ATLANTA (AP) — From the perspective of Georgia coach Kirby Smart, the only thing that has stopped Missouri’s big-play offense has been the Tigers’ turnovers.
Thus the big concern for the No. 4 Bulldogs on Saturday: Can Georgia continue its dominant defensive play if Missouri’s offense, led by quarterback Drew Lock, protects the ball?
Georgia (6-0, 3-0 Southeastern Conference) is favored to post its first 7-0 start since 2005, the year it won its last conference title. The Bulldogs lead the SEC East, and while there has been increased chatter about Georgia’s path to the College Football Playoff, players have talked this week of maintaining focus with an important game against Florida next on their schedule following a bye.
Missouri (1-4, 0-3) has been hurt by 14 turnovers. The Tigers lost two fumbles, leading to 14 points for Kentucky, in last week’s 40-34 loss to the Wildcats . Missouri lost despite holding a 568-to-486 advantage in total yards.
“To be honest, offensively, they have only stopped themselves,” Smart said. “Not many people have really stopped them as far as yardage.”
After losing quarterback Jacob Eason to a sprained left knee in a season-opening win over Appalachian State, Georgia has leaned on its running game and defense to keep winning with freshman Jake Fromm. Eason has returned but Fromm has kept the starting job.
Georgia ranks second in the nation with its average of 10 points allowed.
Lock threw for 355 yards, with three touchdown passes of more than 50 yards, against Kentucky. He ranks sixth in the nation with his average of almost 16 yards per completion.
“He has incredible arm talent,” said Georgia defensive back Aaron Davis. “I think this is the third year that I’ve seen him. Every time he can make any throw that he possibly wants to on the field. We definitely need to be on our cues when we go against him.”
Here are some other things to know about Georgia’s Homecoming game against Missouri:
DEFENSELESS TIGERS: Missouri enters Saturday last in the SEC and 111th in the nation with its average of 459.2 yards allowed per game. The Tigers are even worse in points allowed (121st nationally) while allowing an average of 40 points per game. The defensive woes are a key reason Mizzou has lost four straight games.
DOMINANT SEC START: Georgia has won its first three conference games over Mississippi State, Tennessee and Vanderbilt by a combined margin of 117-17, or an average of 39-6. That includes last week’s 45-14 win at Vanderbilt .
It’s a contrast to the Bulldogs’ recent history against Missouri. The last two meetings have been decided by a combined four points. Georgia beat Missouri 9-6 in Athens in 2015 and 28-27 last season.
FIRST-QUARTER BLUES: Mizzou fell behind Kentucky 13-0, the latest in a string of poor starts. The Tigers have been outscored 59-23 in the first quarter, including 38-0 in their last three games. “I don’t know what the magic answer is, but I need to find it,” coach Barry Odom said Monday.
CHALLENGE FOR GEORGIA D: Missouri rushed for a season-high 213 yards against Kentucky. Senior Ish Witter ran for a season-best 139 yards while sophomore Damarea Crockett gained 74 yards. The duo combined to average 7.3 yards per rush in the game. A repeat of that performance could prove difficult against a Georgia defense that allows only 2.9 yards per rush and an average of 86 yards rushing per game.
ACY’S RETURN: Missouri sophomore DeMarkus Acy was ejected from last week’s loss to Kentucky in the first quarter after being called for targeting on a hit on Wildcats receiver Lynn Bowden. Because the play happened in the first half, Acy — who has 17 tackles this season — will be available to play against Georgia.
AP Sports Writer Kurt Voigt in Columbia, Missouri contributed to this story.
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