NCF Nation: Hutson Mason

ACC helmet stickers: Week 14

November, 30, 2014
Nov 30
Well, as rivalry weeks go, this is about as good as it gets for the ACC. And with that in mind, there’s plenty of competition for the helmet stickers.

Virginia Tech DL Dadi Nicolas: The Hokies needed a win to continue a decade-long streak of wins over rival Virginia, but more importantly, to get bowl eligible. Michael Brewer, Bucky Hodges and the offense did just enough to get the win in the end, but it was the defense that set the stage, and Nicolas was the star. He racked up nine tackles, including two for a loss, a sack and five QB hurries in the game, and Nicolas helped stifle the UVA running game to the tune of just 38 yards allowed.

Clemson QB Deshaun Watson and WR Artavis Scott: Watson’s passing numbers certainly looked a lot better Saturday thanks to his roommate. Scott took three short throws and raced downfield for big gains, finishing with seven catches for 185 yards and two touchdowns. Watson played on a torn ACL, as Dabo Swinney admitted after the game, but still accounted for four touchdowns. And most importantly, for the first time since 2008, Clemson toppled its in-state rival.

Georgia Tech RB Zach Laskey: The senior had never beaten Georgia, but he did his part to ensure it happened Saturday. Laskey ran 26 times for 140 yards with three touchdowns, including a 2-yarder that proved to be the difference in overtime. Of course, a big hat tip still goes to kicker Harrison Butker, whose 53-yard field goal as time expired sent the game to OT, and to D.J. White, who picked off Hutson Mason to seal the win.

Louisville WR DeVante Parker: Down both of its top two QBs, Louisville didn’t need to worry. Parker makes everyone look good. Kyle Bolin came on in relief of Reggie Bonnafon and connected with Parker three times for scores. Overall, Parker caught six passes for 180 yards to help the Cardinals knock off Kentucky. But a special helmet sticker also goes to Gerod Holliman, who sealed the game with an INT -- his 14th of the season, tying the NCAA record.

NC State QB Jacoby Brissett: Perhaps the biggest surprise of the day was the Wolfpack thumping North Carolina, and Brissett was the star. He completed just nine passes for 66 yards, but threw three touchdowns and added another on the ground, while rushing for 167 yards in the win. Teammate Shadrach Thornton chipped in with another 161 yards and a TD, too.

Florida State RB Dalvin Cook: The storyline is getting awfully familiar. FSU falls behind early. Jameis Winston coughs up some costly turnovers. And then the freshman tailback saves the day late. It was more of the same against Florida as Winston slumped through four INTs, but Cook was spectacular. He rushed 24 times for 144 yards and caught two passes for 28 yards. Overall, Cook had eight plays of 10 yards or more in the win.

Pitt receiver Tyler Boyd: The Panthers needed a win in Miami to get bowl eligible, and Boyd did all he could to ensure it happened. He caught five passes for 72 yards and scored on an all-out dive for the end zone. He also added 190 yards in the return game to set Pitt up with terrific field position throughout the game. The end result? Two 6-6 teams headed in completely opposite directions.

What we learned in the SEC: Week 14

November, 30, 2014
Nov 30
A wild final weekend of the regular season in the SEC ended with Alabama's 55-44 win over rival Auburn in a memorable Iron Bowl on Saturday night.

Let's recap five things we learned:

Bow down to the ACC: Well this is new. A couple of the games were close, but the ACC won all four of its rivalry games against SEC opponents on Saturday. With Louisville joining the ACC this year and moving its rivalry game with Kentucky to the final weekend of the regular season, that brought the number of ACC-SEC finales to four (joining Florida-Florida State, Georgia-Georgia Tech and South Carolina-Clemson). The SEC hadn't gone 0-4 in those games since 2000 and hadn't done any worse than 2-2 since 2003.

[+] EnlargeAmari Cooper
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesAmari Cooper and Alabama are now the SEC's only legitimate candidate for the College Football Playoff.
Postseason picture: With Ole Miss knocking off No. 4 Mississippi State 31-17 the SEC is down to one legit playoff contender: No. 1 Alabama, which had to rally to beat Auburn on Saturday. The Crimson Tide will assuredly remain in the top four if they beat Missouri in next Saturday's SEC championship game, but if they don't? Gasp ... the SEC will likely be left out of the playoff. On the brighter side from an SEC perspective, Tennessee's 24-17 win over Vanderbilt gave the conference 12 bowl-eligible teams. It would have been 13 if Kentucky hadn't fallen just short in its upset bid against Louisville, losing 44-40.

Mizzou got it done: Let's take a moment to celebrate Missouri. The Tigers sit in the middle of the pack (or worse) in the vast majority of SEC team statistical categories, but Gary Pinkel's Tigers still bounced back from ugly losses to Indiana and Georgia to win the East for a second straight season. Did they play the easiest conference schedule in the league? Without question. Should they apologize for that? Absolutely not. Georgia blew it. South Carolina and Florida stunk up the division for most of the year. Mizzou was the only one that did what it needed to do, and kudos to Pinkel's team for getting the job done.

No excuses, Georgia: Saturday's 30-24 loss to Georgia Tech -- which went to overtime on Georgia Tech's 53-yard field goal at the buzzer and ended with a Hutson Mason interception at the Georgia Tech 5 -- added insult to injury for Georgia. The Bulldogs' error-filled loss was a reminder of their many missed opportunities. Georgia beat the team that will represent the SEC East in the conference championship game, Missouri, 34-0 on the road. And yet it lost to South Carolina and Florida, which were mediocre at best. This Georgia team should have been in the conversation for a playoff berth, but some seriously uninspired football allowed Missouri to slip into the SEC title game and let Georgia Tech snap a five-game series losing streak on Saturday.

Home field matters: Think home-field advantage doesn't matter in a rivalry game? Look down Saturday's results: Out of seven traditional rivalry games played Saturday, five home teams (Alabama, Ole Miss, Clemson, Louisville and Florida State) won. It could have been six if Georgia hadn't choked away a lead in the final 18 seconds of regulation. That includes two huge games in the playoff picture (Alabama and Ole Miss) and another (Clemson over South Carolina) that snapped a five-game series losing streak.
A thrilling renewal of the Georgia-Georgia Tech rivalry ended in overtime for a second straight year -- with Tech winning this time 30-24 on D.J. White's overtime interception.

Georgia (9-3) scored what it thought was the game-winning touchdown on a Malcolm Mitchell catch with 18 seconds left in regulation, only to have Georgia Tech (10-2) force overtime with a 53-yard Harrison Butker field goal at the buzzer.

Georgia was close to scoring the game-tying points on its first overtime possession when White picked off Hutson Mason at the 5-yard line to clinch the win.

