I’ll never forget the first time Georgia and Missouri played football for a couple of reasons.
For one, it was the first time I ever saw a live telecast of a Bulldogs football game. Actually, it was the first time anyone ever saw the Dogs play on TV, as the CBS coverage of the Jan. 1, 1960, Orange Bowl was the first time a Georgia game was broadcast.
The other memorable thing about that New Year’s Day was that I woke up with a bad case of the mumps, with both sides of my face swelled up like a balloon. But I was determined to see the game, so Mom propped me up with pillows in the TV room so I could watch Fran Tarkenton lead Wally Butts’ Bulldogs against Dan Devine’s Mizzou Tigers. (You’ll remember we encountered Devine again in a bowl 20 years later.)
Perhaps because I was sick or maybe because I was only 7 years old, I don’t remember much about the game itself other than my Dad thinking Georgia didn’t play very well despite winning what was largely a defensive struggle thanks to Tarkenton throwing two touchdown passes. Butts, in fact, said it was the Dogs’ “worst game of the year.”
My friend Carl remembers some family friends who went to the game bringing him a pennant from it. And Rusty, another of our classmates in Miss Tabor’s second-grade class at David C. Barrow Elementary in Athens, recalls it as the only bowl game his parents ever attended. His mom, who was from Missouri, had divided loyalties and so she was dressed in red but wore a Mizzou button.
Rusty, who spent a lot of time in Missouri during summers as a kid, is attending today’s historic game in which Georgia welcomes the Tigers to the SEC. His grandparents lived in Glasgow, about 30 miles from the university town of Columbia, and he remembers it as “the closest thing I can imagine to a real-life Mayberry. It had a hand-crank phone system, a mayor/sheriff/fire chief (named Casey Jones), a drug store, a dime store and a movie theater. … One of my favorite Glasgow memories was going home for lunch one day after a morning spent playing in the firehouse/jail with my cousins. My grandmother got a call and turned to my older cousin and said, ‘Jimmy K, it’s Casey, he wants to know what you all did with the keys to the jail. He needs to put some body in a cell.’”
Rusty was planning on revisiting Glasgow on this trip but was mainly looking forward to the game itself. As he put it: “Saturday should be exciting. This game is huge to our season. A loss puts us back down in the middle of the pack going to the other Columbia. A win should solidify our preseason ratings which, frankly, I think were way too high. Best case scenario for us — this one turns out like Hawaii in the Sugar Bowl. They look good based on their record until they face an SEC team. We’ll see.”
The way things have shaken out with the defensive suspensions and now injuries to our thin offensive line, the outlook for this Georgia-Missouri game is a lot more uncertain than it should have been. I know the Missouri fan base is really cranked up about this one and Faurot Field will be packed and loud, but if Georgia weren’t missing several starters on defense I don’t think anyone would be seriously entertaining thoughts of an upset by the Tigers.
Yes, their run-based spread offense is known for using the entire width of the field (a true spread) and putting points up on the board (though in the past that was mostly against Big 12 non-defenses). James Franklin is also the sort of dual-threat quarterback that the Dogs have had trouble with in recent seasons and they throw a lot of bubble screens, which the Dogs sometimes have had a hard time handling.
But Missouri’s own offensive line is something of an inexperienced, makeshift affair, with three first-year starters, including a true freshman and a former walk-on, and they’ll be facing a Georgia defensive front that should be one of the nation’s best (even the Dogs’ DL didn’t play like it against Buffalo).
The Tigers have some talented receivers who are fully capable of putting Georgia’s interim secondary to a severe test, but Missouri’s offense is based on the quarterback reading the defense, and you’ve got to figure Franklin is going to have to do that in an awful hurry Saturday night with Jarvis Jones breathing down his neck. At times last season Franklin was prone to get rattled and throw multiple interceptions. And if John Jenkins gets a big push up the middle, that could further disrupt things for the Tigers.
Probably because of the suspensions, most of the media talk in advance of the game has been on whether Georgia can handle Mizzou’s much-hyped high-powered offense, but not that much attention has been paid to the fact that Missouri has had to replace three starters up front on its defense and its secondary is considered a weakness.
If the ailing Georgia OL can keep mouthy Sheldon Richardson of “old man football” infamy off Aaron Murray long enough, it could be a big night for Tavarres King, Michael Bennett and Chris Conley. And if Georgia really does have an explosive running game now thanks to Todd Gurley, Keith Marshall and company, as it appears, so much the better.
As for special teams, Georgia looked improved in that regard against Buffalo, but that aspect of the game remains a question mark for both teams. We don’t know yet how our true freshman placekicker and punter will respond in a pressure situation in a big game. And the Tigers have a talented punt returner in Marcus Murphy. But Mizzou’s kicking game is itself kind of shaky.
So, while I’m of course concerned about how Georgia’s defense will do without Sanders Commings, Bacarri Rambo, Alec Ogletree and Chase Vasser, I feel pretty confident that Mike Bobo’s offense is going to be able to put up points against the Tigers. I think Georgia will come out of Columbia with a win. But, if not, hey, this is the SEC East … and an 0-1 start in conference play is not a season-killer.
I’ll be back with thoughts about the game late tonight. In the meantime, feel free to share your own predictions in the comments and discuss the game as it progresses.
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg