COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — No. 16 Georgia’s visit to Missouri features two first-year coaches making their Southeastern Conference debuts.
Georgia’s Kirby Smart, who was a defensive back for the Bulldogs from 1995-98, and Missouri’s Barry Odom, who played linebacker for the Tigers from 1996-99, are eager to get their first conference win at the helm of their alma mater.
“I think anytime that you have an opportunity to open at your place that’s great for our fan base and great for our kids,” Odom said. “But also, we’ve got to get to the point where it doesn’t matter who, where or when you’re playing that we focus on us and prepare the right way and get ready to go play.”
A year after finishing last in the conference in passing offense, the Tigers (1-1) lead the SEC in total passing with 759 yards. Quarterback Drew Lock tied a school record with five touchdown passes in last week’s 61-21 win against Eastern Michigan, and fell 30 yards shy of the school record for passing yards with 450.
Smart said the Bulldogs (2-0) are focusing on the tempo of the Missouri offense and the speed of the defense.
“We’ve got a great challenge playing a well-coached, very potent offense and a very disruptive defense,” Smart said. “They seem to be bigger than they’ve been in the past, especially inside, and they’ve got a really talented group, so it’s always a challenge when you go to play these guys because they’ve athletic enough and disruptive enough to cause a lot of problems.”
Georgia is coming off a surprisingly close 26-24 win over Nicholls, but the Bulldogs will be a step up for the Tigers from Eastern Michigan. Here are some things to watch for Saturday:
Georgia running back Nick Chubb won SEC freshman of the year in 2014 after rushing for 1,547 yards and 14 touchdowns. His first collegiate start came in Georgia’s 34-0 shutout of Missouri at Faurot Field on Oct. 11, 2014, when he rushed 38 times for 143 yards and a touchdown. Todd Gurley had been suspended the previous week for NCAA rules violations, making way for Chubb to start the remaining eight games of the season.
Through two games, Georgia has used a two-quarterback system, with senior Greyson Lambert and freshman Jacob Eason splitting time. Lambert, who threw for 1,959 yards, 12 touchdowns and two interceptions last year, made his 13th start as a Bulldog in a season-opening victory against then North Carolina in Atlanta. He appeared in the first three series against the Tar Heels, completing 5 of 8 pass attempts for 54 yards in a 33-24 win. Eason played the majority of the second half, accounting for the Bulldogs’ only passing touchdown, a 17-yard connection with wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie. He is 19 of 32 with two touchdowns and an interception on the season.
“I feel a sense of urgency to get the best guy on the field to give us an opportunity to win each game,” Smart said. “So if that means getting one guy ready, then that’s what it would be. But right now, we’re not in a position to do that. Right now, we’re in a position where we’ve got two quarterbacks that are both developing, both a part of the game plan, and we want to continue to do that.
Missouri’s defensive front has been somewhat absent in the first two games. After tying for sixth nationally in tackles for loss in 2015, Missouri’s defense has 10 tackles for loss and only one sack, tied for last in the conference. Linebacker Michael Scherer has 13 tackles, including 1 1/2 for loss, and played against Chubb in 2014.
“He’s very good,” Scherer said of Chubb. “I think, kind of the way he’s built, he’s kind of short and stocky and very wide, it’s just tough to bring him down. It’ll take multiple guys to bring him down. You’ve got to tackle him low.”
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