No. 13 Georgia, Mississippi State eager to return to field
There are plenty of questions swirling around the Southeastern Conference this week as Mississippi State prepares to travel to Georgia for a meeting of teams that share the same nickname, Bulldogs.
The most unanswerable early in the week was whether the game will actually take place. Both teams had their games postponed a week ago owing to COVID-19 issues, Georgia failing to make the trip to Missouri and Mississippi State’s home game with Auburn not played.
Georgia coach Kirby Smart said, “We certainly are confident that we are going to be able to play Mississippi State. We feel good about where we are. We feel good about where they are. That’s communicated, so we feel good about playing.”
It’s just the uncertainty that’s loathsome, according to Mississippi State coach Mike Leach.
“The distractions have been very frustrating,” Leach said. “I think they have been for everybody — fans and everybody. We try to just lock into practice. To be perfectly honest, I think practice has been the most pleasant releases our players have had. I’m sure that’s probably the case around the country.”
No. 13 Georgia (4-2, 4-2 SEC) has lost two of its last three games, falling to then-No. 8 Florida and No. 2 Alabama. Mississippi State (2-4, 2-4) snapped a four-game losing streak by beating Vanderbilt in its most recent game.
Georgia leads the all-time series 18-6 and leads 11-2 in games played in Athens. Georgia won the last meeting 31-3 in 2017. This will be homecoming week for Georgia, where the hosts are 78-18-2.
Another big question surrounds Georgia’s starting quarterback position. Stetson Bennett hurt his shoulder against Florida and could be on the verge of losing the job, even if healthy. One possibility is D’Wan Mathis, who started and struggled in the season opener against Arkansas.
But the other possibility for Georgia — and many think the likely starter — is the intriguing JT Daniels, the highly touted transfer from Southern California, who has yet to play after missing most of last season with a knee injury. Daniels had been projected as the starter before the season, but his knee did not gain medical clearance in time for the season-opener, so Bennett started.
Daniels has since been cleared medically, but Smart said the competition would continue through game week.
“You just try to make the best situation you can to give your team an opportunity to win,” Smart said. “You have to put the best guys out there that give you the best opportunity to win.”
For Leach, quarterbacks aren’t typically a problem. He has developed a 3,000-yard passer in 17 of his 18 seasons as a head coach. It isn’t likely to happen this season, although quarterback K.J. Costello has thrown for 1,283 yards, an average of 256.6 yards per game, and six touchdowns.
Costello will be challenged by the aggressive Georgia defense, which allows only 20.8 points per game and ranks second in the league with 18 sacks. The Bulldogs are especially tough against the run, ranking fourth nationally allowing just 82.8 yards per game. But Georgia will again be without preseason All-America candidate Richard LeCounte, who is recovering from a shoulder injury sustained in a motorcycle accident three weeks ago.
The Mississippi State defense is young; the team has 14 defensive players on the two-deep roster who are freshmen or sophomores. But veteran defensive ends Marquiss Spencer (21 career tackles for loss) and Kobe Jones (20 career tackles for loss) are a concern for with Georgia’s running game. Mississippi State is third in the SEC, allowing 127.2 yards rushing per game, and third in total defense (359.8 yards).
–Field Level Media