Let’s recap the memorable meeting between the Bulldogs and Yellow Jackets:

How the game was won: Georgia Tech’s grind-it-out rushing attack dominated the second half, but the Yellow Jackets needed Butker’s miraculous field goal at the last second to force overtime. Once they got into overtime, the Jackets ran it five straight plays to post what would become the game-winning touchdown on a Zach Laskey dive.

Game ball goes to: Laskey. The Georgia Tech running back was a force, scoring the Jackets’ go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter and their winning touchdown in overtime. The tough runner finished the day with 140 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 26 carries.

What it means: Not only did Tech stop a five-game losing streak against Georgia, but it gained a measure of retribution. The Jackets blew a 20-0 lead against Georgia last season before losing in double overtime. Saturday they rallied in the final seconds to force overtime and spoiled senior day at Sanford Stadium with their victory.

Playoff implication: Probably none. Georgia is ninth in the College Football Playoff rankings, and Georgia Tech is No. 16. With Georgia not playing for the SEC title next week, its playoff chances were shot. And Georgia Tech is far enough back that even a win against Florida State probably wouldn’t help the Jackets crack the top four.

What’s next: Missouri’s win against Arkansas means that Mizzou, not Georgia, will play in the SEC title game next Saturday. Georgia’s next game will be its bowl appearance. Georgia Tech, however, gets one more game before bowl season. It faces FSU in the ACC title game next Saturday.
In Georgia, they call the Georgia-Georgia Tech rivalry “Clean Old-Fashioned Hate” because of the mutual dislike between the two schools.

The dislike remains as strong as ever, but the rivalry has lost some of its luster since Mark Richt became Georgia’s coach in 2001. The Bulldogs (9-2) are 12-1 against the Yellow Jackets (9-2) under Richt, and it will be an upset if they lose this week. Richt’s tenure is full of close games, however, and it wouldn’t be much of a surprise to see another hotly contested matchup between the two rivals.

ESPN football writers Matt Fortuna and David Ching break down the classic ACC-SEC rivalry below:

[+] EnlargeJustin Thomas
Daniel Shirey/Getty ImagesWhile Justin Thomas has shown an ability to throw the ball, Georgia Tech's offensive gameplan still involves pounding its opposition on the ground.
Key to victory for Georgia Tech:There is nothing fancy on the agenda of the Yellow Jackets entering Athens: They must win the turnover battle. Georgia Tech is tied for No. 9 nationally in turnover margin (plus-10); Georgia is No. 2 (plus-16). The difference between the two teams is that the Bulldogs have a pretty good defense, one that is ranked No. 13 nationally. The same cannot exactly be said for the Jackets (61st nationally), who have made up for that by regularly taking the ball away. The triple-option offense, of course, is only painful for the opposition to defend when it's efficient, as Georgia Tech can shorten the game and limit the other offense's scoring opportunities.

Key to victory for Georgia: Sure, Tech is more versatile on offense this season, but the No. 1 task in beating the Jackets is slowing down its option rushing game. Tech ranks third nationally with 327.9 rushing yards per game. Tech is better at passing -- Georgia learned that lesson the hard way last season -- but the Jackets won’t bother putting the ball in the air if their running game is moving the chains and eating clock. Georgia has to keep Justin Thomas, Synjyn Days and Zach Laskey on the sidelines as long as possible.

X-factor for Georgia Tech:Georgia Tech's offense is typically capable of beating you with its arm when you least expect it, but this year's outfit can do some serious damage in the passing game. Thomas has surprised everyone under center, and a big key to that has been his favorite target: DeAndre Smelter, a 6-foot-3, 222-pounder who is second in the ACC in yards per catch (21.0).

X-Factor for Georgia: It’s not only on the defensive front to slow down Tech’s running game and keep the Jackets’ offense on the sidelines. If the Bulldogs’ offensive line gives freshman sensation Nick Chubb (161 carries, 1,152 yards, 11 TDs) room to run and quarterback Hutson Mason can put together some long scoring drives, that would be another way to neutralize what Tech does best.

Fortuna’s favorite moment from the rivalry:It's not every day you lose the passing game battle by a 407-19 margin and still win, but that's exactly what happened to Georgia Tech in its 2008 trip to Sanford Stadium. The Jackets beat Matthew Stafford, the No. 1 pick in the following spring's NFL Draft, 45-42 behind 409 yards on the ground. It was coach Paul Johnson's first game in the rivalry, and his team came back from 16 down at the half to pull off the upset and break a seven-game losing streak in the series. It is Georgia Tech's only win in the rivalry in the last 13 years.

Ching’s favorite moment from the rivalry: I covered this game nine times and there were plenty of memorable moments on the field: Tony Taylor, Paul Oliver and Mohamed Massaquoi’s heroics in Georgia’s 2006 comeback win; the “We Run This State” game where Georgia backs Caleb King and Washaun Ealey combined for 349 rushing yards in 2009; a wild 2010 contest that Georgia eventually won 42-34; last year’s double-overtime classic where Tech broke out to a 20-0 lead and the Bulldogs rallied back to win 41-34. But the moment I remember most probably also came in the 2008 game. It was when beloved radio announcer Larry Munson -- who had retired earlier that season -- made his final appearance at Sanford Stadium and Georgia’s fans chanted the 86-year-old legend’s name during an in-game ceremony honoring his four decades as the Bulldogs’ play-by-play man. It was cool to see the fans show their appreciation to a man who had enriched their lives for so many years.
Every week, Georgia quarterback Hutson Mason carries a symbol to remember one of his closest friends, former Auburn tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen.

From a blue "43" lapel pin that he's worn for each of Georgia's weekly media days, to a hat he wears on the sidelines every game with “Lutz 43” stitched on it. The "43" stands for the number Lutzenkirchen wore at Auburn and for the St. Louis Rams in the NFL before his tragic death this summer.

 A childhood friend and a former high school teammate at Lassiter High in Marietta, Georgia, Lutzenkirchen was a passenger in a fatal alcohol-related crash in Troup County outside of LaGrange, Georgia, on June 30. Lutzenkirchen, 23, was one of two people who died at the scene after he was ejected from the backseat of a 2006 Chevrolet Tahoe.

“The guy would have definitely been in my wedding," said Mason, who actually spoke to Lutzenkirchen the night before the crash.

Mason has taken time each week to pay visible respects to one of his best friends, but with Auburn in town this weekend, this week has a more special meaning for Mason. In the past, Mason said he always looked forward to the Auburn game because it gave the two a chance to catch up. Usually, there are texts and phone calls between the two and laughs here and there to lighten the mood before the game.

This year, those laughs didn't come, and the phone calls and texts never went through.

But Mason makes sure his dear friend is still a part of his life. It's more spiritual than physical, but Mason proudly shows his friendship for the world to see. On Saturday, Mason plans to wear wristbands with "43" on them, similar to the ones he wore during Georgia's opener against Clemson.

“I’m just trying to honor Philip and everything he meant to me," Mason said.

You could tell the impact Lutzenkirchen had on people by the several thousand who attended a public memorial for him at Lassiter's football stadium. He was more than just a record-setting tight end at Auburn. He was someone Mason called "super witty" and who could recall movie lines or jokes “on the drop of a dime” that were so relative to what you were talking about that it made everything he said so funny.

“Philip obviously had that innate gift from God inside of him that he could make people smile," Mason said.

“A lot of people don’t have that gift, and he was definitely one of them [who had it]. People tend to flock and gather around people like that, and that’s why Philip had so many friends.”

His humor could bring tears to your eyes, and his caring personality made you feel warm inside. People loved Philip Lutzenkirchen, and Mason won't forget how special he was and, really, still is.

“You just try to remember Philip for the legacy that he left outside of football," Mason said. "He had an impact on people from Auburn to Georgia to wherever.”
It would have been so easy for Todd Gurley to walk away.

With his suspension taking four games away from him and there not being any guarantee Georgia would be crowned SEC East champs or make the College Football Playoff, ending his Bulldogs career and getting a head start on his NFL training would have been a very viable option. In fact, he probably wouldn't have received a ton of backlash because he's putting millions on the line by stepping back on the college field for the Bulldogs.

But Gurley didn't want to go out like that. After putting himself before his team and taking $3,000 for autographed memorabilia and other items over the course of two years, Gurley is now putting his team ahead of his own eventual personal gain in an honorable move to play out his junior season.

[+] EnlargeTodd Gurley
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesTodd Gurley's return to the field for Georgia is not without personal risk.
“It shows what kind of team guy he is," quarterback Hutson Mason said. "A lot of people think of really good players like that as guys who are egotistical and think of themselves. It shows that Todd really has that family-oriented mindset and that he wants to do what’s best for this team.

“No matter what people were telling him, it showed that Todd had something in his heart where he cares about others and cares about these guys and he cares about finishing off right.”

Gurley certainly wasn't the same team guy when he broke NCAA rules and accepted money for his likeness, but he's served his time away from the field and he's coming back. It's a more respectable exit for a player who has meant so much to his university in the last three years.

But is it risky? You bet.

It's obvious this is Gurley's last year on campus. He's arguably the nation's best running back and, despite missing four games, could still rush for more than 1,000 yards after accumulating 773 before his suspension with a ridiculous 8.2 yards per carry.

For his career, Gurley has 3,147 rushing yards, 35 rushing touchdowns, 17 100-yard rushing games and a career average of 6.5 yards per carry. He's too good and too accomplished not to head to the NFL early, but his return this season comes with caution, especially if there's nothing really to play for after this weekend's bout with Auburn.

We've seen players return to college after more than proving their NFL worth and suffering physical or statistical setbacks. The recent news of former South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore's sudden and unfortunate retirement from football before even playing an NFL down had to have spooked Gurley, who is risking millions by playing out his Georgia career.

Lattimore was arguably the nation's best running back while he was at South Carolina but suffered two devastating knee injuries that his body never fully recovered from. Freak accidents and injuries happen all the time, but it only takes one.

Still, it sounds like Gurley never considered taking the easy way out.

“It may have crossed his mind, but he didn’t act like it was crossing his mind," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "He wanted to be with his teammates from the very beginning.”

And after previously putting his team second, Gurley should be commended for playing instead of souring his squad's season and his own legacy. Georgia can still win the SEC East, and the Dawgs have an outside shot at the playoff. Having Gurley with them makes them legitimate contenders for both, again.

"I think he’s a guy that is a very good teammate who made a mistake," Richt said. "He cares about his teammates, he cares about his team and he loves playing football for the University of Georgia.

“And he can’t wait to do it again.”
Another eventful Saturday in the SEC. Here’s what we learned:

Bama is still alive but needs work: It wasn’t pretty, but Alabama’s playoff hopes are still intact after the Crimson Tide survived a thriller in Death Valley 20-13 in overtime. Despite a critical T.J. Yeldon fumble in the final minutes of regulation, the Tide were able to hold LSU to a field goal then benefited from a special-teams miscue as Trent Domingue booted the ensuing kickoff out of bounds. Blake Sims came up big by directing a game-tying drive then threw a picturesque pass to DeAndrew White for the game-winning touchdown in overtime. With No. 3 Auburn losing on Saturday, Alabama looks poised to move into the top four of the College Football Playoff rankings, and with No. 1 Mississippi State coming to town next week and the Iron Bowl in three weeks, the Crimson Tide control their own destiny. One thing is clear though: They can’t make the mistakes they did Saturday if they’re going to win out. Sims has to be better in the earlier portions of the game (he missed some open receivers), they can’t drop the football (Amari Cooper had one in crunch time) and surviving a late turnover like the one they had Saturday is hard to replicate against elite teams. They were fortunate to win Saturday; now they must turn the page and improve before the Bulldogs come to Tuscaloosa.

[+] EnlargeKyle Allen
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesTexas A&M's Kyle Allen helped diminish Auburn's playoff hopes with a four-touchdown effort.
Auburn’s playoff hopes are likely done: There are a lot of quality one-loss teams remaining in the field; a second loss is a killer for Auburn -- especially coming at home to an unranked team that hadn’t played well since September. For a little bit, it looked like the Tigers would pull off some of the late-game magic that has become a signature trait of theirs in the Gus Malzahn era, but two late fourth-quarter fumbles squashed their hopes and left them with a 41-38 loss. “It hurts,” Malzahn said. “It hurts our team. We have goals and dreams, and we did not get it done tonight.” The turnovers on offense late were one factor, but there were others: the first-half defense was poor and the secondary was torched in the first two quarters. On special teams, an Auburn field goal attempt was blocked and returned for a touchdown to end the first half. The Tigers were sloppy quite a bit on Saturday and they paid for it in the end. Now the Tigers must turn around and head to Georgia next week and close out at Alabama in three weeks, so the road remains tough down the stretch.

No hangover for Georgia: If you thought the Bulldogs were going to let the upset loss to Florida affect them moving forward, think again. Mark Richt’s crew responded emphatically, jumping out to a quick three-touchdown lead in Lexington and rolling to a 63-31 win over Kentucky. Georgia had success in all three phases, rolling up 559 offensive yards, holding Kentucky to 139 passing yards on 16 of 31 attempts and scored two special-teams touchdowns -- a kickoff return (90 yards) and punt return (59 yards) for scores by Isaiah McKenzie. Nick Chubb had another great performance at running back (13 carries, 170 yards) and Hutson Mason threw for four scores. The Bulldogs still need help from Missouri in the form of a loss, but they’re still very much alive in the SEC East.

