September 7, 2012

Looking to make a point

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Two teams with something to prove.

That basically sums up Saturday night's contest approximately two hours down Interstate-70 in Columbia, where Missouri gets ready to host seventh-ranked Georgia for its first-ever SEC game.

For the Tigers (1-0, 0-0), Coach Gary Pinkel's squad is hungry to prove it belongs as one of the league's two newest members, and not only compete with but defeat a team like the Bulldogs (1-0, 0-0), one of the "old guard" from college football's top conference.

Georgia, meanwhile, has some proving to do of its own. At least that's the way tight end Arthur Lynch sees it.

"I think every SEC game you have to prove a point. I think not so much for the polls, but for the conference," Lynch said. "You want to strike fear in your opponent's eyes when it comes to what kind of football team you have. I don't think we're treating Missouri any different than anyone else, but we definitely want to go out there and play the game we know how to play and we know we can play."

House money bets the rest of the Bulldog Nation would like to see the same.

The question is, will they?

Although Georgia looked impressive enough in last week's 45-23 win over Buffalo, there were enough defensive inconsistencies the first half to leave some wondering if all the preseason hype was just a lot of wishful thinking.

"We've gotten a lot of criticism for the way we played this past week," senior nose John Jenkins said. "But I consider ourselves a good defense and we've been working hard and we're going to play to our full potential this week."

Pinkel admits the buildup to Saturday night's contest (7:45, ESPN2) has been unlike anything he's seen in 12 years as the coach at Mizzou.

"It's a very historical day and our fans have been waiting for it for a long time, regardless of who we're playing," Pinkel said. "It's a very historic day, and oh by the way you're playing a very good football team in Georgia. We're excited, we're glad we're getting to play it here."

Tiger defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson was apparently too excited.

Much to Pinkel's chagrin, Richardson lobbed a bulletin board grenade when he told a Columbia newspaper earlier this week that he thought the Bulldogs' played "Old man football," a quote that received plenty of play in the Georgia media.

"What Sheldon did was wrong an irresponsible and that doesn't happen around here," Pinkel said. "He got caught him the moment, made a mistake and we handled it eternally. We don't do that here at Missouri."

The Tigers, he added, have enough to be concerned about as it is.

"There's been a lot of talk, as I anticipated and told my football team since January that it was going to be about us playing in the SEC. People would want to know how we match up. I told our players to expect it," Pinkel said. "We're going into a great league with a very, very rich tradition of winning championships and a league that has a lot of good football teams, that's why it's the best league in the country. What I tell my football team is, we're new and have to go earn respect. That's the way I was brought up and that's what I believe, so that's kind of where we're at."

Meanwhile, Georgia coach Mark Richt hasn't been above some gamesmanship when it comes to the suspensions of starting linebacker Alec Ogletree and All-American free safety Bacarri Rambo.

The pair was suspended for last week's opener, but Richt has declined to say whether or not their suspensions - for allegedly failing a drug test - would be extended to Saturday's game.

Rumors have run rampant, but Richt hasn't budged, stating all week that curious media and fans will "see when they see."

Apparently, Richt feels his team needs every edge it can get opening against a foe Georgia hasn't played since the 1960 Orange Bowl, won by the Bulldogs 14-0.

It's also the first time Georgia has opened SEC play since 1992 against a team other than South Carolina.

"To open the SEC season and not start with South Carolina is a little different, but we are going to Columbia, so I guess that's kind of the same vein," Richt said. "We knew when we added teams (to the SEC) that change was coming, so here's the change. I like away games. I enjoy the travel with the team, and I enjoy the single purpose of the mission. There really aren't a lot of distractions on the road - at least when it comes to travel, and the night before, and the time before the game. Now when the game kicks off, there is distraction with the crowd noise, but other than that I enjoy away games."

Richt shrugged off a question whether or not it was a big deal that his Bulldogs were picked to be the Tigers' first SEC foe.

"Well, you have to play them sooner or later, and you have to play someone first. No matter who you play first, you're going to be really concerned about them," Richt said. "It's a game that means so much, and it's a game that you know you're going to be playing an outstanding opponent. It's on the schedule, let's play it."

That's how Lynch sees it, too.

"There's definitely a level of excitement. First that it's the first SEC game but I'm sure they also want to prove that they're coming in this league for a reason," he said. "But I'm excited. I've played in some big games before in front of some big crowds, so I kind of know what to expect, but this is new territory. I'm ready to go."