It’s hard to forget what happened last year when Georgia came to town.
Well, it’s hard to forget the outcome.
Missouri led for almost three quarters in its first ever Southeastern Conference game. Then, No. 7 Georgia, with quarterback Aaron Murray and linebacker Jarvis Jones, took over. An ugly final quarter and a half for the Tigers resulted in a 41-20 loss that fueled skepticism of conference unworthiness that continued for an entire season.
Georgia is ranked No. 7 again this year in the AP Poll, but they don’t look nearly as dominant, comparatively, heading into Saturday’s matchup with Missouri.
Murray is back for his senior season and is a legitimate Heisman candidate, but Jones is gone (to the NFL), and so are a number of Bulldog starters to injuries, including star running back Todd Gurley (ankle) and his backup Keith Marshall (ACL). Receivers Justin Scott-Wesley and Michael Bennett will be sidelined as well.
The injury bug plagued Missouri last season, with running back Henry Josey missing the entire year and quarterback James Franklin battling various ailments. But this year, the team has been mostly healthy, and the recently-ranked No. 25 Tigers are proving themselves potent on both sides of the ball.
All of this begs a question that may have seemed silly just a few weeks ago: Can Missouri beat Georgia at home?
The answer may lie in last year’s loss. Missouri’s offense actually outgained Georgia’s a year ago, despite the lopsided final score. The Tigers recorded more first downs (18 to 17) and gained more total yards (269 to 242), with Franklin throwing for 269 to Murray’s 242. And while the Tigers’ defense wasn’t able to stop Murray late, it only allowed Gurley to gain 65 yards on the ground.
At times last year, the Tigers’ secondary seemed see-through; this year it has already grabbed 11 interceptions through five games (tied for the SEC lead), four more than last year’s total in 12 games. The defensive line, led by two-time reigning SEC lineman of the week Michael Sam, is mightily improved, and linebacker Andrew Wilson is still playing like Andrew Wilson.
Georgia’s defense, on the other hand, so traditionally stout, surrendered 277 yards after halftime last week to Tennessee’s underwhelming offense. The Bulldogs now get tasked with stopping Missouri’s offense, which passed Georgia for second in the league (543.8 yards per game) and is second in scoring (46.6 points per game) after demolishing Vanderbilt in Nashville, Tenn.
All in all, it’s looking like the last thing Missouri expected when it joined the SEC: a shootout.
This is the changing nature of the SEC in this admittedly weird 2013 season. The traditionally dominant defenses of the past appear gone. Just look down last week’s scoreboard. Lousiana State dominated Mississippi State but scored 59 points and surrendered 26 in doing so. South Carolina topped Kentucky but gave up 28 points to the Wildcats. Johnny Football has Texas A&M averaging 49.2 per game (its only loss being a 49-42 rollercoaster defeat to Alabama - talk about a school not used to giving up points). Then there’s Georgia, which has given up an average of 31 points per game.
This includes 41 points to LSU and 21 to North Texas. Missouri doesn’t know yet how good it is, but it’s safe to say it stands somewhere in between those two schools.
Where exactly on the spectrum? That remains to be seen. Saturday’s outcome will be a good indicator. And it could end up being another outcome soon hard to forget.