2014 Missouri Tigers football preview: Georgia

Correction: Hutson Mason’s name was incorrectly spelled in a previous version of the story. KBIA Sports regrets the error.

Missouri v Georgia

Date: Oct. 11
Record: Georgia finished 8-5 in 2013 including a 42-26 loss to Missouri in Athens. Bulldogs lead series 2-1

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Darren Hellwege, Sports Commentator

The Bulldogs were a disappointing 8-5 in 2013, with losses to Clemson, Mizzou, Vanderbilt, Auburn and a bowl loss to Nebraska. Three of those five teams finished in the top 10 in the final USA Today/Coaches poll (Auburn at No. 2, Missouri at No. 5, Clemson at No. 8.) The MU defeat was the Bulldogs’ only home loss. They had home wins over very strong teams from LSU and South Carolina.

Georgia fans will be quick to point out the injuries that plagued their season, but it’s worth noting that Mizzou beat the Dawgs in Athens with E.J. Gaines on the bench and with James Franklin out for a significant part of the second half.

Returning is Todd Gurley, one of nation’s top RBs and a Heisman favorite. In addition to 989 yards rushing (in spite of dealing with nagging injuries,) Gurley’s dangerous out of the backfield, with 37 receptions last season including a team high six TDs. Keith Marshall missed much of 2013 but has experience and together he and Gurley are as good a backfield tandem as you’ll find anywhere in college football.

Quarterback
Georgia’s replacement for four-year starting QB Aaron Murray is fifth-year senior Hutson Mason. He got a couple of starts late last season with Murray injured, taking on strong teams from Georgia Tech and Nebraska. I watched Georgia’s spring game and came away really impressed with Mason, a very smart quarterback with a strong arm. Backup Faton Bauta is a mobile QB and tough guy who can make some throws as well and, like Mason, had a strong final spring scrimmage. Freshman Brice Ramsey has a big arm and once he learns the system could be a future star at the position.

Receivers
I like receiver Chris Conley, a guy who can go find the ball and make good catches. He and Mason got some mojo working together in spring ball. Malcolm Mitchell missed entire 2013 season and spring ball with injuries, but Murray called Mitchell the team’s best receiver. If he’s healthy Mitchell, Conley and big Michael Bennett give Mason a wealth of targets. As for the bench, Justin Scott-Wesley and Reggie Davis are deep threats, and redshirt soph Blake Tibbs looks ready to step up as well. Georgia’s reputation as a team that can throw downfield effectively remains intact. Tight end Jay Rome is a stud but missed the spring ball with foot surgery.

Offensive Line
Two starters return to O-Line, where question marks abound. Starting center David “Boss” Andrews is the cornerstone, not a big guy but a very solid player in technique and major effort guy. But it’s new guard Greg Pyke I spotted—he is scary, huge (6-foot-6-inches, 326 pounds) and a serious athlete with some moves in the pulling game. He’s going to flatten some people. There are some talented players here but they’ve moved everyone except Andrews through multiple positions and getting cohesion and consistency here is a concern that has to be keeping offensive coordinator Mike Bobo up at night.

Defense
New defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt has some holes to fill, with talented safeties Tray Matthews and Josh Harvey-Clemens having been dismissed from the team and corner Shaq Wiggins transferring from Athens. Pruitt has three national championships on his resume, two as secondary coach at ‘Bama and one as defensive coordinator at Florida State.

The D-Line could be fairly strong, but there are questions here as well. First off, there’s a third position coach (one I think will be very good, former Auburn star Tracy Rocker) in as many years. James DeLoach moves from linebacker to defensive end and could be very good, and Georgia now says he won’t be suspended for any games after an offseason arrest. Ray Drew returns on the other side, and John Taylor should anchor the middle.

On the other hand, linebacker isn’t a question mark but rather an exclamation point. One of the few preseason magazines I really trust for good information, Phil Steele’s, named UGA the number one linebacker group in the nation. Ramik Wilson and Amario Herrera were numbers one and three in tackles in the SEC last year (and the No. 2 guy, Mizzou’s Andrew Wilson, has graduated.) Leonard Floyd and Jordan Jenkins on the outside of Georgia’s 3-4 set are pass rushing fools who’ll get plenty of sacks. There’s a lot of talent behind those top four, also.

Then there’s the secondary. Ouch. There’s just no way to replace three players as good as Matthews, Harvey-Clemons and Wiggins adequately. Returning corner Damian Swann has a lot of experience but struggled at times in 2013 after an impressive 2012 season. Sophomore safety Quincy Mauger started seven games last season, and he and Swann are the experienced hands in the secondary. There is depth at all the positions and maybe the new guys will step in and do great, but that’s a really big if. The fact that a starting corner on G-Day was Aaron Davis, a freshman walk-on who hasn’t played since his sophomore year of high school could be seen as a red flag. On the other hand, he looked really good to me. Another factor could be Shattle Fenteng, a transfer from Hutchinson Community College, who could step right in and be part of the mix at corner.

Questions will arise because of the quarterback switch, but this is a strong Georgia team that will contend in the east. The Oct. 11 game will be a close one, but playing in Memorial Stadium, I take the Tigers here to move to 5-1.

Darren Hellwege is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and the United States Basketball Writers Association. You can find him on Twitter: @KBIAHellwege

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