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Missouri travels to No. 7 Georgia

Missouri travels to No. 7 Georgia

October 12th, 2013 in News

Missouri wide receiver L'Damian Washington (2) celebrates after Missouri defeated Vanderbilt last Saturday in Nashville, Tenn.

Photo by The Associated Press /News Tribune.

COLUMBIA, Mo. - Missouri certainly had several statement victories during its last decade in the Big 12.

Now the Tigers have a chance at their first one in the Southeastern Conference.

The 25th-ranked Tigers get a chance to make a splash on a national stage when they play at seventh-ranked Georgia (11 a.m. ESPN-TV) today.

History isn't on the Tigers' side however. Missouri hasn't beaten a top-10 team on the road since a 14-3 victory against ninth-ranked Mississippi State in 1981.

"We understand they are one of the best teams we will play all year," Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel said.

Missouri's miserable first season in the SEC was riddled with injuries, close losses and a 2-6 conference mark. It was a far cry from the momentum Missouri had gained during its final years in the Big 12 when they went to seven straight bowl games and defeated seven ranked teams during that stretch. That included wins against top-five teams Oklahoma (2011) and Kansas (2007).

Through five games, the Tigers have started to turn some heads on a national level. Missouri is in the Associated Press poll for the first time since the beginning of the 2011 season. They are putting up offensive numbers that rank near the top nationally in several statistical categories and their five wins have been by an average of more than 22 points.

Quarterback James Franklin ranks 20th nationally averaging 281 passing yards per game. Missouri is seventh nationally in total offense averaging 543 yards per game.

But the Tigers haven't faced a team like Georgia yet. The Bulldogs are battle tested with wins against LSU (44-41), Tennessee (34-31) and South Carolina (41-30). They opened the season with a 38-35 loss at now third-ranked Clemson. The Bulldogs rank 11th nationally in total offense, averaging 530 yards.

Missouri hung with Georgia in last season's meeting before self-destructing in the fourth quarter, eventually losing 41-20.

It's possible Missouri is getting Georgia at the right time. The Bulldogs have been decimated in the last few weeks with injuries. Georgia is missing receivers Malcom Mitchell, Michael Bennett and Justin Scott-Wesley who have accounted for 30 catches.

The Bulldogs are also beat up at running back. Keith Marshall is out for the season and starter Todd Gurley is doubtful with an ankle injury. Gurley ranks third in the SEC in rushing yards at more than 100 per game.

"They've obviously got great depth," Pinkel said. "I don't wish that on anyone. First of all, you don't like kids getting hurt. ... It kind of depends on who you lose, all those things are factors. Certainly I think it's difficult for every team."

Added Franklin: "If you want to beat the best, you have to play the best. Some might say it's good they have some injuries. We want them to be healthy and their best players out there so it's not one of those things where people can make any excuses."

One solace for the Bulldogs is they have quarterback Aaron Murray, who is the SEC's all-time leading passer.

He's averaging 306.8 yards per game this season to go along with 14 touchdowns and just three interceptions.

But if the Tigers can control Murray, they have a chance to take an early lead in the battle for the SEC East title.

Note: This is Missouri's first of three straight games against ranked teams. The Tigers host No. 17 Florida on Oct. 19 and No. 12 South Carolina on Oct. 26.