It’s the opening game of the 2017 SEC season for Georgia and the No. 11 Bulldogs host the SEC West’s Mississippi Bulldogs in a clash of Top 25 teams. Here are the particulars and pregame analysis.
Kickoff: 7:00 p.m. EDT
Where: Sanford Stadium, Athens, Georgia
TV: ESPN (Play-by-play: Joe Tessitore; Game
Analyst: Todd Blackledge; Sideline Reporter: Holly Rowe
Georgia Radio: Athens 960 AM/106.1 FM; Atlanta 750 AM/95.5 FM; Macon106.3 FM; Augusta 580 AM/95.1 FM; Savannah 1400 AM/104.3 FM; Columbus 1460 AM/100.1 FM; Valdosta 105.9 FM; Rome 107.1 FM (IMG Radio-Scott Howard, Eric Zeier, Chuck Dowdle)
Sirius/XM: Channel 134/192
Weather: High temperature of 87°, 79° at kickoff, dipping into the low 70s in the second half, 70% humidity, ENE breeze at 4 mph, mostly sunny, 0% chance of rain.
Series history: Georgia leads the overall series 17-6. The series dates to 1914.
Last meeting: Georgia beat Hail State 24-10 in Athens in 2011.
Georgia players to watch:
OFFENSE- QB Jake Fromm, RB Nick Chubb, TE Isaac Nauta, RB Sony Michel, WR Terry Godwin
DEFENSE- S Dominick Sanders, DL Trent Thompson, LB Roquan Smith, LB Lorenzo Carter, LB Davin Bellamy
Mississippi State players to watch:
OFFENSE- QB Nick Fitzgerald, RB Aeris Williams, WR Keith Mixon
DEFENSE- LB Leo Lewis, DB Jonathan Abram, DT Jeffrey Simmons
This marks Georgia’s fourth consecutive night game. Both Bulldogs enter the game with 3-0 records. Georgia is ranked No. 11 and after a 37-7 rout of LSU, Mississippi State comes in at No. 17. Dan Mullen’s Bulldogs are first in scoring (47.7 points) and scoring defense (9.3 points per game) in the SEC. Kirby Smart’s Bulldogs are allowing 14.3 points per game and an average of just 71 yards on the ground. No team has rushed for more than 100 yards against Georgia through three games. Georgia counters with the dynamic duo of seniors Nick Chubb and Sony Michel.
When Georgia has the ball
Kirby Smart said Hail State will be one of the most physical defensive teams the Dawgs will face all season. State man-handled LSU last week and has the best scoring defense in the conference. Georgia’s offensive line will have to protect Jake Fromm and the wide receivers will have to create space and give him a target. State plays run-first defense and dares the offense to beat them in the air. Georgia’ talented tight end crew has been relatively quiet this season, but expect Fromm to look for tight ends Isaac Nauta and Jeb Blazevich in the seam and junior wide receiver Terry Godwin to stretch the field. With a steady diet of Chubb and Michel, plus freshman D’Andre Swift, the Georgia line should be able to wear down State’s front seven.
Fromm has three games under his belt and it will be interesting to see how he comes out. Expect Kirby to open the playbook a bit more. Mississippi State will load the box and force Georgia to put the ball in the air. Fromm has completed 34 of 57 passes for 449 yards, with five touchdowns and one interception.
Georgia will have to contain sophomore defensive tackle Jeffrey Simmons. The 6’4”, 301-pound Macon, MS native leads the Bulldogs in tackles for a loss (2.5) and sacks (2.5). He is a disruptive force and Isaiah Wynn and the offensive line will have their hands full.
When Mississippi State has the ball
Junior quarterback Nick Fitzgerald leads an offense that has outscored its opponents 143-28, completing 43 of 70 passes for 543 yards and seven touchdowns while rushing for 240 yards and five scores. Fitzgerald is the fourth consecutive dual-threat quarterback Georgia has seen this season, and the best. The UGA defensive backs will have to play their best game of the season.
“He’s very smart, very knowledgeable, knows how to attack protections. He’s a guy that’s constantly working on getting better. He’s got these guys believing and playing really hard, really physical,” Coach Smart said. “They’ve got some good players. Got some big guys up front. They’re playing hard. He’s got some fast guys. They just seem like they have a lot of guys they play. They use them well. They use them to their strengths.”
Aeris Williams paces the Mississippi State ground game with 336 yards on 48 carries and one touchdown, but the focus is on Fitzgerald, a Richmond Hills, Georgia native who will have to be able to handle his emotions playing in his home state for the first time.
Keys to the game:
1. Turnovers – Georgia has a -2 turnover margin this season, 11th in the SEC. Hail State has a +2 margin. UGA has to do a better job hanging on to the ball and get back to its ball-hawking ways.
2. Play to your potential – Georgia is deeper than MSU and has the overall better talent. However, Dan Mullen has a tendency to get more out of his players than any coach in the conference. The atmosphere in Sanford Stadium will be electric and UGA has to play smart and with intensity, from kickoff to the final whistle.
3. Pound the line of scrimmage – The Georgia line has to open some holes for Chubb and Michel. Any positive yardage is good yardage because it will open some seams in the MSU secondary.
4. The kicking game – Cameron Nizialek has been averaging nearly 45 yards per punt this season and came up with some big pressure punts against Notre Dame. Field position will be crucial in this game and Nizialek wil once again be a key player.
5. Red Zone Conversion- Georgia ranks 11th -best in the conference in red zone defense, allowing scores on 6 of 7 attempts. The good news is Georgia leads the conference in red zone conversions, converting on all 12 attempts this season. Dawgs need to continue the trend and finish drives.
Adding to the intrigue of the game, Mississippi State defensive coordinator Todd Grantham served in the same capacity at Georgia from 2010-2013. Former Bulldog letterman Christian Robinson is a graduate assistant inside linebackers coach at MSU, while offensive line coach D.J. Looney worked as a grad assistant at Georgia last year. In addition, Mississippi State safety Jonathan Abram played with Georgia in 2015 before transferring and ultimately joining MSU before this season.
Georgia is a 5– point favorite and the Dawgs are entering the SEC schedule with big expectations. Fromm is starting his third consecutive game, Sony Michel returns to action and cornerback Malkom Parrish returns from injury. The defense has been playing lights out, and senior linebackers Davin Bellamy and Lorenzo Carter are playing for NFL draft status. UGA held Notre Dame to 55 yards rushing on 37 attempts, and the Irish ND rushed for 515 yards the next week at Boston College, it’s most since 1969. The rush defense is Georgia’s biggest strength, and that combined with good special teams and a few big plays by the nation’s best running back group, should power Georgia to victory. The Redcoat train picks up steam and keeps rolling down the SEC track.
GEORGIA 24 – Mississippi State 17