Georgia coach Mark Richt watched his Bulldogs escape with a win Saturday in Tennessee, but now Richt is preparing for what he calls a “very, very hot” Missouri team. (Reuters)
ATHENS — Georgia coach Mark Richt always does a great job of talking up the Bulldogs’ opponents. He was in particularly good form earlier this week when discussing Missouri. The No. 25-ranked Tigers (5-0, 1-0 SEC) will bring one of the SEC’s more explosive offenses to Sanford Stadium on Saturday. So Richt had some strong fodder.
“Missouri is a very, very hot team,” Richt said of the Tigers, who are coming off a 51-28 win at Vanderbilt on Saturday. “They just moved into the Top 25 for good reason. They were very dominating against Vanderbilt last week. It was kind of scary actually to watch the tape of it they were so proficient on offense.”
Led by quarterback James Franklin, who is 100 percent healthy this season, Missouri leads the SEC in rushing offense (258.8 ypg), ranks second in scoring (46.6 ppg) and total offense and fourth in passing offense (285 ypg). The Tigers also rank third in the nation in third-down conversions (53.8 percent), which is a particular area of concern for the Bulldogs.
“We’re probably 103rd in the nation on third down (defense),” Richt said jokingly. But he was close.
The Bulldogs (4-1, 3-0) rank 99th in the nation in third-down defense and last in the SEC. Teams are converting 44 percent of the time.
But the Tigers have some flaws as well. Against a schedule that includes Murray State, Toledo, Indiana and Arkansas State, the Tigers have allowed a league-worst 293.8 yards per game passing and 412.4 total yards per game.
“They are a team that looks very confident and should be,” Richt said. “They are very well-coached, and they are looking to win the East just like we are. We are both undefeated in league play. It’s a huge game, and we’re looking forward to the challenge of it.”
SURGERY UPDATES: Receivers Michael Bennett and Camilla native Justin Scott-Wesley underwent knee surgeries Tuesday at St. Mary’s Hospital in Athens. Meanwhile, sophomore tailback Keith Marshall awaits an ACL reconstruction. All three players were injured against Tennessee.
UGA said Marshall will undergo that procedure within the next three weeks. Scott-Wesley, who had both meniscuses repaired in his right knee, will have to undergo a second surgery to reconstruct his ACL, at a later date. Neither will return this season.
Bennett, however, should be able to come back this season. The junior split end had what’s called a right knee “menisectomy” (to repair meniscus damage) performed by team physicians. He is expected to return to the team “at some point this season” following completion of a rehabilitation program, according to Ron Courson, UGA’s director of sports medicine.
SWANN STRUGGLING: A lot of Georgia’s problems on defense have been blamed on the abundance of young defenders. But some of the Bulldogs’ upperclassmen have struggled, too. Junior cornerback Damian Swann, for instance, has experienced some difficulties tackling and in pass coverage.
“Damian, I’d say, is struggling right now,” Richt said Tuesday. “He’s missed some tackles in the open field, and he’s gotten beat on some coverages that have been tough on him. There have been some things that he has struggled with, but he’s also made plays for us, as well. I think if you asked him, he’d tell you that he wants to perform better, and he’s working toward that.”
STRESSFUL BUT HELPFUL: Three of Georgia’s first five games have been decided by three points: a 38-35 loss to Clemson in the opener and 44-41 and 34-31 victories over LSU and Tennessee, respectively, the past two weeks. Quarterback Aaron Murray thinks the close games have been a growing experience for the Bulldogs.
“It can get stressful at times. But I know these are fun games to play in, and I know they’re fun for the fans,” Murray said. “And I think they really have made some guys on the team grow up and understand that … every week it’s going to take all 60 minutes, plus (sometimes) more.”
ETC.: Punter Collin Barber (concussion), safety Tray Matthews (hamstring) and receiver Jonathan Rumph (hamstring) did not practice Tuesday. Safety Connor Norman (concussion) and outside linebacker James DeLoach (concussion) practiced in non-contact jerseys. … Murray, who last week broke the SEC career record for passing yards, is closing in on the league’s career record for total offense. He’ll enter the Missouri game 324 yards short of former Florida quarterback Tim Tebow’s record of 12,232 in 2006-09. … Georgia’s Oct. 19th game at Vanderbilt was picked up by CBS for the first game of a Saturday SEC doubleheader and will kick off at noon.