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October 8, 2013

Preparing for Georgia

INJURIES GALORE FOR GEORGIA: A year ago, Missouri was the walking triage unit of the SEC. After last week, the seventh-ranked Bulldogs can take that banner.

Against Missouri, Georgia will be without running back Keith Marshall and receivers Justin Scott-Wesley and Michael Bennett. Safety Connor Norman and punter Collin Barber are day-to-day.

Throw in the uncertain status of star running back Todd Gurley, too. Gurley sprained his ankle against LSU and missed last week's game against Tennessee.

On paper, that's 38 percent of its receiving yards and 23 percent of its rushing yards. But if anyone knows injury concerns, it's Gary Pinkel.

"They've lost quite a few," Pinkel said. "Obviously they have great depth. I don't wish that on anybody. First of all, I don't want kids getting hurt, number one.

"I think it's difficult for every team."

When Marshall went down against Tennessee, Georgia leaned on freshman running back J.J. Green, who ran for 129 yards on 17 carries to finish the game. For the season, Green has 194 yards on 22 carries -- a heathy 8.82 yards-per-attempt average.

"They got good athletes," Pinkel said. "They may be a little less experienced in some ways, but they got good depth."

Because of those changes in personnel at the top of Georgia's depth chart, Missouri has to prepare for a few relatively unknown players on the Bulldogs' offense. Pinkel said that his team has to continue to prepare for Georgia's scheme, as that's unlikely to change, even if there's not much tape on Green or the receivers that will fill in for Bennett and Scott-Wesley.

Still, even Georgia's back-ups were mostly highly-regarded players out of high school.

"I wouldn't feel real sorry for them," Pinkel said. "I wouldn't go that far."

Missouri will be without offensive lineman Anthony Gatti this week who is recovering from turf toe. Pinkel said Gatti won't travel with the team.

MURRAY STILL A THREAT: Despite the injuries, there's still a constant in Georgia's offense, and it's at the most important position. Aaron Murray enters Saturday's game as the SEC's all-time leader in passing yards. He broke former UGA star David Greene's record against Tennessee.

"He's got very good accuracy," Pinkel said. "He's very well coached. He obviously can deliver the ball, make plays. Make plays in critical situations. He's had some great games this season. He's a senior, he's mature. We've only been in the league two years, but I kind of followed him a little bit before. He's really, you know, he quarterbacks well. He moves well. He moves in the pocket."

Pinkel's description of Murray sounds like the dictionary definition for "star quarterback." Cornerback E.J. Gaines added focused on Pinkel's last description when talking about why Murray can be so lethal.

"He can definitely move in the pocket," Gaines said. "If it's there, he'll take off down the field. He didn't really do much of that against us last year, because he was putting the ball on the money."

A year ago, Missouri did relatively well in containing Missouri in the first half. Murray threw one touchdown and an interception as Missouri entered halftime with a 10-9 lead. In the second half, however, Murray threw two third-quarter touchdowns to give the Bulldogs a lead it wouldn't relinquish.

He finished 22-of-35 for 242 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. His passer rating, 143.51, was his fourth-worst performance in 2012. His three lowest rated performances came against top-ten teams -- South Carolina, Florida and Alabama.

Even with that relative success, Gaines said the team hasn't broken down much of the film from last year's game in preparation for Saturday.

"Personally, I have, though," Gaines said. "I do every year, if we've played the team the year before, I go back and watch. Maybe they completed some passes on me or I missed a tackle, so I need to see if they'll try to do that again. I like to go back and see what I did wrong."

PREPARING FOR THE HEDGES: Georgia's Sanford Stadium is one of the most imposing venues in college football. Missouri isn't unfamiliar with venues like that from its days in the Big 12, but it still represents a challenge for Missouri's offensive line.

In preparation for this game, the team has piped in music during some practices to help the players deal with the noise. Last year, Evan Boehm said they would play crowd noise to simulate big games. This year, it's heavy metal.

"It's probably louder than any stadium, because we bring out the speakers, and it's right there on the field," Boehm said.

The offensive line, as it always does, prepares for these games by creating hand signals to make calls, should the noise make it difficult to hear.

"We do a great job of communicating that way," Boehm said. "It affects you sometimes, but when you have that communication straight down the line, you'll be fine."

TRAGEDY IN OVERLAND PARK: On Thursday, Shawnee Mission West (Kan.) athlete Andre Maloney suffered a stroke during a game. On Friday, he was removed from life support and passed away in the afternoon.

Maloney, a Kansas commitment, had an offer from Missouri, and the Tigers' coaching staff knew him and his family from the recruiting trail.

Gary Pinkel spoke about Maloney's death on Monday.

"It's just real sad," Pinkel said. "On behalf of all Missouri Tigers, our whole staff and whole football program, prayers and thoughts to the family. I heard about what happened I think Friday evening. When I heard that he passed, it just broke my heart. Walking around just in disbelief you know? It's just real, real sad."

A visitation for Maloney is scheduled from 7 to 10 PM Tuesday at Holy Cross Catholic Church in Overland Park. The funeral mass will be celebrated at 4 PM Wednesday at Holy Cross.

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