Treon Harris can throw it around: Last week, the Florida quarterback attempted only six passes versus Georgia but on Saturday, the Gators trusted their true freshman more and Harris delivered, completing 13 of 21 passes for 215 yards. There were no touchdown passes, but more importantly, no interceptions and Harris was accurate and showed off his deep ball with this 59-yard beauty to Quinton Dunbar. Harris did solid work on the ground, too, rushing for 49 yards and two touchdowns in Florida’s 34-10 win over Vanderbilt. The Gators need to continue to win and need help from others, but they still have a pulse in the SEC East race.

Kevin Sumlin can still pull a rabbit out of his visor: Texas A&M was a 23-point underdog going into Jordan-Hare Stadium, lost its past three SEC games, had a true freshman quarterback, a beat up offensive line and a defense with a lot of youngsters starting. All the Aggies did was jump out to a 35-17 halftime lead and hang on for dear life to upset the No. 3 team in the nation in its own house. Sumlin’s Aggies pulled off a similar stunt almost two years to the day when they went into Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and took down the No. 1 Crimson Tide 29-24 behind freshman quarterback and eventual Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel. Is Kyle Allen (four touchdown passes) the next star quarterback in Aggieland? It’s too early to say but he had a memorable performance on Saturday at Auburn and he gives the seemingly left-for-dead Aggies some reason for optimism in the final weeks of the regular season. Sure, Auburn made a lot of mistakes, but Texas A&M played better than it had in more than a month, showing flashes of the team that started 5-0 this season.
Paula Days was talking on speakerphone Monday night about her son's recent breakout when her husband interjected.

"Right now we're breaking down the North Carolina State-Syracuse game," Calvin Days said. "She's looking at the line. We're looking at personnel, looking at techniques, looking at a particular linebacker getting pushed off the ball. Looking at opportunities and looking at tendencies."

Synjyn Days' parents do this for fun now, as a way of staying involved in their son's career at Georgia Tech, which travels to NC State this Saturday. And as a way of possibly getting back into their part-time careers.

"Really?" Paula cracked, after her husband suggested a return to the sideline upon Synjyn's graduation.

[+] EnlargeSynjyn Days
Mike Stewart/Associated PressSynjyn Days has rushed for more than 100 yards in back-to-back games for Georgia Tech.
Sure, many football players are the products of parents who coach. But how many grew up with two coaches in their households?

That was the situation Days was raised in, as both his father and his mother coached him at Osbourne Middle School in Hoschton, Georgia. They gave up coaching when Days got to high school, but their lessons — and their extra homework — have stuck with the redshirt senior. Days has stepped up in place of the injured Zach Laskey to tally career-best rushing efforts in each of his last two games, eclipsing the 100-yard mark in both. He ran the option as quarterback at Hillgrove (Ga.) High, served as a backup quarterback during his first two years with the Yellow Jackets and has played A-back and B-back since.

"Everyone on the team calls me the C-back because I've played A-back, B-back and quarterback," Days quipped. "So I pretty much know all the skill positions. But I just look to step in any role where the team needs me. That's the mentality I've always taken -- not really worried about myself but worried about the team's needs and other people. That's how my parents had raised me."

No kidding. His father said the only position Days has yet to play is punter.

"When we coach, the mindset is we had to understand the game," Calvin Days said. "Defensively, we wanted every defensive player to know the other players' responsibilities as well. Our guard could tell you what Cover 1 or Cover 2 or Cover 3 was, and even with Synjyn it was really important. Traditionally you get locked in a position and you just play that. But for us we thought it was important to really know and understand the game, because you never knew where they were going to be."

Calvin, whose dreams to play as a Florida State student were derailed by health issues, was coaching his son's team at Osbourne but longed for more time with his wife and family as a whole. So he invited Paula to join his staff. Her response — "I don't know anything about football" — was expected, but soon enough Calvin had his 5-foot-3, 110-pound wife in the trenches, barking orders as Osbourne's offensive and defensive line coach.

Calvin, a financial analyst, reasoned that the technical aspects of the positions would best suit Paula, an engineer. She would join the rest of the staff in film sessions and even invite players over to the house to help her get up to speed.

This was no ragtag bunch, either — pupils of the Days include current college starting quarterbacks Hutson Mason (Georgia) and Chandler Whitmer (UConn).

"In middle school, all kids are pretty much hard-heads then, but for some reason when a woman tells you to do something, you should probably listen to the woman more," Synjyn said, laughing. "It would hurt more to see my mom disappointed than my dad."

His parents are well aware.

"That's pretty accurate," Paula said. "That's not just for football, but I think life, period. It's interesting how that works out with kids. Dad was a disciplinarian in our house, but I can just give him a look and he goes to tears."

Added Calvin: "She's up at 4:30 every morning herself working out. Traditionally you would have the mom who's compassionate — 'Oh, it's OK' — and he just didn't get that break. [If] he got hurt during the game, she would always say, 'Don't let them see you hurt.' Everyone's like, Is he OK? She's like, 'You better get up.' "

Synjyn Days
Courtesy of Days familySynjyn Days' parents understand the X's and O's of football better than most.
Days' parents still harp on him now. The family has always preached the importance of a healthy lifestyle, regularly exercising together and helping Synjyn with agility drills in the offseason. (His brother, junior end Jabari Hunt-Days, is academically ineligible at Georgia Tech this season.)

Game days offer their own set of challenges for the family, as Paula insists on sitting behind an end zone so that she can get a better view of the offensive line. Synjyn does not need to be told that these last two performances are as much his blockers' doing as his own.

"Although Synjyn may be getting a little bit of recognition for his last two performances, he really can't make the plays if the offensive line doesn't do what they have to do and if the coaches don't make the right call and the quarterback doesn't make the right read," Paula said. "It's definitely a team sport, and I always have to take up for my offensive line.

"You tell them thank you when you make those long runs. He's like, 'Of course, Mom. Yeah, I do.'"

As for his parents' advice off film heading into Saturday?

"The funny thing is it's really more armchair entertainment, because the reality is Coach [Paul] Johnson could probably care less," Calvin said.

As their son thrives with a bigger workload now, though, the Days family's hard-nosed philosophy continues to pay off. Good thing Synjyn was paying attention all those years to his coaches — in the household and out of it.
No Todd Gurley for two more weeks and no spot in the top 10 of the College Football Playoff rankings for Georgia? Have no fear, Bulldogs, our Edward Aschoff is here with a pep talk.

