Missouri – and its momentum – will encounter a blockade manned by the second most talented roster in college football on Saturday afternoon in Athens.
That would be the Georgia Bulldogs, rated No. 2 in the national talent composite charted by 247 Sports. Missouri is 25th in the same listing. That’s terrific by Mizzou standards, but Georgia is at an elite level.
The Bulldogs have won the last two national championships and have the appetite – and the players – to grab a third. This team hasn’t lost a game in 705 days – and have suffered only one defeat in the last 1,091 days. Georgia brings a 25-game winning streak into Saturday’s home game and intends to make Ol’ Mizzou victim No. 26.
Missouri (7-1) was a 15-point underdog as of noon Friday. So how do the Tigers win this game? How does MU keep this competition close to have a chance to pull off a heist in the final minutes?
Well, here’s a little info for you investors out there …
The 8-0 Bulldogs are just 2-5-1 against the spread this season. A call to an associate in Las Vegas provided some interesting info: as of Friday morning, 59 percent of the “handle” money has been wagered on the Tigers.
We don’t often see that in a game involving Georgia. And there’s a logical reason for that. The last time it happened – on Oct. 7 when bettors boldly put the higher percentage of money on Kentucky – Georgia destroyed the Wildcats 51-13 back on Oct. 7.
Earlier this week Missouri was rated 12th in the first presentation of the College Football Playoff rankings. Georgia is No. 2, behind top-ranked Ohio State.
If you believe in the value of following trends, here’s something to consider: in matchups pitting two ranked teams – with the home team having the superior ranking – those home teams have gone 96-17 straight up and had a 66 percent success rate against the spread. (That nugget courtesy of Steve Makinen of VSiN.com).
So, yeah, Mizzou is up against it. But there’s a chance … that’s because there’s always a chance.
And there’s also a history.
Back in the day several defiant Mizzou teams made it a custom to knock off heralded, heavily-favored opponents. The success was absolutely remarkable.
From 1972 through 1978, Mizzou staged 11 upsets of teams ranked among the top 10 nationally at game time. Longtime MU fans will remember and treasure conquests of Nebraska (four times), Notre Dame (twice), USC, Alabama, Ohio State, Colorado and Arizona State. And eight of the 11 victories came on the road!
So. Yeah. There is a chance.
I did a deep dive into each team’s performance against fellow Power 5 Conference opponents this season. And in many areas there wasn’t as much of a gap as I expected to see.
Here are some things that caught my attention. And when you check this out, please note that there are 68 Power 5 teams. That puts the rankings in sharper perspective.
It’s pretty close.
– Missouri and Georgia are two of the best Power 5 teams in the nation at keeping the pass rush off their quarterbacks. MU is 2nd, and Georgia is 3rd.
– Passer rating: Georgia 8th, Missouri 11th.
– Expected Points Added in the passing game: Georgia 5th, Mizzou 7th.
– “Boom” plays (elevated success) on percentage of passing attempts: Mizzou (32.8%) is 2nd and Georgia (27.6%) is 11th.
– “Bust” plays (particularly unsuccessful) on percentage of passing attempts: Georgia (12.7%) is 2nd and Missouri (16.9%) is 18th.
– Expected Points Added on third-down passing attempts: Georgia 5th, Mizzou 7th.
RUNNING THE FOOTBALL
This is where Georgia seemingly has an advantage.
– Expected Points Added per run: Georgia 5th, Mizzou 30th.
– “Boom” running plays: Georgia 19th, Mizzou 36th.
– Percentage of running plays that have a positive result: Georgia (47.8) is 9th, and Mizzou (36%) is 56th.
– These teams aren’t as effective as you might have imagined.Georgia gives up 5.1 yards per rush which ranks 45th among the 68 Power 5 teams. And Mizzou allows 5.5 yards per rush, which ranks 60th.
– Georgia has stuffed 22.2 percent of the running plays against them; that ranks 12th. Missouri has stuffed 18.2 percent; that ranks 39th.
– In the percentage of preventing success on running plays, Georgia (43.5%) is 30th and Mizzou (45.5) is 40th.
