After eight months of anticipation, it didn’t take long after Georgia officially became Missouri’s next opponent for bulletin-board material to emerge.
Asked by a reporter if he had watched any of the No. 7 Bulldogs' game earlier Saturday, outspoken defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson spoke soon-to-be-viral words.
“I watched that game. I turned it off too,” Richardson replied, adding: “It’s like watching Big Ten football. It’s old-man football.”
And the junior, who last year famously said players from Texas were “overrated” prior to the Tigers meeting with the Longhorns, wasn’t done yet.
“If we execute, nobody in this league can touch us,” he said. “Period.”
His teammates didn’t seem to be bothered by the remarks.
“That’s Sheldon, he’s going to be him, and there’s nothing wrong with that,” redshirt sophomore defensive end Kony Ealy said. “Obviously you’ve got to watch what you say sometimes, but other than that I don’t doubt him or anything, I’m behind him 100 percent with what he said.”
Coach Gary Pinkel wasn’t tickled by Richardson’s comments, as evidenced by Richardson not being made available for interviews at Monday’s media day.
“We certainly want to say the right things and do the right things, I think he got a little carried away,” Pinkel said. “He felt sorry for saying it. He just got excited a little bit. He has respect for Georgia, as I do. We’ll learn lessons and move on.”
Although many construed Richardson’s comments as a blatant disrespect toward the conference Missouri now calls home, Pinkel and his players acknowledged that the Tigers are the ones with something to prove.
“They got a lot of proud in playing here at Mizzou, they got a lot of pride where they came from,” Pinkel said. “We’re going into a different league, a great football league. And also when you’re new you have to prove yourself. You have to earn respect. My mom and dad brought me up that way and we’re new. The good news is you get to go play and we’ll get the chance to earn some respect.”
The Tigers will get that chance Saturday on Faurot Field against the Bulldogs, whom Pinkel calls a “very complete football team.”
Georgia is coming off a 45-23 season opening victory over Buffalo, in which preseason second-team All-SEC quarterback Aaron Murray threw for 258 yards and three touchdowns.
The running back position was a big question mark heading into UGA’s opener following the dismissal of starter Isaiah Crowell in June. However, if last Saturday’s opener was any indication, true freshman Todd Gurley, who had three touchdowns and 100 yards on eight carries in his first collegiate game, will give the ‘Dawgs a legitimate ground game.
“He’s a super-talented guy,” Missouri defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski said. “It’s going to be fun to play against him.”
Much has been made about Georgia’s size and strength, but Kuligowski was quick to point out UGA’s physicality is nothing foreign to Missouri, referencing Texas A&M along with the team’s last two bowl opponents — Iowa and North Carolina — as having similar styles of play.
The Tigers went 3-1 against those teams in the past two seasons, the lone loss coming to Iowa in the 2010 Insight Bowl. The Hawkeyes gashed the Tigers on the ground for 225 yards on 37 carries.
Missouri surrendered just 276 yards on 98 carries in those other three games. Richardson and the rest of the Tiger front — seven walking the walk with Richardson’s comments will be imperative Saturday night.
On the other side of the ball, six ‘Dawgs earned preseason All-SEC honors, including linebacker Alec Ogletree and safety Bacarri Rambo, both of whom were suspended for Georgia’s season-opener. During a Wednesday teleconference, coach Mark Richt said their status for Saturday’s showdown wouldn’t be disclosed until game day.
“It’s about Mizzou, it’s about what we do,” junior receiver Marcus Lucas said. “It’s about how we prepare. Whoever lines up against us we’re going to be able to do our game plan and execute.”
Regardless of who lines up across from them, Pinkel and his players are glad the “mammoth” SEC opener is nearly upon them.
"The whole state, people were talking about this in March, April,” Pinkel said. “We're honored to be in the SEC. Certainly we want to produce."