the cards he wanted to. Does Georgia have a running threat after Crowell’s departure? Is the offensive line functional? I’m not going to tell you either problem is solved. But I’m not going to tell you that Missouri can take either issue for granted – and nobody knew for sure ten days ago whether that would be the case. Add to that the number of shots taken deep, all of which serve to put Missouri’s safeties on notice that there will be a price to pay if they decide to crowd the box for run support, and you’ve got a coach who knows he needs to be able to run the ball and how he needs to run the ball to keep the defense honest. As vanilla as he kept things, Bobo still gave Missouri plenty to think about this week.
- Missouri’s expectations. They’re saying all the right things about Georgia’s defense, the Tigers are. “Their defensive line is really tough,” Moe said. “They’ve got some good players on that defense.” But as respectful as that sounds, it lacks a certain context. Comparing Grantham’s scheme to Texas A&M’s, Jarvis Jones to Von Miller and John Jenkins to Baylor’s Phil Taylor is nice, but the Georgia defense, even with the suspensions, is no TAMU or Baylor. That doesn’t mean Missouri can’t adjust, but I’m not buying that there won’t be a transition. My hope is that it’s a long one, or at least a long enough one.
So what do I see coming? Both teams want to be able to establish the run, but I suspect early on both are going to throw the ball more than we expect (damned suspensions). Both offensive lines have question marks, so it’s going to be worth watching to see which defensive front is better able to control the line of scrimmage. That’s one big key.
Another is – duh – quarterback play. Murray lacked touch on the deep ball early against Buffalo, but gained his touch as the game went on. The big thing was that he didn’t turn the ball over. If he can do that tonight, that will be a big deal for Georgia. It’s time for him to step it up and put the team on his shoulders in a big SEC game. As for Franklin, he can be very, very good, but he also can slip into a funk. In some ways, what Missouri wants to do on offense is much like what Georgia Tech tries to do with the triple option. And while stopping the dive play is irrelevant against the Tigers’ spread, pounding the hell out of the quarterback when he has his hands on the ball is just as important. The Georgia defense needs to make Franklin pay early and often. If he gets into a groove, it’s going to be a tough, tough game to pull out.
Focus for Georgia will show up with competent special teams play, not losing the turnover margin battle and staying away from a lot of penalties. The Dawgs succeeded mostly with all three against Buffalo (one long punt return came as a result of the coverage not staying in its lanes and losing contain). If we see all that tonight, I like Georgia’s chances. Barring a big turnover margin number, I think this will be a close game. With the personnel issues, the game screams for Richt to control the pace on offense to keep his defense off the field as much as possible, while I expect Missouri to have some success in the passing game, as the receivers and Franklin are too good to expect otherwise.
So watch the line play and watch Georgia’s focus.