By Brandon Kiley, KBIA Sports
Good time for a bye:
Missouri (4-1) went into the bye week with momentum after picking up a much-needed 21-20 win over South Carolina.
“The bye was at a very good time,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. “We played five games, had a bye and play four more (before Missouri’s next bye). In this league, I think that’s a great setup. I think you would probably take that every year.”
The bye week couldn’t have come at a better time for the Missouri players. Senior receivers Darius White and Jimmie Hunt were not able to play against South Carolina because of injuries. White was out with a torn groin muscle and Hunt was out with a burst bursa sac in his knee.
“I’m not trying to rush anything,” White said. “I’m just trying to get back (to being) healthy. Get back out there to help the team. But I really feel like I’ll be out there this weekend.”
Hunt expects to be back this weekend as well. He was hoping to play against South Carolina, but his knee flared up before the game.
“I think I’m going to be 100 percent,” Hunt said. “It was a minor injury. Our great training staff got me back. I’m looking forward to this week.”
Missouri scored an average of 38 points per game and threw for 245 passing yards per game when Hunt and White were on the field. The offense was only able to put up 21 points and 132 passing yards in the game against South Carolina that the two seniors missed.
“It’s huge for our offense (to have Hunt and White back),” quarterback Maty Mauk said. “Those are guys that I’ve worked with all summer. I really know them. To get them back out there is going to be huge for us. We need to make sure they’re ready to go tomorrow and have a good week of practice.”
The biggest challenge for Missouri this week will be finding a way to contain Georgia running back Todd Gurley.
“He’s a bigger back,” Pinkel said. “He’s got size and he has great speed. He has a combination of everything. I haven’t seen everybody in the country play, but I can’t imagine another back being better than he is.”
Gurley’s stats jump off the page. The junior running back is ranked in the top 10 nationally in rushing yards, rushing yards per attempt and rushing touchdowns.
“You’re not going to stop him,” Pinkel said. “What you do is you try to contain him.”
Containing him can be difficult. Gurley accounts for more than one-third of Georgia’s total offensive production. He’s rushed for more than 100 yards in three of Georgia’s first five games.
“I’ve never played a back like Todd Gurley,” senior defensive end Markus Golden said. “I would say Eddie Lacy (is the closest comparison). But Gurley is on a different level. We’re ready to play him. He’s a good player, but this is what we live for. We live for games like this and we live to play against great players like him.”
Missouri is using freshman safety Tavon Ross as the practice squad running back this week to emulate Gurley’s violent running style. Pinkel said going up against Gurley will be a huge test for the Missouri defense. He said it’s hugely important for the defense to play fundamentally sound against a running back like Gurley.
“It’s going to be a great challenge for us, but if you are a competitor, and our guys are, it’s a great opportunity for you,” Pinkel said. “You look forward to playing great teams, and great players, and this is a great player that we’re playing against.”
Much has been made over Missouri’s 11 a.m. kickoff against Georgia on Saturday. Some fans complain the early kickoff makes it difficult for out-of-town fans to enjoy the pre-game festivities. And some students have complained the 11 a.m. kickoff is simply too early.
Coaches and players don’t seem to share these sentiments.
“I think every player and coach in the country would rather get up and play at 11 in the morning,” Pinkel said.
Pinkel notes the differences in waking up for an 11 a.m. kickoff as opposed to a night game as one of the main reasons he enjoys the early kickoff time.
“(For an early game) you wake up, you have pre-game meal at 7:00 in the morning,” Pinkel said. “So, the second you bounce out of bed, you better be ready to play. You don’t get any Saturday to work on getting yourself ready to play.”
For what it’s worth, one of the best atmospheres at Faurot Field since Missouri joined the Southeastern Conference was the Missouri vs. Florida game in October 2013, which was an 11 a.m. kickoff. The announced attendance for that game was 67,124.
“We wake up every morning and we’ve got mat drills, we’ve got summer workouts, and then we’ve got camp all fall,” Mauk said. “We’re used to waking up at 5:45 (a.m.), strapping our cleats on and going out there and playing.