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Georgia 6-foot-7, 340-pound right tackle Isaiah Wilson (79) and 6-6, 335-pound right guard Ben Cleveland (74) give the Bulldogs a noticeably bigger offensive line than in their last trip to Missouri.

Georgia's Kirby Smart and Missouri's Barry Odom had a memorable double baptism two years ago as head football coaches in their first Southeastern Conference clash.

With Georgia facing fourth-and-10 at the Missouri 20-yard line, quarterback Jacob Eason connected with Isaiah McKenzie for a touchdown with 1:29 left that propelled the Bulldogs to a 28-27 victory. Though it provided a rousing finish, Smart doesn't feel the need to revisit that game leading into Saturday's first trip to Faurot Field in Columbia for the second-ranked Bulldogs (3-0, 1-0) since then.

It's the SEC opener for Missouri (3-0).

"I don't think this game has anything to do with the one two years ago," Smart said during a news conference this week. "Not a lot of the same names and faces are present. They scored scored a lot on us in last year's game (a 53-28 Georgia home win) and got really hot two or three times.

"It's a tough place to play. I've played there other times besides two years ago. They've got a great environment there."

McKenzie bypassed his senior year for the NFL draft after the 2016 season, and Eason transferred from Georgia to Washington this past January, but there are plenty of additional changes to this year's matchup than just the absence of the key participants from two years ago.

For starters, the Bulldogs didn't exactly build off their win at Missouri two years ago, winning only four of their final nine regular-season games for a 7-5 record. Georgia ventured to the Liberty Bowl that December and defeated TCU 31-23, which served as a springboard to last season's 13-2 mark that included a first SEC title in 12 years and a riveting Rose Bowl victory in double overtime over Oklahoma.

Georgia has won 17 of its past 19 games, which includes this season's 3-0 start, so the marked improvement of Smart's program between these Missouri trips is undeniable.

"I would say the biggest difference between now and then is probably the mental conditioning part of being prepared and being bought in," he said. "We were a young team at that time, and we didn't have an identity. We were still searching for who we were and how we practiced.

"Now I feel like we have more buy-in as a whole of things that we do in the offseason, in the weightroom and on the practice field. It's just a completely different team."

It's also a bigger Georgia team on the offensive front. Two years ago, the Bulldogs went to Missouri with the starting line of left tackle Tyler Catalina, left guard Isaiah Wynn, center Brandon Kublanow, right guard Lamont Gaillard and right tackle Greg Pyke.

That line averaged 304 pounds, but this year's line averages more than 327 pounds regardless of whether sophomore Andrew Thomas or freshman Cade Mays starts at left tackle along with left guard Solomon Kindley, Gaillard at center, right guard Ben Cleveland and right tackle Isaiah Wilson.

"We had a first-round guy (Wynn) playing two years ago, and we've got a guy playing in the NFL right now in Catalina," Smart said. "Both of them were playing at that time, so there were two good players on that unit. We didn't always perform well, but they were two talented players. We have more size now, and we have more guys who have played more snaps as a whole, and they've played those snaps in this offense."

Said Odom: "A lot of that starts with recruiting and with one of the best offensive line coaches in the country in Sam Pittman. I've got a tremendous amount of respect for him and the job that he's done over his career. They play a physical brand of football, and you can tell that they're very well-coached."

Odom does see similarities from two years ago as far as what the Bulldogs do, but he was quick to add that Smart has "ramped it up and put them on fast-forward as far as getting that program to where it is today."

Since Georgia last played at Missouri, the Bulldogs have snagged six offensive linemen ranked among the top 100 players in their respective signing classes. Based on opposing coaches who already have faced Georgia, that quality beefing-up process is having its desired effect.

"We wore down defensively," South Carolina's Will Muschamp said this week when asked about the 41-17 loss to Georgia on Sept. 8. "We could not get them in a negative play in the run game. Gaillard has done a really good job at center, and the right side of their line is 6-7, 340 pounds at both the guard and tackle position.

"They are just massive up front, and they do a great job of getting movement."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.

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