Hey Georgia Bulldogs, lift those chins up and poke those chests out. You've got a playoff run to make.

[+] EnlargeTodd Gurley
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesHey Georgia, it's on you to win the next two games. If you are able to do that, you'll get this guy back for the big one against Auburn.
 The past few days haven't been very kind to you guys at all. It started with hope, as rumors swirled that star running back Todd Gurley would be back in time to help trample the Gators in Jacksonville. He was even reportedly taking first-team reps.

Then, the first tattered domino fell Tuesday night. The College Football Playoff committee wasn't very impressed with you. Couple that bad, early-season loss to a less-than-impressive South Carolina team with what the committee must have thought was a soft first-half slate, and you debuted in the College Football Playoff Rankings at No. 11. I even agree that the best win Georgia has is against Clemson, which just happens to be ranked No. 21, but come on. Eleventh? This team is better than that.

However, that wasn't the most disheartening news. On Wednesday, you found out that Gurley will have to sit out two more games for accepting more than $3,000 in cash from multiple individuals for autographed memorabilia. The NCAA then arrogantly boasted that it could have made things even worse for Gurley, adding a little gasoline to the already effervescent flame dancing on the program.

But fear not, Dawgs. Grab those hoses, because there's plenty of time to prove the committee wrong.

Don't like the committee or Twitter tell you that you aren't a beautiful butterfly. Don't let esteemed ESPN colleague Andrea Adelson try and steal your shine! (I heard what she said about you guys on our Spreecast, too.) You guys are the real deal, right now, and you have a chance to really impress the committee with what you have ahead in November.

Plus, you'll start the month without Gurley. Yes, he's out against a struggling Florida team and a Kentucky team still looking to grow, but Nick Chubb will once again have to carry the rushing load with Keith Marshall and Sony Michel sidelined. Hey, if he keeps trucking along without help, the committee will have to take that into account. This kid is a true freshman, yet he's dazzling fans and punishing defenders barely removed from his senior prom. Not to add anymore pressure to his already piled plate, but he does look like a young Gurley.

People want to trash your schedule? You know, the one you were dealt and had no control over this season? Well, you still have No. 3 Auburn (at home), and chances are you're headed to Atlanta for the SEC championship game, unless you get really sloppy. I understand that the East is, well, like an old horror movie, but that's not your fault. Don't beat yourself up because there is no real East challenger at the moment. Just take care of business, and the committee will start to come around. A win over Auburn will have you skyrocketing up the rankings.

 Even though people aren't impressed with your early state, you're a better team now than you were after the South Carolina game.

I was wrong about this defense not having what it took to sustain success through the entire season. The secondary still doesn't exactly wow me, but the front seven is playing better than I thought it would, thanks to new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt deciding to go with a more aggressive plan by getting those linebackers more involved in the backfield. The defensive line has been disruptive at the right times this season.

This is a defense that is getting better each week. Do not dwell on what happened during the second half of the Arkansas game. I get it, you built a commanding 38-6 halftime lead and coasted in the second half. Hey, it happens. Look at Alabama against Tennessee for crying out loud.

Before that game, you shut out Missouri 34-0 on the road in the first of two games without Gurley.

I've learned that this team doesn't need to stretch the ball with the deep pass because it runs so well. Hutson Mason would like to chuck it around, but he hasn't had to, yet, even though he's getting more comfortable with his receivers. And once Gurley gets back for the Auburn game, Mason might be able to do even more with Gurley and Chubb helping out.

The SEC and the Playoff are both there for the taking, Georgia. So ignore the Twitter tough guys. Shake off the hatin' committee. Just continue to do what you're doing, and people will come around.

I know I did.

What we learned in the SEC: Week 8

October, 18, 2014
Oct 18
It wasn’t as exciting a Saturday as we hoped for, in terms of competitiveness. Every SEC game was decided by double digits. Still, there is plenty to glean from Week 8. Here are the things we learned from the weekend’s action:

[+] EnlargeNick Chubb
Nelson Chenault/USA TODAY SportsNick Chubb helped keep Georgia rolling with 202 rushing yards on Saturday.
Georgia is a great team, with or without its biggest star: Even without running back Todd Gurley, this is your SEC East Division favorite. Some, including me, thought the Bulldogs could be stepping into a minefield in going on the road to face an Arkansas team that seemed to be knocking on the door of an SEC win. Well, No. 10 Georgia (6-1) is carrying the flag proudly for the SEC East after they cruised to a 45-32 win, a victory that included 38 first-half points. Running back Nick Chubb (30 carries, 202 yards, two touchdowns) was fantastic, quarterback Hutson Mason was sharp, and the defense came up with four turnovers. There’s no doubt this is one of the best one-loss teams in the country.

Alabama silenced its critics, for now: Nick Saban was a little irritated earlier this week by his fan base’s outsized expectations, which had many disappointed the Crimson Tide “only” beat Arkansas 14-13 (a week after Alabama lost to Ole Miss). Well, there’s nothing to criticize this week. Alabama played about as close to a perfect game as a team can. The Crimson Tide (6-1) had 602 offensive yards, converted 60 percent of their third downs, held Texas A&M to a meager 172 yards, had zero penalties and won the time of possession battle (36:31 to 23:29). Hard to be upset with 59-0. Although two undefeated teams are ahead of Bama in the standings, you never know what might happen. The No. 7 Crimson Tide’s playoff hopes are alive and well at the moment.

Texas A&M has serious soul-searching to do: It’s one thing to lose and quite another to be destroyed the way the Aggies were Saturday by the Crimson Tide. Kevin Sumlin used the words “embarrassing” and “unacceptable” in his postgame news conference, and those are pretty accurate. Alabama controlled the game in every phase while shutting out a Sumlin team for the first time in his seven-year coaching career. The Aggies (5-3) don’t have a game next week, and it’s a good time for them to reevaluate everything about their team, from top to bottom, to figure out why they’ve been dominated by three SEC West foes in the past three weeks.

Kentucky might be on the rise, but there’s still a long way to go: The Wildcats have been one of the surprise teams in the SEC this year, with their 5-1 start and talk of making a bowl game. The progress the program continues to make is admirable, and coach Mark Stoops should be commended for the job done so far, but after a 41-3 loss to LSU, it's clear there still is a lot of progress to be made. LSU handled its business and showed it’s in a different class than the Wildcats (5-2), at least this weekend. This should serve as a good learning experience for a young Kentucky team that still has a bright long-term future.

