Sunday, January 4, 2015

Missouri hosts Georgia in key SEC East showdown

Missouri had a well timed off week last Saturday, which allowed the Tigers to rest up during a crucial stretch of the schedule, and it allowed Tiger fans to relax and enjoy an absurdly entertaining weekend of college football that saw five of the top eight ranked teams lose.

Missouri (4-1, 1-0 in SEC play) should get its own share of college football excitement and then some this Saturday when the Georgia Bulldogs (4-1, 1-0 in SEC play) come town for a huge contest, the game of the year at Faurot Field (11 a.m. on CBS).

Georgia was Missouri’s first SEC game, in 2012, and after a tense, close three quarters, Georgia pulled away late. Last year, Missouri pulled off a stunning upset at then-No. 10 Georgia, a win that helped propel the Tigers to the East Division title.

Missouri and Georgia have represented the East in the last three SEC Championship Games, and the winner on Saturday’s game will be the obvious front-runner to win the division this year.

Georgia is ranked No. 10 in the coaches poll and No. 13 in the AP poll, Missouri is 24 in the coaches and 23 in the AP. With so many ranked teams losing Saturday, if either Missouri or Georgia runs the table they would be a contender for the four-team College Football Playoff, although that’s far down the road for both teams.

Georgia and Missouri are not dominant teams, but they are good teams, and they should stage an exciting game in Columbia. Georgia has decent home wins over Clemson and Tennessee, but lost by three in the rain at South Carolina. Last week, the Bulldogs hammered poor Vanderbilt 44-17.

The engine that makes Georgia go is its dynamic running back, Todd Gurley. The junior has ran for 773 yards on 94 carries, an impressive 8.2 yards per carry, and eight touchdowns. Overall, the Bulldogs are rushing for 288.8 yards per game, 13th in the nation.

It will be a big test for Missouri’s defensive line and linebackers to keep Gurley and friends in check. If they can also get heat on first-year starter Hutson Mason, disrupt the Georgia passing game, and make the Bulldogs one dimensional, I like Missouri’s chances.

The wild card, of course, is the turnover. Missouri forced a turnover in 47 straight games before not doing so in each of its last two games. If Missouri wins the turnover battle Saturday, then I really like the Tigers’ chances.

Of course, Missouri’s offense probably can’t wait until the final frantic minutes to move the ball and win the game, the way it did at South Carolina.

This game is far from the final verdict on which team will win the SEC East, as both still have to play Florida and two games against teams from the SEC West, the superior division in the conference. That being said, this is still a massive game, and Faurot should be rocking bright and early on Saturday. Don’t miss this one.

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