Game Changers Playoff Edition: West Hall High School
ATHENS — Missouri and Georgia, who have combined to win the last four SEC East titles, know the loser of Saturday night’s game will be all but eliminated from this year’s race.
Georgia (4-2, 2-2 Southeastern Conference) has lost two straight games to Alabama and Tennessee entering Saturday night’s game against Missouri. The Bulldogs must play the remainder of the season without their biggest star, tailback Nick Chubb, whose string of 13 straight 100-yard games ended with a left knee injury on the first play of last week’s loss to the Vols.
Missouri (4-2, 1-2 SEC) is the two-time defending division champion, but the Tigers are expected to be without suspended quarterback Maty Mauk, leaving freshman Drew Lock to make his third start. Lock threw two interceptions in Missouri’s 21-3 home loss to Florida last week.
Georgia won the East in 2011 and 2012 before Missouri’s two-year run. The last team to play in the SEC championship game with more than one conference loss was South Carolina, at 5-3 2010. That extremely rare 2010 season may be cited by the Georgia-Missouri loser as reason for hope, but it seems unlikely an SEC East team with three losses will catch No. 8 Florida (6-0, 4-0).
Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said Lock’s demeanor “was great” against Florida’s strong defense despite completing only 16 of 39 passes for 151 yards with two interceptions and no touchdowns. Pinkel is hoping the young quarterback learns from the tough day.
“That’s how you grow the most,” Pinkel said. “Hopefully you make lessons and you learn, and you don’t make the same mistakes. So that’s what we really want for him.”
Georgia also has had up-and-down results from quarterback Greyson Lambert. The Virginia transfer was almost perfect in wins over South Carolina and Southern before completing only 10 of 24 for 86 yards with an interception against Alabama and 15 of 32 for 279 yards with two touchdowns in last week’s 38-31 loss at Tennessee.
Lambert’s backup, Brice Ramsey, also has struggled.
Some things to watch when Missouri plays Georgia:
SONY TIME: Sony Michel, who will replace Chubb as the starting tailback, ran for 145 yards on 22 carries against Tennessee, including a 66-yarder. Keith Marshall, Brendan Douglas and fullback Quayvon Hicks also could have some carries. Michel had 410 yards rushing last year but he was behind Todd Gurley and Chubb on the depth chart. Now Michel has his chance to be the lead back.
TIGERS TOUGH ON DEFENSE: Missouri has not allowed more than 21 points in any game. The Tigers lead the SEC in pass defense and scoring defense, giving up only 13.5 points per game. They rank second in total defense. Missouri will go after Lambert with a pass rush that has produced 18 sacks, including five against Florida. Ends Charles Harris and Walter Brady have combined for 10 sacks.
NO HOME-FIELD ADVANTAGE: The road team has three straight wins in the Missouri-Georgia series. The Bulldogs took a 34-0 win at Missouri in 2014.
HERSCHEL RAN HERE: Center Evan Boehm was part of the Missouri team that took a 41-21 win at Georgia in 2012. He said he’s telling his younger teammates to “embrace the environment” of Sanford Stadium. “There’s a lot of tradition inside that stadium,” Boehm said. “The fans are crazy. It’s just a fun atmosphere to play football in … the same stadium as Herschel Walker and a lot of other guys.”
THIRD-DOWN BLUES: Georgia converted only 4 of 14 third downs against Tennessee after converting 3 of 17 against Alabama. Coach Mark Richt said his staff studied every third-down play of the season “and tried to find the common themes and threads and things that we might be able to do better.”