It’s not getting better in Gainesville anytime soon: There has been a lot of discussion about Will Muschamp’s job, and that isn’t going to die down after Florida’s performance against Missouri. The Gators were hammered 42-13 in their own backyard. What makes it even worse is the Tigers didn’t do it with offense -- Missouri quarterback Maty Mauk threw for only 20 yards and no touchdowns, and Missouri finished with a minuscule 119 offensive yards. The Tigers did their damage with a kickoff return and punt return for touchdowns (both courtesy of Marcus Murphy), as well as an interception return (Darvin Ruise) and fumble return (Markus Golden) for touchdowns. That’s ugly for Florida, who is 3-3 (2-3 in the SEC) with Georgia coming up in two weeks. It looks like it will only get worse before it gets better for the Gators.

Ole Miss’ offense doesn’t have to be great -- just good enough: The No. 3 Rebels (7-0) took some time to get started offensively, as they went scoreless in the first quarter against Tennessee and were down 3-0 in the second quarter. No worries when you “Landshark D.” The 27-yard Aaron Medley field goal was the only points the Vols would get, quarterback Bo Wallace started making some plays, and Ole Miss cruised to a 34-3 victory. The offensive numbers weren’t great (383 total yards for the Rebels), but more importantly, they committed zero turnovers and won time of possession. With the type of defense Ole Miss has (it held Tennessee to zero yards rushing and 3-of-16 on third-down conversion attempts), that’s a recipe for success.

This was supposed to be the upset pick of the week in the SEC. Many thought this would be the game in which Bret Bielema would notch his first conference win at Arkansas. The only problem was that No. 10 Georgia didn’t get the memo.

The Bulldogs -- sans Todd Gurley -- jumped out to a big 38-6 halftime lead and held off the Hogs in the second half to win 45-32 in Little Rock.

How the game was won: Where do we begin? Hutson Mason was sharp. Nick Chubb was on a different level. But for the second straight week, this Georgia defense set the tone early. Four turnovers forced, three sacks, a blocked extra point. The Bulldogs might have let their guard down at times in the second half, but it was still another impressive outing. Damian Swann led the way with 11 tackles, two forced fumbles, a sack and an interception.

Game ball goes to: As good as Swann was on defense, Chubb was that much more impressive for the offense. The freshman carried the load once again with Gurley out, finishing with 30 carries for 202 yards and two touchdowns. Chris Conley deserves a shout out here as well. He had five catches for 128 yards and a touchdown for the Bulldogs.

What it means: The SEC East finally broke through against the West. This was the best and potentially only chance for the East to win a cross-division game this season, and Georgia got it done. It was also the first time a team from the West had been beaten by somebody outside of its own division this season.

Playoff implication: All of a sudden, Georgia looks like a serious contender for the College Football Playoff and can you imagine if Gurley comes back at some point this season? This team could challenge the Magnolia State for bragging rights in the SEC.

Best play: Have we mentioned Chubb’s name yet? The freshman had a lot of impressive runs on the day, but his 43-yard touchdown in the second quarter was Gurley-esque. He exploded through the hole, outran the Arkansas safeties and raced into the end zone untouched. The score put the Bulldogs up 17-6, and they never looked back.


What's next: Georgia gets a week off before its game with Florida in Jacksonville. Arkansas, who showed plenty of fight in the second half, will get UAB at home next week before a trip to No. 1 Mississippi State in two weeks.
Dak Prescott, Bo Wallace, Nick ChubbUSA TODAY Sports, Icon Sportswire, USA TODAY SportsDak Prescott (MSU), Bo Wallace (Ole Miss) and Nick Chubb (Georgia) led impressive wins Saturday.
Like Hugh Freeze does with his Ole Miss team following any game, it's time to physically throw our concerns into the trash. Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Georgia are here to stay.

After all the questions heading into the weekend, we received all the validation we needed with both Mississippi schools topping ranked opponents with the pressure on -- again -- and Georgia going on the road without Todd Gurley and utterly embarrassing Missouri in a 34-0 win.

Following its 38-23 win against then-No. 2 Auburn, Mississippi State is now the No. 1 team in the country. Ole Miss' 35-20 spanking of then-No. 14 Texas A&M has the Rebels third. Georgia has risen to No. 10.

Let this settle in: The Egg Bowl could mean more than the Iron Bowl at season's end. At the moment, "Hotty Toddy" and clanging cowbells are drowning out "War Eagle" and "Roll Tide."

So much for the state of Alabama's unofficial motto of "At least we're not Mississippi."

Even after historic wins by the Mississippi schools, we weren't sure if they could get it done a second week in a row. (However, yours truly picked both to win.) And without Gurley, your Heisman favorite before his suspension, we had no clue what mental state the Dawgs would be in having to travel all the way to Columbia, Missouri, for a crucial conference game.

Well, all three told us to stay calm and carry on, proving they are still on track for special seasons. We can stop downplaying the success of the Magnolia State's best, and Georgia freshman Nick Chubb, who rushed for 143 yards and a touchdown against Mizzou, appears capable of carrying the load for as long as Gurley is out.

With Mizzou tanking, Florida giving LSU a victory in the Swamp, Vanderbilt long gone and South Carolina and Tennessee lagging behind, Kentucky shares the top spot with Georgia in the SEC East race. With all due respect to a much improved Wildcats team, I think we would all agree Georgia is the clear-cut favorite to win the East, with or without Gurley. The offense put trust in Chubb and quarterback Hutson Mason, and both delivered in the clutch. A defense that still had us on the fence played its most complete game of the season. Mizzou quarterback Maty Mauk was never comfortable, throwing four interceptions and getting sacked three times, and the running game mustered a paltry 50 yards.

Georgia allowed just 10 first downs and Mizzou never even made it into the red zone. It's clear the loss to Indiana wasn't an anomaly for the Tigers, and they aren't the contenders we once thought, but don't take anything away from Georgia. If you weren't impressed with Georgia, you just weren't watching. Without their best player, the Dawgs dominated, and the East is now theirs for the taking.

With the way things are going, it appears Georgia will be on a crash course to meet one of those Mississippi schools in Atlanta for the SEC championship. For the first time, Ole Miss and Mississippi State are both 3-0 in conference play.

Where do we even begin with these teams and why we can no longer take them lightly? Ole Miss became the first team to shut out Kevin Sumlin's Aggies at the half. Mississippi State became the fifth team in AP Poll history to defeat three straight top-10 teams. Ole Miss has allowed six offensive touchdowns this season, and its defense has scored four. Mississippi State has an SEC-high 47 tackles for loss and has held opponents to just six touchdowns in 19 red-zone appearances.

Mississippi State handled the No. 2 team in the country with a 15-point win, and the Rebels marched into College Station and beat an angry Aggies team in front of an SEC-record crowd of 110,633. Both teams won by 15, but let's not kid ourselves, the margins of victory could have been bigger for both teams.

