- David Ching, ESPN Staff Writer
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ATHENS, Ga. -- One of the teams in Saturday's Georgia-Missouri game is a top-10 team and, until Saturday, felt like the overwhelming favorite to win the SEC East.
Then No. 7 Georgia (4-1, 3-0 SEC) barely survived a Tennessee upset bid, winning 34-31 in overtime while losing several key players to injury, while No. 25 Missouri (5-0, 1-0) smashed Vanderbilt 51-28 on its home field. And suddenly the Bulldogs' chances of winning the SEC East -- and their odds of winning Saturday's game at Sanford Stadium -- don't feel like such safe bets anymore.
“I'm not surprised to see Missouri jump in the top 25. They're an undefeated team and played extremely well against a good Vanderbilt team,” said Georgia coach Mark Richt, whose team dropped a spot in this week's Associated Press Top 25, while Mizzou entered the poll for the first time since September 2011. “ As far as where we are right now, it doesn't really matter all that much right this minute. What's important, really, is to try to score some points and slow Missouri down a little bit.”
Missouri rolled through the first month of the season, blasting four overmatched nonconference opponents like Murray State and Indiana with its prolific spread offense.
Skeptics had reason to question the validity of that production because of the lower level of competition, but cracking the 50-point barrier in Nashville quieted much of that criticism. Sure, the Commodores aren't at the level of Alabama or Florida on defense, but they had not allowed 50 points to an opponent since 2010.
After demolishing Vandy on Saturday, Missouri passed Georgia for second in the league in total offense (543.8 ypg) and is second in scoring (46.6 ppg). The Tigers will face a Georgia defense that surrendered 277 yards after halftime to Tennessee's underwhelming offense.
Richt disputed the notion, however, that Georgia's fortunes rest on whether its offense is productive on a given Saturday since the defense has consistently struggled.
“I think we're all just one team, we're Georgia, and we know that regardless of the situation or the score, we're expecting our defense to get stops and our offense to score points and whatever it takes to win is all we're worried about right now,” he said.
After at least two Bulldogs -- tailback Keith Marshall, filling in for All-SEC star Todd Gurley, and receiver Justin Scott-Wesley -- suffered season-ending knee injuries against Tennessee. Receiver Michael Bennett also went down with a knee injury that will sideline him for at least the near future.
Quarterback Aaron Murray's late-game heroics saved the Bulldogs from a stunning upset, but they must regroup quickly in order to hang with Missouri's explosive offense where quarterback James Franklin has three of the conference's most productive receivers – Dorial Green-Beckham, Marcus Lucas and L'Damian Washington -- and the SEC's top rushing attack (258.8 ypg) at his disposal.
“No doubt, they're very good,” Richt said. “We think they're playing at a lot higher level on offense this year than a year ago. I think now their quarterback's healthy and he's just performing so well and you've got big, physical, great-looking receivers, but they're running the ball well. It's not just the passing game, that's for sure. A lot of yards -- they're averaging over 550 yards or so -- a lot of points per game. They're really doing some great things.”
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