ATHENS, Ga. — By the second Saturday in November, most college football programs have established some sort of identity.
The sixth-ranked Georgia Bulldogs have played to the strength of their massive, talented and veteran-laden offensive line, controlling the clock and wearing down the opposition to establish a 7-1 record that includes a 4-1 mark in Southeastern Conference play. Missouri (5-3, 2-2), which plays at Georgia on Saturday night, continues to be the conference's biggest enigma with five double-digit home wins but road losses to Kentucky, Vanderbilt and Wyoming.
"I wish it was easy enough just to point where playing at home means this and away means that, but it's not," Tigers coach Barry Odom said. "We haven't played well enough to win in those three losses, and it's a number of things. Offensively, we haven't been able to run the ball in those three contests for whatever reason, and defensively against Kentucky we gave up too many explosive plays and it was the same thing against Wyoming.
"We haven't created enough momentum plays in our favor. We're just good enough as a team to win some games, but we've got to do absolutely everything right."
While the Bulldogs need a triumph inside Sanford Stadium to take a step closer to a third consecutive SEC East crown, a feat they have never accomplished, the Tigers could pull even with Georgia in terms of league losses with an upset. Missouri also could clinch a third consecutive season of at least six wins.
Missouri's most impressive showing this season so far is a 34-14 thumping of South Carolina, the program responsible for Georgia's lone loss, but the Tigers have since lost 21-14 to a Vanderbilt team coming off a 24-point home loss to UNLV and 29-7 to a Kentucky team that Georgia beat 21-0 the week before.
"I don't look into it much to be honest with you," Georgia coach Kirby Smart said when asked about Missouri's erratic play. "It's not a big deal. The bottom line is that I know the football team they've got. I know the coaching staff they've got. I know the players they have, and I can watch the tape and know they have a really physical team.
"One of their games (at Kentucky) was played in some extreme weather conditions, and I know how that impacts the game."
The Bulldogs are 16.5-point favorites for the 7 p.m. game that will be televised by ESPN, but they were 21-point picks before the South Carolina game they wound up dropping in double overtime. That message likely has been preached with regularity the past few days.
There is also the matter of Mizzou being quite the pesky foe inside Sanford Stadium. The visiting Tigers defeated Georgia 41-26 on their way to the 2013 SEC East title, and they returned two years later not nearly as potent but were in a 6-6 deadlock until Marshall Morgan's 34-yard field goal for Georgia with 1:44 remaining.
Two years ago, the Bulldogs and Tigers were tied 21-21 midway through the second quarter before Georgia's eventual SEC title team pulled away for a 53-28 win.
"In the SEC, it's hard to figure out stuff like that, because every team is good," Bulldogs senior tight end Charlie Woerner said. "If you're not locked in during practice, you're going to come out on Saturday and lose. Every team in the SEC has the ability to beat every team in the SEC on a given Saturday, more so than any other conference, I think."
Said senior inside linebacker Tae Crowder: "I just think that college football, as a whole, is a big matchup thing. Different teams present different matchups, so stuff like that happens. Missouri is a great team, and we'll have to be prepared."
Georgia fifth-year senior kicker Rodrigo Blankenship is among the 20 semifinalists for the Lou Groza Award, marking the third time he has accomplished the feat. Blankenship has made 15 of 17 field-goal attempts this season, including three from 50 yards.