Georgia is better, but the difference isn’t significant. Opponent passer rating: Georgia (79.8%) ranks 14th and MU (89.9) is 34th.
– Opponent Expected Points Added per passing play: Georgia is 12th, Missouri is 28th.
You may be encouraged to know that Missouri holds up well in this comparison.
– Sack percentage on dropbacks: Mizzou (12.4) which is 17th nationally. Georgia (12.1) is 20th.
– Percentage of QB pressures on dropbacks: Mizzou 39.4 which is 5th nationally. Georgia (29.9) is 37th.
THIRD-DOWN PASS RUSH
– And what about the pass rush effectiveness on third down? I didn’t expect to see these numbers: Georgia’s pressure percentage on third down is 24.4%, which ranks 65th among the 68 Power 5 defenses. Missouri (38.1%) is 31st. And Mizzou’s third-down sack percentage (9.5) is 26th nationally compared to Georgia’s 4.4 percent that ranks 56th.
– As for pass blocking and run blocking, both teams have roughly the same percentage of blown blocks. It’s pretty even in pass protection but Georgia has been more reliable in run blocking.
FIVE FINAL THOUGHTS
1. Watch out for Georgia quarterback Carson Beck’s form against Cover 2 and Cover 3 defenses. He’s one of the very best Power 5 quarterbacks at attacking both looks. And that applies to third-down situations. That’s why it will be so crucial for Mizzou to get into Beck’s grill. This season the Tigers have allowed a 100.2 passer rating when set up in a man-Cover 2 defense, a 112.9 rating in a straight Cover 2, and a 110.6 rating in using a Cover 3. That’s the sixth-worst passer rating against a Cover 3 defense among the 68 Power 5 defenses. Mizzou needs to cause problems with pressure.
2. The Luther Burden Factor: If Georgia’s established performance means anything, the Dawgs will be a tough opponent for Mizzou’s sensational slot receiver. When the slot receiver is targeted by an opponent quarterback this season, Georgia has allowed a passer rating of 46.1 that ranks second-best in the nation. And the opponent completion percentage against Georgia when targeting the slot guy (54.9) is ninth best by a defense.
3. If Mizzou has any hope of an upset, quarterback Brady Cook will have to play the game of his life. And that isn’t a ridiculous notion. That’s why I offered the statistical evidence of MU’s strength in the passing game. This will be the best pass-protection unit that Georgia has faced this season, and if the Mizzou O-line holds up, Cook will have some space to make plays. When Georgia doesn’t get pressure on the quarterback, its allowed a 96.9 passer rating (30th) and a 63.5 completion percentage. As I mentioned earlier this week on my radio show, Cook has been a marvel this season, putting his surgically repaired right shoulder to good use. When the pocket is kept clean, Cook ranks 3rd in the nation in completion percentage on passes that travel at least 15 yards in the air. Only LSU’s Jayden Daniels and Michigan’s J.J. McCarthy have done better than Brady.
4. Georgia won’t have injured tight end Brock Bowers to roam through the MU defense. And that could be a factor. Mizzou has yielded a passer rating of 128.6 this season when the opponent quarterback targets the tight end.
5. Prediction: Georgia 37, Mizzou 24. This is a massive test for Missouri, and I’d be surprised to see the Tigers chased off in a blow-out loss. But Georgia has the benefit of one of the most prohibitive home-field advantages in college football, and I can’t predict that the Dawgs will lose this one. Not when all they do is win. And Coach Kirby Smart always has his team cranked to the max when they play a team that’s depicted as a threat by the pundit class. I can’t wait to watch this game, hoping that the spirit of Uncle Al Onofrio shows up in Athens to help the Tigers escape from Sanford Stadium with a vintage, 1970s-era upset.
Thanks for reading …
And I hope you have a fantastic weekend…
Bernie hosts an opinionated sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS. It airs 3-6 p.m. on Monday through Thursday and 4-6 p.m. on Friday. You can stream it live or access the show podcast on 590thefan.com or through the 590 The Fan St. Louis app.
Please follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz
All stats used in my college football columns are sourced from Sports Info Solutions unless otherwise noted.