Missouri faces Georgia, chance to grab SEC East
COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — No. 23 Missouri has a somewhat unexpected chance to seize control of the SEC East.
The Tigers’ only blemish of the year was a four-point loss at home to Indiana. Missouri rebounded to beat South Carolina on the road, erasing a 13-point deficit to win its SEC opener.
Missouri is the only team in the division without an SEC loss and gets a chance to take hold of the race with a home game Saturday against No. 13 Georgia. The Bulldogs (4-1, 2-1 SEC) were expected to be without star running back Todd Gurley, suspended indefinitely for an alleged violation of NCAA rules.
Whether they see Gurley or not — he missed last year’s loss to the Tigers with an ankle injury — Missouri (4-1, 1-0) knows it has a shot to beat the another SEC East favorite.
“That’s pretty tough to overcome,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “They’d have to lose three times to give us a chance. We don’t want to think about that.”
Missouri centered its game plan on slowing Gurley, who leads the SEC with 773 rushing yards for eight touchdowns. The team utilized freshman safety Tavon Ross as a running back this week in practice to mimic Gurley’s 225-pound frame, and extra drills on tackling may come in handy no matter who starts.
The Tigers insist they aren’t thinking much about the implications of a win.
“This is our second conference game,” coach Gary Pinkel said. “My goodness. One at a time, that’s the best way that I know how to do it.”
Here are some things to know about the matchup:
CHUBB IN SPOTLIGHT: Georgia’s freshman running back will likely start, entering the game with 31 carries for 224 yards this season. Similar in stature to Gurley, Chubb remains an unknown quantity this early in his career. The Bulldogs rank second in the conference with 288.8 rushing yards per game, but Gurley, Keith Marshall (knee and ankle) and Sony Michel (shoulder) account for a combined 70 percent of that total. None was expected to play against Missouri.
MASON LEADS: Hutson Mason, Georgia’s senior quarterback, is averaging 137.4 passing yards per game and will face increased scrutiny without Gurley. Freshman Brice Ramsey led one first-half series last week against Vanderbilt, but Richt ruled out a rotation at the position. Georgia ranks 12th in the SEC with 170.2 passing yards per game, and Gurley owns the team’s longest pass, a 50-yarder to tight end Jeb Blazevich against the Commodores.
MISSOURI’S D-ENDS: Defensive end Shane Ray leads the league with eight sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss, while fellow end Markus Golden has four sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss. Defensive coordinator Dave Steckel has lined the duo up in various positions on the line, utilizing Ray’s speed and Golden’s strength. Missouri has allowed 144.2 rushing yards per game, though.
MAUK’S DRIVES: The Missouri sophomore quarterback only completed 12 of 34 passes for 132 yards at South Carolina, but did lead two fourth-quarter touchdown drives. He’ll benefit from the expected return of senior receivers Jimmie Hunt (knee) and Darius White (groin), both of whom missed the Gamecocks game.
MISSOURI’S O-LINE: The Tigers mostly held up well two weeks ago after losing left guard Anthony Gatti to a season-ending knee injury. Changes on the offensive line two years ago plagued the team, which finished 5-7. Fending off Georgia’s pressure will be critical to allow more time in the pocket for Mauk, who has thrown four interceptions in addition to his 14 touchdowns.