You need more validation? How about the fact that Mississippi State now has the nation's second-longest winning streak at nine? How about both teams having 16 takeaways? You want clutch? Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace, who appears to have exorcised "Bad Bo," has seven total touchdowns to zero turnovers in SEC play, and Mississippi State wide receiver De'Runnya Wilson has a nation-leading five touchdown catches on third down.

Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott is a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate, and running back Josh Robinson might be the SEC's toughest runner, outside of Gurley.

These teams have bite, and it's time to give them the respect they deserve. There is a ton of football left, especially with the Mississippi schools having to continue their runs through the gauntlet that is the SEC West, but this past weekend showed us these teams are for real.

The SEC is trudging through a cacophony of barks, cowbells and "Hotty Toddys," and there is just no getting around it. Deal with it.
COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Let’s not go overboard.

Let’s not even try to make the argument Georgia is better today than it was a week ago.

Let’s not pretend you can have a Heisman Trophy contender ripped off a team and have that met with sustained improvement.

Football, in the long term, just doesn’t work that way. Ask Texas A&M about life after Johnny or South Carolina about its now Clowney-less defense; they’ll tell you.

[+] EnlargeChubb
Denny Medley/USA TODAY SportsNick Chubb was fantastic against Missouri, but make no mistake -- Georgia is not the same team without Todd Gurley.
Georgia may indeed be the class of the SEC East after the way it manhandled Missouri this past weekend. It was every bit the statement game players described afterward.

“We had a chip on our shoulder as far as we don't have Todd (Gurley) and everyone thinks that the world is falling apart,” quarterback Hutson Mason said. “So we took it upon ourselves that we need to show everybody that there are 10 other guys on our offense that are making this thing go and 11 other guys on defense. It was a very big inspirational win, and a lot of emotions went into it.”

But today the question becomes how far that wave of emotion will take Georgia.

Nearly 48 hours after the Bulldogs celebrated in Columbia, it’s time to see whether what happened Saturday is truly sustainable.

Looking ahead less than a week, it’s hard to imagine what worked against Missouri will work against Arkansas this Saturday.

It’s hard to imagine Georgia’s defense, the real force behind the win at Missouri, will have another perfect day on third down, stuffing all seven attempts to move the chains.

Don’t expect another four-interception performance either. Georgia had four picks total coming into last weekend and Arkansas quarterback Brandon Allen may not attempt more than four passes per quarter this Saturday.

Leonard Floyd, who terrorized Missouri’s Maty Mauk into all those mistakes, won’t be able to pin his ears back and rush the passer so freely. Not against Arkansas’ running game. It was good Floyd got four QB hurries last Saturday because he’ll likely drift back to the average of 1.6 hurries per game he had coming into the weekend.

Georgia’s defense has indeed come a long ways, but it probably won’t allow 50 yards rushing as it did against Missouri, which was essentially half its average coming into the game. If anything, we know Arkansas is going to run the football. With Alex Collins, Jonathan Williams and that hefty offensive line, the Razorbacks are averaging the most rushing yards per game in the SEC and the 10th most in the country (278.7).

"They are a physical bunch of players," Georgia coach Mark Richt said Sunday. "They're a reflection of their coach. Those guys are playing that way on both sides of the ball. It's going to be a tremendous physical challenge for our players, no doubt."

Yes, Georgia’s offense will have to adjust as well.

Mason, who said he has adopted a more free-wheeling attitude under center, will have to continue making a greater impact on Mike Bobo’s offense. The fifth-year senior won’t face many secondaries as porous as Missouri’s, which entered the weekend allowing 236.4 yards passing per game. Arkansas may have lost to Alabama and Texas A&M, but Bret Bielema’s Razorbacks found a way to hamstring both teams’ previously prolific passing games.

At the same time, Georgia can’t continue asking Nick Chubb to touch the ball 40-plus times per game as he did against Missouri. Sure, he made a fan out of all of us when he bulldozed his way to 143 yards rushing and one touchdown. But Georgia’s backfield looks like a MASH unit these days with Gurley questioned by the NCAA and Keith Marshall and Sony Michel examined by doctors. Richt has to be careful, even if he’s not saying so.

"We've seen him in practice. We've seen him in the games," Richt said. "Every time Nick got in there, he looked pretty impressive. He didn't complain and he didn't look fatigued."

You have to admire the determination to carry the football 38 times as a true freshman. You even have to admire the collective results: 34 points and three rushing touchdowns from three different players. But when you look deeper at Georgia’s 3.6 yards per carry against a weak Missouri front seven, you should have a hard time believing that’s a sustainable formula.

The saying, "Three yards and a cloud of dust" isn’t a compliment, remember? Explosive plays are vital.

That’s where Gurley comes in.

Don’t take anything away from Georgia’s win at Missouri. Don’t put down the offense, which was practically flawless. Don’t put down the defense, which flew to the football and played its best game of the season.

But don’t forget what Gurley brings to the table.

Don’t forget that he makes plays no one else in college football can. He makes Chubb more effective, lifts the average yards per rush considerably and, in turn, makes things easier for Mason. Even the defense gets a break when he takes the offense on long drives.

Georgia can survive without Gurley. The Missouri game showed us as much. But without No. 3, the Bulldogs just aren’t the same.

We’ll find out against Arkansas whether the difference is enough to cost them.
COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Georgia played as if it had everything to prove.

Meanwhile, Missouri looked asleep at the wheel.

The Todd Gurley-less Bulldogs took advantage of a lackadaisical Tigers team on the road, jumping out to an early lead and never looking back to win 34-0 and improve to 5-1 overall.

How the game was won: Give credit to Georgia’s playmakers, but coach Mark Richt might have been on to something when he nudged the SEC for a noon kickoff time. The early start affected the home team Missouri Tigers, whose sideline lacked much in the way of enthusiasm. Georgia was a beat faster on both sides of the ball. Where Tigers quarterback Maty Mauk was sloppy, Hutson Mason was sharp for Georgia. Neither team could hang onto the football, but when Georgia put the ball on the ground it found a way to keep possession. That goes to effort, which one team was clearly lacking. By the time Missouri woke up in the second half, it was down 20 points with little hope of a comeback.

Game ball goes to: Mason was crisp and Nick Chubb was the heart and soul of Georgia’s offense, but ultimately it was the Bulldogs' defense that won the day. Leonard Floyd, who was unstoppable off the edge, wreaked havoc on Missouri’s up-tempo passing game. He had strip-sack of Mauk, jarring the ball loose just as the quarterback was getting things going before halftime. Floyd was a big reason Mauk committed five turnovers and finished with just 97 yards passing.

