Georgia-Mississippi State would be a matchup of top-20 teams if the game was played at the start of this month.
Instead both will be trying to reassert themselves Saturday at Sanford Stadium in the clash of Bulldogs squads.
Mississippi State went 9-4 last season, finishing with a 52-14 rout of Michigan in the Gator Bowl, but it is still looking for its first Southeastern Conference win. It needed overtime to beat Louisiana Tech in Starkville on Saturday night, 26-20.
Georgia (2-2, 1-1 SEC) started 0-2 after losing to ranked Boise State and South Carolina, but notched wins against Coastal Carolina and Ole Miss the past two weeks.
It can climb over .500 Saturday for the first time since beating Louisiana-Lafayette to open last season.
“It would be a great boost for our team and for our fan base, but if we do it, it’s going to be really hard earned,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said Sunday evening. “These guys are very good. They started very similarly last year … and they beat us. Of course, they’ve played a couple of pretty good teams in Auburn and LSU, their two losses, so it’s not like they just lost to some teams that aren’t very formidable.”
After starting the season ranked 20, Mississippi State fell out of the top 25 after losing to Auburn, 41-34, and to LSU, 19-6.
Mississippi State (2-2, 0-2) is ninth in the SEC in scoring offense.
“We have a bunch of things we need to fix up,” Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said. Sunday “We haven’t hit a panic button. We’re not scrapping anything that we’re doing right now. We just have to execute better.”
Mullen said his team has left 42 points on the field this season in the red zone with not scoring or settling for field goals instead of touchdowns.
Meanwhile, Georgia has moved up to 13th in the nation in total defense, allowing an average of 270 yards per game. It held Ole Miss to 183 yards of total offense in a 27-13 win on Saturday.
One reason: improvement up front.
“I think our defensive line has grown up a bunch,” Richt said. “Last year, we were playing a lot of guys that hadn’t played a bunch just because we had those five senior defensive linemen (in 2009). They were getting so much work. Even though those guys were preparing for action, it was really the first time Abry (Jones) and DeAngelo (Tyson) were getting work. So now they’re more mature.”
There’s also plays being made in the secondary from safety Bacarri Rambo, who leads the nation in interceptions per game (1.33). He has four this season, along with Vanderbilt’s Casey Hayward and N.C. State’s David Amerson, but they’ve played one more game than Rambo.
“Most everything that hits his hands, he’s caught,” Richt said.
Mississippi State beat Georgia last year, 24-12, for its first win in the series since 1974. That victory started a six-game winning streak.
“That was a huge game for us,” Mullen said. “We were 1-2 going into that game and found a way to win. It was a huge momentum swing for us to get us onto a win streak. It really kind of energized and built a lot of confidence within our guys.”
Mullen is 4-1 against Georgia, but he will coach for the first time between the hedges.
He went 3-1 as offensive coordinator at Florida from 2005-08 in games in Jacksonville and last year’s game was in Mississippi.
“This will be the first time going there for me,” Mullen said. “It will be a new experience. It’s the last stadium in the SEC for me to go to, so all of that will be new. ”
Notes:Inside linebacker Christian Robinson has “a chance,” to return Saturday from the foot injury after missing the past two games,” Richt said.
“We’re hoping Christian can play this week,” Richt said. Richt isn’t sure how much Robinson will be able to practice this week or if he would start or backup if available.
Georgia’s starting inside linebackers now are Amarlo Herrera and Mike Gilliard. … Tramel Terry, a junior receiver from Goose Creek, S.C., has backed off a verbal commitment to Georgia he gave this summer, according to DawgPost.com. Terry is also now considering South Carolina and Clemson. … Offensive guard Chris Burnette’s availability for Saturday is in question after he traveled, but did not play at Ole Miss after reinjuring a knee on Wednesday. “He really wasn’t even close,” Richt said. “We thought he’d be closer to being a possible emergency backup during the game, but he didn’t get that far. … I’d be thankful if we got him back Wednesday or Thursday quite frankly. If he turned and was ready to go Thursday, we’d probably put him in there and go.”