ATHENS – Ole Miss, one of two teams standing between Georgia and the SEC Championship game, shouldn’t be judged by its recent 16-game conference losing streak, according to UGA coach Mark Richt.
“What I see is a team that has a brand new head coach that’s brought a lot of energy to the program,” Richt said. “A lot of times, you just never know how close you are to winning and breaking through and having success.”
Ole Miss lost its final six SEC games in 2010 and went 0-8 in the league last season, resulting in a coaching change that saw Hugh Freeze replace Houston Nutt. The conference losing streak reached 16 when Ole Miss lost its first two SEC games this season to Alabama and Texas A&M.
But the Rebels broke through with a 41-20 win over Auburn on Oct. 13 and followed that with a 30-27 win at Arkansas, enabling them to bring a two-game winning streak into Saturday’s game at Georgia.
“I know it’s going to be a heck of a ballgame,” Richt said.
Even before the back-to-back wins, Ole Miss showed signs of progress.
The Rebels played Alabama “pretty darn good” — Richt’s words — in a 33-14 loss in Tuscaloosa. They held the No. 1-ranked Crimson Tide to fewer points than any other team has done this season.
“When you watch that film,” Richt said, “you know they can run and play with the big boys.”
Then “they came very close to beating Texas A&M,” Richt said. The Rebels led the No. 16 Aggies by 10 points in the fourth quarter before losing 30-27.
Ole Miss (5-3, 2-2 SEC) has a balanced, up-tempo offense that ranks sixth in the SEC, averaging 430 yards per game, and a young defense that ranks ninth in the league, giving up 369.5 yards per game. The defense was at its worst in a 66-31 non-conference loss to Texas on Sept. 15.
“That game was so long ago, it’s not the same Ole Miss defense, in my opinion,” Richt said.
Ole Miss has lost its past nine games against Georgia and has an all-time record of 4-17-1 in Athens.
“To go to their place with our limited number of scholarship kids and the lack of depth we have at places, it’s a tall task,” Freeze said. “But we’ve been that way in most games we’ve played. Our kids are going to compete, I know that, and I think we need a few breaks here and there. And we’ve got to play probably a near-perfect game to go in and pull it off.
“Our kids are going to be very excited to play in this type of atmosphere, and coming off two wins certainly gives us some confidence. But it is a tall task.”
A Georgia victory would put the Bulldogs in position to reach the SEC Championship game by winning at Auburn on Nov. 10.
– Staff writer Michael Carvell contributed to this article.