While we might be piling on the SEC Eastern Division because of how messy it's been, Saturday's matchup between No. 13 Georgia (4-1, 2-1 SEC) and No. 23 Missouri (4-1, 1-0) has major SEC race implications.
Yes, we're still paying attention to the East.
Georgia is quietly looking like the best that side of the division has to offer, and a win in Columbia, Missouri on Saturday will make the Bulldogs the clear favorite to head back to Atlanta. But if Georgia is going to cross a tough opponent off its list, the secondary has to tighten things up over the middle of the field.
Against Vanderbilt, the Bulldogs' secondary played well facing both Wade Freedbeck and Stephen Rivers, holding them to just 188 total yards. It was the best performance in SEC play, and while it should give this secondary some confidence, we know that Mizzou quarterback Maty Mauk is better than what Vandy has to offer.
Mauk is averaging 222 yards per game and has thrown 14 touchdowns to four interceptions this year. He can throw the deep ball well and should be excited about the matchups over the middle.
This team gave up 271 passing yards and three touchdowns in its loss to South Carolina and surrendered 284 passing yards and three more touchdowns in a close win over Tennessee. Defenders are seeing a lot of bend at times in the secondary, and know that against two solid pocket passers, the defense was beaten too many times on passes over the middle part of the field.
“As long as we’re all on the same page, we can execute and do the things we’re supposed to do," cornerback Aaron Davis said.
When you ask players what's happening, most point to communication issues or that guys aren't as disciplined in their positioning. Coach Mark Richt said he feels like his defense is "vulnerable" against passes through the middle. So far, it's only cost the Bulldogs one game, but this is not the weekend they can afford to have similar issues in.
“We’ve got people underneath that need to be walling defenders and safeties that have to react on balls that are thrown either down the middle or to the side," Richt said.
What Richt would also like to see is the Bulldogs dial up a little more pressure against opposing quarterbacks. When Tennessee quarterback Justin Worley left the game with an injury, Georgia's defense was more aggressive and went right at back up Nathan Peterman. It's much easier to bring more men at a backup quarterback, who's on the road, but that's the style the Bulldogs would like to play with more.
“That’s definitely what we want to do up front," linebacker Jordan Jenkins said. "We want to alleviate some stress off of the secondary.”
This team has the pass-rushers in Jenkins and Leonard Floyd to make life miserable for quarterbacks, but you can tell that there's been some hesitation to let them loose more because of some weaknesses in the secondary. But Georgia's defense looked so good against Tennessee when it brought the pressure. Yes, the guy lining up under center helped, but the speed and athleticism the Bulldogs have on defense is so impressive when it's bringing pressure.
Georgia has to be better with its coverage, but we've seen that sending guys at Mauk can be an advantage for defenses. You're on the road and and the East is on the line. No need to hold back now.
“The more pressure you can get on the other team, the more it’s going to rattle them," defensive end Ray Drew said. "You want that kind of confusion from the opposing team.”