Before the season, the very thought of Mizzou winning at Georgia on Saturday would have seemed ridiculous.
By VAHE GREGORIAN
The Kansas City Star
The Tigers were coming off a 5-7 season that featured a three-touchdown loss at home to the Bulldogs, who went 12-2 and finished fifth in the final AP poll.
But circumstances have shifted enough to make the game seem enticing.
And I believe Mizzou (5-0) will contend for one of the most meaningful upsets in school history, a victory that would leave it at least momentarily perched at the top of the SEC Eastern Division with home games coming up against the other two contenders (Florida and South Carolina).
• Georgia, of course, is depleted offensively, with injuries taking out among others two of its top receivers, one of its top running backs and at least hobbling another, Todd Gurley, who may or may not play because of an ankle injury.
• Mizzous defense, albeit against a generally tame schedule, is giving up just 22.4 points a game and is tied for the SEC lead in interceptions with 11. If MU is able to grind down the ground game, and the Tigers are allowing just 118.6 yards rushing a game, it figures to be able to generate enough pressure (12 sacks the last two games) to put some heat on Bulldogs star quarterback Aaron Murray.
• Yes, MU lost 41-20 to Georgia last season, but the Tigers hardly were pushed around. They outgained Georgia 371-355 and led 20-17 late in the third quarter before getting left behind after two crucial turnovers deep in their own territory. That game will have no bearing on this one, but Mizzou also has no reason to feel it doesnt have the caliber players to compete with Georgia especially since that Tiger team was reeling from offensive line injuries.
• In its first SEC road game last season, Mizzou appeared intimidated at South Carolina, where the Tigers fell behind 28-2 and lost 31-10. Sanford Stadium will make for a similarly overwhelming environment, but last seasons experience should have a more seasoned MU better prepared to be poised despite the noise.
• Mizzous offense should be able to score on Georgia, which is giving up 32.2 points a game (last in the SEC), has generated an SEC-low five takeaways and is giving up 404 yards a game including 265 passing. MU is averaging 544 yards and 47 points.
• MU senior quarterback James Franklin is completing 68 percent of his passes and throwing for 281 yards a game while rushing for 55.6 yards a game. That dual threat could pose a problem for Georgia: Its lone loss was to Clemson, whose quarterback, Tajh Boyd, threw for 270 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for 42 yards and two more TDs.
Of course, there are plenty of worrisome factors for MU, too.
This still will be a harsh new environment, and its been more than a generation since the Tigers beat a top 10 team in a true road game.
Meanwhile, Murray is still one of the best quarterbacks in the country, throwing for 307 yards a game, and MUs pass defense is allowing an SEC-worst 294 yards a game.
And Georgia likely has had more of a trial by fire thus far by playing a much more challenging schedule than MU: While MU will be playing its first game against a ranked team and just its second SEC game, the Bulldogs are 3-0 in the SEC with wins over No. 10 LSU (5-1) and No. 14 South Carolina (4-1) as well as at Tennessee (3-3) and a narrow loss (38-35) against No. 5 Clemson (5-0).
How will it all play out? Whos to say?
But a year after MU had hoped to make a dramatic statement in its inaugural SEC game against the visiting Bulldogs, it has a chance to make an even more meaningful one Saturday.
If it comes through, the Tigers will become a national story and the move to the SEC will never have seemed more worthwhile.