Missouri head football coach Eliah Drinkwitz practiced his poker face all week, cancelling video availability at practices and maneuvering around reporters’ questions about the injury status of his starting quarterback, Connor Bazelak.
“They’ve all tried to do investigative journalism,” Drinkwitz said. “This is a journalism school. I get that. But I’m pretty good at playing poker.”
Thursday’s injury report gave no clarity to the situation, listing Bazelak as questionable ahead of Saturday’s away game against (1) Georgia.
One report from Yahoo Sports’ Pete Thamel claims that Bazelak will be on the sidelines for the game: “expect both Brady Cook and Tyler Macon to play for Missouri.”
It wouldn’t be surprising to see both play, considering Drinkwitz said after the win over Vanderbilt that his decision to replace Bazelak with Macon was “situational,” going on to say “if it were a different situation, I probably would’ve went with Brady.”
Cook is more of a pocket passer compared to Macon, who showed his capability of running the read option with a couple of runs at the end of the Vandy game. But regardless of who takes the snaps at Sanford Stadium, they’ll be facing the most staunch defense in the country.
Georgia allows the least points per game (6.6) in the country, less than half of the second-best defense, Cincinnati. The Bulldogs also allow the second-fewest rushing yards and second-fewest passing yards per game, and that’s with a schedule facing six SEC teams and Clemson.
The defense took a significant hit with the loss of linebacker Adam Anderson, who was suspended by the team in lieu of a rape allegation. Anderson leads the Bulldogs in sacks, is second in tackles for loss and fifth in total tackles.
Even without Anderson, the Bulldogs have the depth to bring a lot of challenges for a Tigers offense that will have a quarterback without starting experience at the helm. And, for as good as Tyler Badie has been all year, there have been games where the run game couldn’t get going, notably against Tennessee.
The Tigers will also be without Ish Burdine, Shawn Robinson and Johnny Walker. A depleted Missouri defense will have its hands full with a two-headed rushing attack of Zamir White and James Cook, and whether it’s Stetson Bennett or JT Daniels at quarterback, the Tigers must contend with matchup nightmare Brock Bowers and a slew of strong receivers like Adonai Mitchell and Jermaine Burton.
Georgia ranks 12th in the country in run play percentage, and while that’s likely a product of their domination early in games, look for them to stick to the ground to take advantage of Mizzou’s glaring weakness.
“They have so many weapons,” defensive coordinator Steve Wilks said, “so, okay, what do you take away, or who do you take away? Number one, I think, you’ve got to make them one-dimensional. You’ve got to do everything you can to try to stop the run. You’ve got to stop the run first. If they’re able to run the ball and pass, it’s going to be a long day.”
Missouri sits as 39-point underdogs against their toughest opponent of the season, but Martez Manuel and the Tigers aren’t backing down from the challenge.
“I just tell them to be who they are and don’t believe in the hype,” Manuel said in regards to what he tells younger players in preparation for the game. “You know, like, these guys wake up and brush their teeth in the morning just like we do, you know what I mean, they wake up and tie their shoes just like we do, you know, they’re human beings… the best team is going to win, whoever performs best on that day.”
Kickoff is at 11 AM at Sanford Stadium in Athens, Georgia, and the game will be televised on ESPN.