No. 13 Georgia hosts Mississippi State at Sanford Stadium in Athens tonight at 7:30 p.m. EST. Here are three things to know before the game:
Georgia football is in the midst of a troubling five-week stretch, dating back to an Oct. 17 loss to Alabama. The Bulldogs are 1-2 since their matchup in Tuscaloosa, and had their Nov. 14 game against Missouri postponed due to a COVID-19 outbreak among the Tigers.
Practically eliminated from postseason contention, Georgia has three games remaining on its schedule, not including a potential Missouri rescheduling.
The Bulldogs faced a similar disappointment in 2018 when they finished 11-2, but were still left out of the playoffs. Georgia responded by losing to Texas 28-21 in the 2019 Sugar Bowl. Smart has remained unbothered at the possibility of a similar letdown this season. Georgia has a chance to move in the right direction, matching up with a struggling 2-4 Mississippi State team.
"Just go hard and prove it as a player and as a team,” said senior defensive lineman Malik Herring in a virtual Nov. 16 press conference. “[You] try to get better at your technique and try to push everybody to get better, really just doing that and no slacking.”
The last time Georgia’s defense took the field, it gave up 474 passing yards to Florida quarterback Kyle Trask. It was the most yards surrendered through the air by the Bulldogs all season. In Georgia’s other loss to Alabama, it ceded 417 passing yards, 212 yards more than the next highest mark.
Georgia sustained a number of injuries to key defensive players, likely adding to its problems defending the pass. Senior safety Richard LeCounte missed the game, and will remain out for the foreseeable future because of injuries sustained in a dirt-bike accident on Oct. 31. Lewis Cine, Georgia’s other starting safety, missed the second half against Florida because of a concussion and targeting penalty sustained in a hit on Florida tight end Kyle Pitts.
Opponents are averaging 262.8 passing yards per game against Georgia this season with an average of 7.3 yards per attempt. Mississippi State is averaging 303.2 yards per game through the air. Georgia’s pass defense will need to keep its opposition under that number, and the pass rush is an important first step.
"It's very important to get our hands up in the quick game because they throw the ball quick at times too and just working our rushes trying to impact the quarterback,” said sophomore outside linebacker Azeez Ojulari. “It's definitely big. We have to do that this week."
Georgia has not lost a game at Sanford Stadium since Oct. 12, 2019 against South Carolina. The Bulldogs defeated both Auburn and Tennessee at home this season in back-to-back weeks to improve to 3-0.
Saturday’s meeting with Mississippi State is the first home game for Georgia since those two consecutive victories earlier this year in which Bulldogs won by an average of 22 points in each of those contests.
Georgia has moved the ball well on offense this year at home. It accumulated 442 total yards against Auburn and 431 against Tennessee. Mississippi State has allowed 324.7 yards and 27.5 points on average per game. Today’s game gives Georgia’s offense an opportunity to build on its efficient home production.