Missouri-Georgia Preview


Georgia gave Missouri a harsh introduction to the SEC last season but will have to overcome a rash of injuries in its rematch with the newly ranked Tigers.

After earning a pair of nerve-wracking victories, the seventh-ranked Bulldogs will try to end No. 25 Missouri's unbeaten start Saturday in Athens.

With Missouri having gone 48-19 over its final five seasons in the Big 12, former Tigers defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson - a future first-round draft pick of the New York Jets - perhaps showed a bit of overconfidence by saying that Georgia played "old man football" before the Tigers' SEC opener last September.

Georgia used that as motivation to pull away for a 41-20 road win. The Tigers were competitive with the Bulldogs for much of that game and led 20-17 with 2:39 remaining in the third quarter before giving up 24 unanswered points.

The Bulldogs (4-1, 3-0) will be missing some key players for their next game against Missouri (5-0, 1-0). Georgia won't have second-leading rusher Keith Marshall after he suffered a season-ending knee injury in last week's 34-31 overtime win against Tennessee.

Todd Gurley - third in the SEC with 112.5 rushing yards per game - had to miss that game because of a sprained left ankle and is doubtful for this week.

"Is he going to play this game? He could," coach Mark Richt said. "We're not counting him out, but we have to prepare as if he won't play."

Two Georgia's top receivers, Justin Scott-Wesley and Michael Bennett, also hurt their knees in the victory in Knoxville, and Scott-Wesley is out for the year. The Bulldogs lost one of their top wideouts from the past two seasons, Malcolm Mitchell, in a season-opening loss at then-No. 8 Clemson on Aug. 31.

"I think we're fine. We're ready to go to battle again. Football is a physical game with injuries, and other teams have injuries," Richt said. "Some guys are very excited about the opportunity to make more contributions."

Richt's team caught a fortunate break while overcoming Gurley's absence. Tennessee's Alton "Pig" Howard appeared to score a 7-yard touchdown in overtime, but after a review, officials ruled he let go of the ball while leaping into the end zone, giving the Bulldogs possession.

That allowed Marshall Morgan the opportunity to convert a 42-yard field goal for the win. Georgia got to the extra period only after Aaron Murray's 2-yard pass to Rantavious Wooten with five seconds left in regulation.

A week earlier, Murray completed a 25-yard touchdown to Scott-Wesley with 1:47 left to give his team a 44-41 win over then-No. 6 LSU. Murray, the conference leader with 306.8 passing yards per game, has thrown at least three TD passes in four consecutive weeks.

Murray connected on three touchdowns in last season's win at Missouri, including the go-ahead one with 51 seconds left in the third quarter. He might need another high-scoring effort to outpace a Missouri team averaging 46.6 points, good for eighth in FBS.

The Tigers got the scoring started early in their conference opener last Saturday, a 51-28 victory at Vanderbilt. Missouri never looked back after building a 20-0 lead in the first quarter, and James Franklin matched a career high with four touchdown passes.

With 13 TD throws, Franklin has already topped his 10 from an injury-plagued 2012 and helped the Tigers match their win total from that disappointing campaign, which ended a streak of seven straight bowl appearances.

Missouri, though, has also faced some unheralded competition - their opponents are a combined 15-13 - during its first five games. The Tigers were outscored 187-76 in going 0-5 against Top 25 opponents last year - all five were ranked in the Top 10 - and will open a gauntlet against three nationally ranked squads Saturday.

Georgia is playing its fourth ranked opponent of the season.

"There is nothing better than playing against great competition, and that is what you are going to see on Saturday in Georgia," defensive lineman Kony Ealy said.

Ealy is part of a Tigers defensive unit that's second in the SEC with 15 sacks. Michael Sam has recorded a combined six in the past two weeks, and Ealy has one of his team's 11 interceptions, tied for the most in the conference.

Missouri, which started 7-0 in 2010, will seek its first win in three matchups with Georgia and try to extend a streak of 35 games with a forced turnover.