There are games talked about in the offseason as ones that are sure to loom large for the way a season might take shape.
For Georgia, those tilts included Notre Dame, Tennessee, Florida and Auburn.
Mississippi State wasn’t considered one of those, but, it turns out, has become a marquee matchup.
Georgia (3-0, 0-0 SEC) will play a ranked Mississippi State team for the first time in 24 all-time meetings in Saturday’s 7 p.m. ESPN game in Sanford Stadium.
Mississippi State (3-0, 1-0), picked to finish sixth in the SEC West, jumped into the top 25 at No.17 a day after its 37-7 rout of LSU, the largest win in the 111 games they’ve played.
It is ranked for the first time since November 2015 and looks to be the top contender after Alabama in the SEC West. Georgia moved up two spots to No. 11 as it opens its SEC schedule.
“We’re ready,” safety J.R. Reed said. “We’re real ready. The whole team is ready to go.”
“You’ve to be on your P’s and Q’s, you’ve got to be on top of everything, you can’t have substitution mistakes, you can’t have kicking errors, you can’t have busts,” coach Kirby Smart said of starting league play. “They cost you in tight ballgames. We’ll be in tight ballgames the rest of the way because they’re good programs.”
Georgia rushed for 284 yards in its 42-14 win Saturday night against Samford and got three touchdown passes from Jake Fromm in the highest-scoring output in Smart’s 16 games at Georgia. More progress will be needed in the weeks ahead.
“We’re going to play better defenses so we better get ready,” Smart said.
Mississippi State is fourth in the nation in total defense (206.0 yards per game) and sixth in scoring defense (9.3) under Todd Grantham, the former Georgia defensive coordinator.
Mississippi State tops the SEC and is 11th nationally in scoring at 47.7 points per game and leads the SEC in rushing at 297.7 yards per game. Georgia is second in the SEC and fifth nationally in stopping the run, giving up 71 yards per game.
Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald accounted for two rushing touchdowns and threw for two scores in the LSU win. He rushed for 88 yards on 14 carries and passed for 180 yards.
“They have all kinds of ways to run the ball,” said Smart, who went 8-0 against Mississippi State as Alabama defensive coordinator and used the words “physical and big” to describe going up against a Dan Mullen-coached team. “I don’t think I’ve ever played him when he didn’t have a running quarterback. It’s really hard to defend because your box count is never good. Whether he had Dak Prescott, Chris Relf. He’s had all kinds of big quarterbacks, and he’s got one now. It’s hard to defend because the guy can throw the ball, too.”