ATHENS, Ga. — No. 4 Georgia is looking to move to 7-0 for the first time since 2005, which is also the last time the Bulldogs won the SEC championship.
It’s that kind of talk that makes coach Kirby Smart worry about his team losing focus.
Don’t let him hear that Saturday’s opponent — the struggling Missouri Tigers (1-4, 0-3 SEC) — will be a pushover when the teams meet in Sanford Stadium.
“We don’t talk about what we’re ranked,” Smart said. “We didn’t talk about what we were ranked last week. There’s really no difference because none of it matters. All we talk about is a race.
“The race is after the 50-meter mark, and that’s where the race is. I don’t know one person that ever talked about (Justin) Gatlin being ahead of (Usain) Bolt at the 50-meter mark. Nobody cared. They only care about where you finish and they only care about what you do next. That’s our objective — to do what’s next.”
Georgia (6-0, 3-0) ranks first in the SEC in total defense (third nationally), allowing just 242.7 yards per game. The Bulldogs are also fifth in the NCAA against the run (86 yards per game) and 10th against the pass (156.7), while Georgia’s offense is bolstered by a punishing ground attack that ranks 11th in the nation, averaging 268.3 yards per game.
Missouri, meanwhile, is struggling defensively as much — if not more — than of any of the 14 teams in the SEC. The Tigers are allowing 40.0 points per game.
They have lost four straight since beating Missouri State 72-43 in the season opener, last week dropping a heartbreaking 40-34 decision to Kentucky, a game in which the Tigers overcame a 13-0 deficit to tie the game twice in the second half.
Turnovers again proved costly for Mizzou. The Tigers’ two miscues, both fumbles, were converted into 14 points by Kentucky, while Missouri’s one interception gained was not turned into points.
“All losses are difficult and hard, but this one hurt a little more because our preparation and the fact everybody was buying in,” Missouri coach Barry Odom said.
“We had some very competitive practices going into the bye week and felt every one of our guys was prepared and invested as a team to be successful. We just came up short. It hurts, but that is probably a good thing because it shows we’ve got guys who care. We’ve made some progress; we’ve just got to break down a wall.”
As Smart is quick to point out, the Tigers can play some offense.
Led by quarterback Drew Lock, Missouri is averaging 469.8 yards per game (294 yards passing, 175.8 rushing) and averaging 27.2 points per game. But so much of those numbers are boosted by the game against FCS Missouri State. Against four Power Five conference teams, the Tigers are averaging just 16 points.
“My first thing is that I would say people mistake Mizzou,” Smart said. “Mizzou is a very 50/50 balanced team, and a lot of the passes you see from Mizzou are RPOs, which are dictated by what the defense does — so they are a designed run with a pass attached. They are a very, very good running football team when it comes to execution. They get people out of the box. they spread you out and then they attack you.
“If you do not control the run game, it will be a long night because they will just do that. Now, can they throw the ball vertically down the field? Yes. They throw it well and they have some weapons to do it with.”
Georgia counters with a tenacious front seven, led by linebacker Roquan Smith, who has a team-high 45 tackles.
Missouri, meanwhile, will have to deal with a Georgia running game that gashed Vanderbilt for 423 rushing yards, 138 from senior Nick Chubb, who ranks seventh in SEC history with 4,042 yards. Teammate Sony Michel led the way with 150 against the Commodores.
True freshman quarterback Jake Fromm has been poised and efficient, completing 57 of 95 passes for 836 yards, 10 touchdowns and two interceptions.
“They’ve got as good a stable of backs as anybody in the country,” Odom said. “They play tough and physical on the offensive line, and their quarterback is playing well. We’ve got our work cut out.”