Who would have ever thought one of the most important games in the SEC in September would be Georgia and Mississippi State? Forget about Tennessee and Florida being relevant. It’s this Saturday’s battle of the Bulldogs in Athens that will take center stage.
The SEC once again looks ordinary. Sure, there are several undefeated teams that have been a surprise after three weeks. But what will Kentucky and Vanderbilt be in a few weeks? And once Georgia or Mississippi State lose this weekend, that team could lose some of its luster.
At least Georgia doesn’t have to play Alabama later this regular season like Mississippi State. The weak SEC East makes Georgia look like the favorite whether it wins this weekend of not. That doesn’t make this next game any less important.
Georgia’s defense continues to show potential dominance. Some are skeptical, mainly since Georgia hasn’t played an SEC opponent yet. Two weeks ago, however, we wondered how Notre Dame’s offense would do against Georg,ia and the Bulldogs shut them down.
Never miss a local story.
Notre Dame ran all over Temple in its first game, rushing for 422 yards. Then last weekend, the Fighting Irish had 515 rushing yards. In between, Notre Dame was stymied by Georgia getting only 55 yards on the ground.
You could say Notre Dame padded the stats against inferior opponents compared to Georgia. It shows Notre Dame has talent, yet those players had no success against Roquan Smith, Lorenzo Carter and the others who created havoc in South Bend.
Now, Georgia has perhaps the strongest test it will have during the regular season. Mississippi State’s Nick Fitzgerald is the SEC’s best quarterback. He’s a dual-threat talent from the state of Georgia who was ignored by larger schools coming out of Richmond Hill near Savannah.
Dak Prescott may be with the Dallas Cowboys, but Fitzgerald has made Mississippi State fans forget all about him. Fitzgerald was third in the SEC in rushing last season, and he’s off to a fast start this year. Forget any quarterback from Gainesville, Knoxville or even a system quarterback from Atlanta, Fitzgerald is the best offensive talent Georgia will face the next nine games.
Aeris Williams, Mississippi State’s junior running back, is second in the SEC with 336 rushing yards. Fitzgerald and Williams have the other Bulldogs leading the SEC in team rushing offense early on, with just less than 300 yards per game.
So obviously, Georgia’s vaunted defense must contain these two, just like it handled Brandon Wimbush and Josh Adams — Notre Dame’s top two offensive stars.
And why can’t it do just that? Why can’t Georgia’s defense handle, contain and even stymie this impressive offense for Mississippi State?
Smith is a star, and Carter is developing into a star by the week. The front three can be dominant. Let’s see if Fitzgerald can run on this group.
It’s great that Georgia’s defense will get this challenge. It’s not like we see a lot of other huge threats on the schedule, at least in the regular season. We need to see Georgia’s defense get pushed by two talents like Fitzgerald and Williams to see just how good it might be this season.
Mississippi State believes it’s not just a one-trick pony with the offense. Its defense shut down LSU on Saturday, and now it’ll face the most talented group of running backs in the country. Heck, if Mississippi State can stop Nick Chubb, Sony Michel and the others, it can deserve to win.
Georgia offensive coordinator Jim Chaney can now let loose on his offense. No point in holding back now. Jake Fromm is a freshman, but Chaney should be used to designing a strategy for first-year quarterbacks. That’s all Chaney’s done since he’s been at Georgia.
This is a great matchup. Considering how Tennessee, Florida and Auburn look so far, this is likely the toughest test for Georgia all season. If Georgia’s defense is as good as we suspect it is, then Saturday’s game could tell us what the home Bulldogs’ chances may be for the next few months.
Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-7 p.m. weekdays on “Middle Georgia’s ESPN” – 93.1 FM in Macon and 99.5 FM in Warner Robins. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at email@example.com.