What it means: Maybe Georgia’s offense doesn’t have to do it all. Maybe the defense can be the thing that carries the Bulldogs to a successful season. With Floyd rushing the edge, the pressure on the secondary is diminished. Jeremy Pruitt can then expand his playbook and give opposing offenses different looks. You saw that Saturday as Mauk was forced into four interceptions and Missouri rushed for just 50 yards. With Gurley sidelined for the time being, the defense is in position to buy Mason, Chubb and the offense time to find an identity.

Playoff implication: With their Heisman Trophy candidate sidelined, these Bulldogs won’t get much love from the selection committee, at least not in the style department. But Mason and Georgia continue to win, and their strength of schedule is plenty respectable with a signature nonconference win against Clemson. Though they might not pass the eye test week in and week out, that’s not enough to keep Richt’s squad out of the playoff conversation. That is the beauty of being in the East; so long as you win the division and reach Atlanta, you’re essentially facing a play-in situation to reach the final four.

What's next: Nothing in the SEC East is certain, even after Saturday’s game. Georgia might sit atop the division at 5-1, but things can change in a hurry, especially when you look forward to next Saturday’s game in Arkansas. A year ago, that would have been a gimme. Not anymore. Bret Bielema’s Razorbacks will give Georgia everything it can handle.

By the end of the day Saturday, there might be a clear front-runner in the SEC East race -- and that team will likely be the winner of the matchup between No. 13 Georgia (4-1, 2-1 SEC) and No. 23 Missouri (4-1, 1-0).

With help from ESPN Stats & Information, let's take a look at key factors in Saturday's game in Columbia:

No Gurley, what now?: By now it's no secret that Georgia's offense will operate without the dominant running ability of tailback Todd Gurley (94 carries, 773 yards, 8 TDs, SEC-high 154.6 rushing yards per game). The guy was a Heisman Trophy front-runner for good reason, but now Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo must assemble a game plan against Missouri for the second straight year without his most potent weapon.

[+] EnlargeTodd Gurley
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsGeorgia will miss the unique ability of Todd Gurley (above) to gain yards after contact, but freshman Nick Chubb is a suitable replacement.
The Bulldogs played without injured backs Gurley and Keith Marshall last season and actually fared OK on the ground against Missouri. Then-freshmen J.J. Green (12 carries, 87 yards) and Brendan Douglas (14-70) enjoyed success on the ground against Mizzou last season and Georgia now must turn to Plans B, C and D against the Tigers again.

Green is now playing defense, so he's out of the picture. But Nick Chubb provides a fairly decent resemblance to Gurley. The freshman (31-224, 7.2 yards per carry) is Georgia's second-leading rusher behind Gurley. Marshall and Sony Michel remain sidelined by injuries, so Chubb and Douglas (sixth on the team with 47 rushing yards in limited duty) might be in line for the biggest workloads out of the backfield -- particularly Chubb.

About one of every five of Chubb's carries (six out of 31) has gone for at least 10 yards, and he's averaging 3.77 yards after contact per carry, which isn't much worse than Gurley's 3.9 YAC -- the best among all Power 5 backs with at least 50 carries. Nonetheless, Gurley's absence is devastating for Georgia and will require massive adjustments late in the week in order for the Bulldogs to get out of Columbia with a win.

One thing that helps the Bulldogs' cause is that Missouri's defense has had mixed results against the run.

Indiana ran 50 times for 241 yards and three touchdowns in its upset win over the Tigers. Hoosiers running back Tevin Coleman averaged 3.95 yards after contact per run that day en route to rushing 19 times for 132 yards and a score. As we've already discussed, YAC is one of power runner Chubb's trademarks, so Missouri tacklers are going to have to bring it Saturday. He's not Gurley, but he ain't bad, either.

Mizzou pass rush: Although Georgia has been more run-heavy compared to recent seasons -- the team is running the ball 64 percent of the time this season compared to 51 percent in 2013 -- the Bulldogs need to produce more in the passing game with Gurley out of the picture.

And Missouri -- particularly star defensive linemen Shane Ray and Markus Golden -- would be perfectly happy to see the Bulldogs try to air it out. Ray ranks second in the FBS and leads the SEC with eight sacks and 11.5 tackles for a loss. Golden is third in the SEC with four sacks and fifth with 6.5 tackles for loss.

Georgia fans might remember Ray as the pass-rusher who laid a crushing hit on quarterback Aaron Murray last season, forcing a fumble that Mizzou end Michael Sam scooped up and ran in for a touchdown that gave the Tigers a 28-10 lead.

Ray had two sacks for a loss of 14 yards in the Tigers' comeback win against South Carolina. Between Ray, Matt Hoch and Harold Brantley, Mizzou had four sacks for 37 yards of lost ground for the Gamecocks.

More good news for Mizzou: It hasn't needed to blitz in order to generate effective pressure. Since the start of last season, the Tigers have 50 sacks when sending four pass-rushers or fewer, the most of any Power 5 school.

QB comparison: Georgia and Missouri both expected more productivity from the quarterback position than what they've gotten so far.

The issue might be slightly more alarming with Mizzou's Maty Mauk (1,110 passing yards, 14 TDs, 4 INTs), whom many college football analysts expected to have a big season. Thus far, Mauk has a 47.1 score in ESPN's Total Quarterback Rating, which is the third-worst in the SEC and more than 30 points lower than his 77.9 from last season.

Third down in particular has been an issue for the Mizzou QB. Mauk is completing an SEC-low 38.1 percent of his third-down passes and ranks 10th among SEC quarterbacks in conversion percentage (29 percent).

Georgia's beleaguered secondary is vulnerable to a strong passing attack, but will Mauk -- whose breakout game last season was against Georgia -- take advantage? That might be the determining factor in Saturday's game. The Bulldogs are in the middle of the SEC pack in pass defense (seventh at 223 YPG), but they have surrendered 284 passing yards and three touchdowns in a shootout win against Tennessee, and 271 yards and three touchdowns in a shootout loss to South Carolina. Doing a better job against Mauk, receiver Bud Sasser (fourth in the SEC with averages of six catches and 90.8 yards per game), and the rest of Mizzou's receivers would greatly improve Georgia's chances of victory.

We've already discussed the challenge Georgia quarterback Hutson Mason will face from Missouri's dynamic pass rush. Aside from avoiding mistakes with Ray and Golden breathing down his neck, how much will Georgia expect from Mason and the passing game? Mason (687 yards, 7 TDs, 3 INTs) ranks 55th in the Total QBR standings with a 59.7 score -- not horrible, but not particularly impressive, either.

Mason hasn't worked with a full complement of receivers yet, but that's starting to change. Receiver Malcolm Mitchell played for the first time in more than a year last week against Vanderbilt, and Bulldogs coach Mark Richt expects receiver Justin Scott-Wesley and tight end Jay Rome to be back for the Missouri game, too.