Some people expect Mark Richt’s Georgia Bulldogs to come out of Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford with an easy win over embattled Houston Nutt’s Rebel Black Bears. Vegas has UGA favored by 10.
I think the Dogs ought to win this game, but I’m not so sure it won’t be a nailbiter.
Sure, Ole Miss got kicked around by Vandy last week and statistically its rent-a-quarterback offense is one of the worst in the country. They’ve also been prone to turning the ball over (Zack Stoudt, one of their two JUCO quarterbacks, threw five picks against the Commodores), which is likely to encourage Georgia’s sack-deprived pass rushers to step up the quarterback pressure even more.
But while both teams are looking to even their records and both coaches are feeling the heat from frustrated supporters, Nutt’s seat is considerably hotter than Richt’s, the Ole Miss AD has declared last week’s effort in Nashville unacceptable and the Mississippi fan base is in an uproar, with folks taking out full-page ads calling for change.
It is, of course, possible that all this increased pressure will result in Ole Miss simply collapsing and Georgia will win in a cakewalk, but it’s much more likely that the Rebs will come out determined to save their coach’s job and will play their best football of the season against Georgia.
Even if that proves the case, the Dogs still ought to win on talent alone. But if they get sloppy and start giving away points like they did in the South Carolina game, all bets are off.
The play of Georgia’s defensive front will be key, as Ole Miss is more likely to try and establish the run behind a very big offensive line than it is to come out challenging the Dogs secondary in the air. However, banged-up Brandon Bolden and Jeff Scott aren’t Marcus Lattimore, and the Rebels had little success running against Vandy, so the Dogs should be able to keep the ground game under control.
Meanwhile, the paper-thin Georgia offensive line will be facing a senior-laden Rebel DL and the Mississippi secondary has proved opportunistic, with five interceptions so far this season. But Ole Miss has been giving up nearly 200 yards per game on the ground, so Isaiah Crowell has the opportunity to take some of the pressure off Aaron Murray. This would be a great time for him to have his first really big day.
Ole Miss hasn’t faced the level of competition the Dogs have so far and despite playing ranked teams in two of its first three games Georgia’s still averaging better than 426 yards of offense and nearly 41 points, so you’ve got to think the Dogs should be able to move the ball on the Rebs.
It’s the intangibles that worry me. Ole Miss’ pride is hurting after the Vandy game and I’m afraid some of the Dogs might forget last week’s 59-0 win was over an FCS school and might arrive in Oxford expecting to win. The reality is that, against major competition, Georgia has looked awful in one game and much improved but mistake-prone in the other. So the Dogs need to come into this game hungry for redemption and with something to prove.
Even with their backs against the wall, the Rebs don’t have the horses to run with Georgia if everything goes as it should. But poor ball-handling by Georgia or an off day for Murray could even things up.
It’s the Dogs’ game to lose, in other words.
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