Battle of the Bulldogs
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The Georgia Bulldogs travel to Starkville to play against their cross-division counterpart in Mike Leach’s Mississippi State Bulldogs. The 6-3 Dogs just won in overtime at home against a hapless and Harbin-less Auburn team and the Dawgs knocked off the #1 ranked Tennessee Volunteers in convincing fashion 27-13.
The Dogs began the season with big wins over Memphis and Arizona before losing their first SEC match up to the surging LSU Tigers 31-16. Then, the Dogs beat Bowling Green, before thrashing the A&M Aggies and the Razorbacks.
Mississippi State’s offense went missing for two games, as they lost to Kentucky and then Alabama, scoring a combined 23 points in those games. Now, State seems to still be slumping after barely beating the worst team in the SEC West.
Mike Leach is the brain behind the Air Raid offense. This pass-happy style of play is known for getting the ball out quickly on short routes, spreading out the defense, and busting the occasional big play.
It’s certainly pass-first in nature, although the run is not totally abandoned. Leach has successfully implemented his offense everywhere he has gone, but it took off while he coached Texas Tech and Washington State.
At Texas Tech, Leach’s teams led the NCAA in passing yards for 3 consecutive seasons. In 2020, he took over the Mississippi State job and started off with a win over then, #6 ranked LSU.
However, he went on to only win 2 more games for that season. Last year, State managed a 7-6 record and are on pace to top that this season.
QB Will Rodgers became the starter this season at State early on. He lit up UGA a couple years back, even as a freshman. This year, he has led the conference in passing yards with nearly 3000 yards through 9 games. He has 26 touchdowns and 5 INTs. He isn’t a threat to run in this offense, but his arm gives defenses plenty to worry about.
Rodgers will dink and dunk down the field rather than take chunk shots. They’ll run it, but Miss. St. is the team that everyone said Tennessee is. By that I mean that they really are a pass-happy team that makes quick, easy throws and who sometimes runs its.
Tennessee is a run team that gashes you on big plays downfield. You can’t overlook their running backs, but State doesn’t have much of an offensive line.
When you don’t have to block long, it often doesn’t matter, though. WR Rara Thomas leads the team in yards and averages over 15 yards/catch. 6’5 Caleb Ducking is a big target in the red zone and his 8 touchdowns on the year proves they like to look at him in scoring situations.
The Mississippi State defense could give UGA some trouble, especially early on. They use an odd front and an uncommon defensive base to throw off defenses.
They typically align in a 3-3-5, allowing one of their 5 linebackers/DBs to come in to blitz from a variety of positions. The defense returned 9 starters from last year’s team, so they have plenty of experience.
The defense is led by CB Emmanuel Forbes, who is an NFL talent. His 5 interceptions leads the team. I expect an unfamiliar defensive look to give Georgia’s offensive line and Stetson Bennett a little bit of trouble.
The Dawgs are still injured and may be coming down off of the high of beating Tennessee. Yet, the offense continues to hum, despite its tendency to turn the ball over. Defensively, Georgia showed a masterclass in how to stop Tennessee in all fronts.
Having Jalen Carter back drastically changes the defensive line. DB Javon Bullard is fearless and seems to get better each game. The reality is that UGA is hitting their stride defensively and offensively they are rarely perfect but have multiple ways to beat you.
This week, Georgia is favored by about 16 points. If Stetson and the offensive line have taken steps forward this year, State’s unique defense won’t give them much trouble. Defensively, the Dawgs need to tackle as well as they did last week and they ought to be fine.
Kirby is often capable of completely shutting down offensive that are one-dimensional. State’s offense gets pretty one dimensional.
Match Up and Prediction
The Dawgs going on the road at night where weather may be inclement is not an ideal situation. I’m guessing Georgia will start a little bit slow in one of the two halves. However, the Dawgs will be surprisingly stout in defense in this game. There are a couple reasons why Georgia may stumble in this game, but Kirby almost always has his guys ready to play. I’m trying to not question the Dawgs, and I’m predicting a bigger score than my gut tells me.