Who Has the Edge in Georgia's Matchup with Mississippi State?
After two long weeks, Georgia football finally returns to action Saturday. The Bulldogs host Mississippi State looking to improve to 5-2 and ascend back into the AP top 10, where they have spent the better part of the last four seasons.
Can Georgia show Mississippi State who are the better Bulldogs in the SEC? Or will Mississippi State return home with a much-needed victory for its program's morale? Here's where each team has an advantage:
Georgia run offense vs. Mississippi State run defense
Mississippi State has a very good run defense (third-best in the SEC), but it won't be good enough to shut down Zamir White and James Cook for four quarters. Kenny McIntosh might also return from an injury that sidelined him for two games.
Georgia's offensive line, led by fifth-year senior Ben Cleveland, has a strong case for best in the conference. The unit is at its most dominant on running plays. White has 509 yards and seven touchdowns through six games. Cook and injured backups McIntosh and Kendall Milton each average above 4.8 yards per carry.
However, this isn't a clear edge for Georgia. If its passing attack doesn't function, Mississippi State's defense is capable of taking advantage of the one-dimensional offense.
Mississippi State run offense vs. Georgia run defense
Mississippi State's running game is non-existent. Kylin Hill, who rushed for over 1,300 yards last season, opted out three games into the season. Gone too are backup Nick Gibson and running quarterbacks Garrett Shrader and Tommy Stevens.
Through six games this season, Mississippi has just 141 rushing yards and 131 of those yards belong to true freshman Jo'Quavious Marks.
Meanwhile, Georgia has the best run defense in the conference, allowing just 82.8 yards per game and 3.2 yards per carry. Superstar nose guard Jordan Davis may also return from injury this week, adding more strength to the run defense.
Georgia pass offense vs. Mississippi State pass defense
This could go either way. With George Pickens back, Georgia's receiving corps should be close enough to full strength. However, quarterback JT Daniels is making his first start for Georgia.
Daniels' topsy-turvy college career includes an interception-heavy freshman campaign at USC; a season-ending ACL tear one game into his sophomore season; and a long recovery from the knee injury that hurt his ability to move in and out of the pocket.
Mississippi State's pass defense is bolstered by a very good pass rush that has produced 14 sacks this season. Its ability to create pressure has also led to six interceptions. This isn't a great defense for Daniel to make his first start against.
Edge: Mississippi State
Mississippi State pass offense vs. Georgia pass defense
Mississippi State attempts and completes a lot of passes. The injured K.J. Costello and current starter Will Rogers have combined for 217 completions on 323 attempts.
However, neither has generated a lot of yards or touchdowns. Costello had 1,283 yards and six touchdowns before suffering a head injury. Rogers has 536 yards and only two touchdowns. Costello also threw 10 interceptions and Rogers hasn't fared much better with four picks.
Georgia's defense struggled against stellar pass offenses (mostly due to injuries against Florida), but the group has dominated every other passing game. Davis' return should help the pass rushers get into the backfield quicker.
All the intangibles are in Georgia's favor. Georgia plays "between the hedges' for the first time in over a month. Even in the COVID-19 world, playing at home is still a big deal. The Sanford Stadium crowd was loud and electric for games against Auburn and Florida. Mississippi State is traveling over 350 miles for the game.
Georgia is also healthy after receiving a second bye week when its game with Missouri was moved to Dec. 19. While Georgia would have liked to have a chance to immediately bounce back after the loss to Florida, the extra week off allowed injured players to heal.
Pickens, Davis, McIntosh and safety Lewis Cine may all return. Linebackers Monty Rice and Nakobe Dean have been banged up as well and wide receiver Arian Smith may make his Georgia football debut.
The biggest intangible in Georgia's favor is the turmoil the Mississippi State program is experiencing. Four players have opted out and 13 players entered the transfer portal. Hill is the most notable opt-out. He could have added balance to Mississippi State's offense while being a credible threat in the passing game. Hill had 237 receiving yards when he opted out.
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