- Edward Aschoff, ESPN Staff Writer
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Missouri wide receiver L'Damian Washington is summoning his inner Ricky Bobby when it comes to the Tigers up-tempo offense.
He wants to go fast, fast, fast when it comes to running plays.
"I think we can go a whole lot faster," Washington said.
The "Talladega Nights" star was obsessed with speed and so is Washington when it comes to running new offensive coordinator Josh Henson's offense, which has tired and frustrated defenses all season.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, because of Missouri's offensive pace, the Tigers have run 77 plays per game in 2013, most in the SEC and nearly five more plays per game than they ran in 2012 (72.2). As a result, Missouri ranks second in the SEC and eighth nationally in points per game this season (46.6).
"It's definitely something that's working to our advantage right now," said Washington, who has 340 receiving yards and a team-high five touchdowns. "If we can continue to pick it up or make it faster this week, it's definitely going to be a big advantage for us.
"It's a rewarding feeling that we know we can go faster and wear the defense out."
A great example of Mizzou's offensive speed came on the Tigers' first drive against Vanderbilt last week. It took just 1:17 for Mizzou to drive 75 yards and score on five plays. Only three of their nine scoring drives in their 51-28 win took longer than three minutes.
Saturday, the Tigers take their high-flying offense, which ranks second in the SEC and seventh nationally (543.8 yards per game), into Athens to face a Georgia defense that is surrendering more than 400 yards and 32 points per game.
On paper, the Tigers have the advantage. Fresh off a blowout in Nashville, Mizzou owns the SEC's top rushing attack (258.8), which features four players with 275 or more rushing yards and two touchdowns or more. Quarterback James Franklin is fifth in the SEC with 1,407 passing yards and has 13 touchdowns, and the offense is converting 53.8 percent of its third downs, which ranks third in the SEC and ninth nationally.
"We're putting up points, we're executing, and that's something that's really exciting for us and it makes it more fun," Franklin said. "We've really worked hard and to see it paying off is really good for us and the team as a whole."
To Washington, Franklin's health and his play are what have this up-tempo offense moving so well, and Franklin says he feels less constricted in this offense. There's no over-thinking, there's only instinct. As a result, he's averaging 281.4 yards per game and has just three interceptions.
"I just kind of a react," Franklin said, "like this is there, that's not there, this is there, OK, I'm gonna take it."
For Georgia, Saturday serves as another major test for a defense that is really struggling in SEC games. The Bulldogs might be 3-0 in conference play, but against SEC offenses, their defense is giving up 435.7 yards and 34 points per game. It's also allowing 6.3 yards per play. On third down, SEC teams are converting 51 percent of the time against the Dawgs.
Georgia's defensive task becomes that much tougher with the offense missing some key players due to injury. Against Mizzou, Georgia's defense will be asked to shoulder its largest load of the season.
"We've got to finish the drill like Coach [Mark] Richt said," linebacker Ramik Wilson said. "Finish it. We can't let up on teams. We've got to keep going after them and I think we'll be successful. All 11 dudes have got to do their job and execute the play call and we'll be just fine."
Fine might not be good enough against Mizzou’s red-hot offense. The Tigers' success isn't shocking to players, but it has surprised outsiders, especially a year after Franklin dealt with injury issues and the Tigers’ offense struggled in its first year in the SEC, averaging 25.7 points per game. However, a big offensive performance between the hedges should send more eyes Mizzou's way.
"It doesn't surprise me because I always thought we had one of the best offenses in the country," Washington said.
"If we go down to Georgia and get a win, it's definitely going to wake some people up."
1dSharon Katz, ESPN Stats & Information
3dTom VanHaaren and Erik McKinney