Job one for No. 2 Georgia in Saturday’s SEC showdown at Missouri — find a way to slow down Tigers quarterback Drew Lock.
That may be easier said than done.
A senior, Lock is arguably the top quarterback in the SEC, averaging 354 yards passing while throwing 11 touchdowns through three games, and figures to give a young Bulldogs secondary what could be its toughest test this year.
Kickoff at Memorial Stadium in Columbia, Mo., is set for noon ET (ESPN).
Lock certainly has the attention of Georgia head coach Kirby Smart, whose Bulldogs (3-0, 1-0 SEC) look to knock off the Tigers (3-0, 0-0) for the third straight year.
“He can make every throw. He threw the ball outside of the stadium last year on us. I think the biggest thing is his maturity level, his confidence,” said Smart. “He’s seen the coverages. He’s seen the checks. He understands where he wants to go with the ball. He’s got as fast of release as I’ve ever seen. He can get the ball out so quick, and he does such a good job of keying your defenders and knowing where to go with the ball.
“You can tell they really work hard on it, and I think he’s just more mature.”
Bulldogs senior defensive end Jonathan Ledbetter knows all about the challenge the Tigers figure to present.
He’s been part of Georgia’s last two victories, including the Bulldogs’ 28-27 victory during their last trip to Columbia in 2016.
“They have a great football team. They have a great passing game and a great quarterback that is seasoned, he has been there for a while. We played him last year and the year before that,” Ledbetter said. “We’ve had close games with them and it is just going to come down to executing. We’ll have to have a lot of communications like we did in the South Carolina game. We also have to just play smart and play in the ways that benefits the defense. We don’t want anybody isolated in this game. We are going to try to play as a unit.”
Missouri coach Barry Odom is certainly impressed with what he’s seen from the Bulldogs.
“You can’t talk about the top teams in college football without Georgia coming up in the conversation,” Odom said. “You always want to find mismatches … there’s not many out there.”
Lock said Georgia’s defense is one of the best he’s seen.
“It’s almost fun to watch when you’re watching the tape,” Lock said.
Odom’s not too sure about that.
“I would disagree with that,” Odom said. “I haven’t found the fun part yet.”
While Georgia’s defense will be focused on Lock, Missouri’s defense faces some challenges of its own.
The Bulldogs are averaging 45 points in their three wins and face a Tiger team that’s allowing over 300 yards passing per game.
While Georgia will certainly look to take advantage of that aspect of Missouri’s defense with quarterbacks Jake Fromm and Justin Fields, don’t look for the Bulldogs to suddenly forgo their running game, which is averaging 272 yards rushing.
Junior Elijah Holyfield — the son of former heavyweight boxing champion Evander Holyfield — has been responsible for much of that damage, rushing for a career-best 100 yards last week against Middle Tennessee.
“He practices tough, physical. Every day for him is physical. There is not a day he goes out there and says, ‘I’m taking this day off or I’m not going full speed today.’ He’s not a guy you have to motivate,” Smart said. “He loves the game. He practices hard. I think he really likes competition because when he gets thudded by a guy, he always likes to come back and get that guy back.
“You kind of see that out there in his play. He likes contact, and he’s a bowling ball. He’s hard to bring down. He’s really tough.”