Murray is the SEC’s new career leader in passing yards and is on the verge of passing Tim Tebow as the conference’s all-time leader in total offense. Those records, plus wins over top 10 teams South Carolina and LSU, have placed Murray in the national spotlight for No. 7 Georgia.
James Franklin and No. 25 Missouri also are earning national respect. Franklin threw four touchdown passes to lead Missouri (5-0,
1-0 Southeastern Conference) to a 51-28 win at Vanderbilt last week. The win pushed the Tigers into the Top 25.
“James is playing pretty well,” said Missouri coach Gary Pinkel. “This will be another test for him. James’ performance does not surprise me right now. His leadership is great, and he is kind of what I thought he would be. There are people around him that can make plays.”
Franklin will lead a balanced Missouri offense against a short-handed Georgia team.
Georgia (4-1, 3-0) lost tailback Keith Marshall and two receivers to injuries in last week’s 34-31 overtime win at Tennessee.
Marshall and receiver Justin Scott-Wesley were lost for the season with injuries to their right knees. Receiver Michael Bennett will miss at least two weeks after hurting his right knee against the Vols.
“It definitely hurts but we have a lot of talent and great depth,” Murray said. “Our receivers position is extremely deep. It’s not just three or four guys. We have so many guys who can play this year.”
Georgia is listing senior Rhett McGowan and junior Chris Conley as the starting receivers.
The Bulldogs also could be without tailback Todd Gurley for the second straight week with a sprained left ankle. Coach Mark Richt has said Gurley is doubtful for the game.
The Bulldogs survived against the Vols as freshman tailback J.J. Green ran for 129 yards on 17 carries and Murray threw for three touchdowns.
Pinkel said Georgia is one of the nation’s most talented teams, even with all the injuries.
“They are obviously one of the great teams in the nation with a bunch of great players, and great athletes that play well,” Pinkel said. “We understand that they are probably one of the best teams we will play all year.”
Murray needs 325 yards to top Tebow’s SEC record for total offense (12,232) in a career.
Here are five things to watch as Georgia and Missouri try to remain unbeaten in the SEC:
THIRD-DOWN STOPS: It has been a rough start for a rebuilding Georgia defense which ranks last in the SEC with 32.2 points allowed per game.
Richt said the problem has been making stops on third-and-long plays. The Bulldogs are last in the league on third-down defense.
Missouri has been one of the most successful offenses in the league while converting 53.8 percent of its third-down plays. Missouri ranks second in the SEC, behind Texas A&M, with 46.6 points per game.
TURNOVER STREAK: Missouri has forced a turnover in 35 consecutive games. Murray has thrown only three interceptions with 14 TD passes, but he may face more pressure with new starting receivers and Green possibly making his first start at tailback.
Some of the pressure on Murray could come from Missouri defensive end Michael Sam, who has recorded three sacks in back-to-back games against Arkansas State and Vanderbilt.
BALANCE FOR BULLDOGS: If Gurley can’t play, Green needs help to keep Georgia’s running game moving. Another freshman, Brendan Douglas, had 10 carries for 25 yards and a touchdown at Tennessee.
Georgia has worked this week to prepare senior Brandon Harton and junior Kyle Karempelis at tailback. Freshman A.J. Turman, who seemed destined for a redshirt season, could be pushed into the rotation.
HELP FOR FRANKLIN: Missouri is one of only eight teams in the nation to rank in the top 32 in both rushing and passing.
Tailbacks Henry Josey, Russell Hansbrough and Marcus Murphy and Franklin each have rushed for more than 275 yards. Hansbrough leads the Tigers with 379 yards rushing and three touchdowns. Josey has rushed for 307 yards and six touchdowns.
MOTIVATED MISSOURI: The Tigers were slow to move into the Top 25 because it has not yet played a ranked opponent.
Missouri beat Murray State, Toledo, Indiana and Arkansas State before last week’s win at Vanderbilt. The Tigers also have had to regain respect after finishing 5-7 overall and 2-6 in the SEC last year.
That losing record ended Missouri’s school-record streak of eight straight bowl seasons.
By comparison, Missouri will be the fourth Top 25 team Georgia has played, following Clemson, South Carolina and LSU.