Find fire within
Georgia has played its best on defense this season when it has been motivated by outside forces, whether it was the Old Man Football comment before Missouri, the bad feelings from last year’s Vanderbilt game and with the harsh comments from Shawn Williams and outsiders before the Florida game. The Bulldogs need to play with passion not only because the Southeastern Conference Eastern Division is on the line, but because this Ole Miss team is much-improved from the 2-10 squad from last year.
Continue to force turnovers
Georgia forced six turnovers against Florida and could have its chances against Ole Miss. Quarterback Bo Wallace has thrown nine interceptions in eight games, and he fumbled during an exchange against Arkansas last week. The Rebels have 17 turnovers total, tied for third most in the SEC. Safety Bacarri Rambo grabbed his first interception of the season against Florida. Linebacker Jarvis Jones forced a pair of fumbles and recovered two more.
Hold up in secondary
Wallace, a junior college transfer, has completed 46 of 59 passes for 504 yards the last two games. He has completed 66.3 percent of his passes this season with 10 touchdowns and the nine interceptions.
His top target is 6-3, 216-pound Donte Moncrief, who has 39 catches for 540 yards and is tied for second in the SEC with five touchdown catches.
“He’s proved to us that he can beat anybody in the league one-on-one,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said.
“He’s made plays against a lot of people,” Bulldogs defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. “He’s got really good hands, a big guy. We’ll have our hands full with him.”
Stand ground in red zone
Ole Miss ranks third in the SEC in touchdowns in the red zone at 71.4 percent, which trails only Alabama and Texas A&M. The Rebels are sixth in the nation overall in overall red-zone scoring (92.9 percent). Georgia is sixth in the SEC in red-zone touchdown defense at 50.0. They have 16 of their 20 touchdowns there rushing. The Rebels can use the zone read with Wallace, turn to Randall Mackey sometimes close to the end zone or Barry Brunetti, who ran for a touchdown against Arkansas.
Play under control
Georgia approached program records for penalties last week when it had 14 for 132 yards in a chippy, emotional game against Florida.
The Bulldogs are 11th in the SEC in penalty yards per game at 61.2. Ole Miss is third at 37.1. Georgia can’t afford to let Ole Miss move the chains when they could be coming off the field, especially since the Rebels are already good at converting on third down. They are second in the conference at 49.1 percent.
— Marc Weiszer
Who has the edge?
Offense Edge: Georgia
Georgia ranks second in the SEC in total offense (460.1) and third in scoring offense (36.8) but has averaged 17.7 points per game away from Athens the last three games against South Carolina, Kentucky and Florida. Georgia scored 45 or more points in four home games in September.
Quarterback Aaron Murray got his second straight win against Florida and his first top-10 win, but his numbers weren’t impressive: 12 of 24 for 150 yards with a touchdown and three interceptions.
Georgia’s offensive line held a formidable Florida defense without a sack and paved the way for a 118-yard rushing game for freshman Todd Gurley. Receiver Malcolm Mitchell has 14 catches for 177 yards and a touchdown the past two games.
Ole Miss scored 41 points against Auburn and 30 against Arkansas the past two games, both victories. The Rebels have scored at least 27 points in every game except the 33-14 loss to Alabama. The Rebels are balanced, averaging 235.6 yards passing per game and 194.4 rushing. Wallace is fifth in the SEC in total offense (239.0), which is right behind No. 4 Murray (254.6).
“He’s really confident,” Bulldog defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. “He can make plays with his feet, can make plays with his arm. He’s the kind of guy that can make guys miss and not necessarily take off running for a lot, but he can throw it, too. He’s pretty good.”
Running back Jeff Scott is only 5-foot-7 and 170 pounds, but he carries the load for the Rebels. He’s averaged 20.5 carries the past four games and is fifth in the SEC at 87.4 yards per game. Receiver Donte’ Moncrief (67.5 yards per game, five touchdowns) may be the best receiver Georgia has played this season aside from Tennessee’s Justin Rogers and Cordarelle Patterson.
“They’ve just got a really good offensive package, a good scheme, a challenging balanced attack that goes very high-tempo,” Richt said.
Defense Edge: Georgia
Ole Miss is starting three freshmen and four sophomores on a defense that ranks 10th in the SEC in scoring at 26.6 and ninth in yards allowed at 369.5
“They kind of went younger and faster on defense is what it looks like to me,” said Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo, who said he couldn’t help notice the Rebels’ team speed when watching the film. “They had some big guys (last year) and have guys on the field that can run and make plays, and they’re playing pretty aggressively.”
Georgia’s defense spent time this week getting adjusted to what safety Bacarri Rambo said was a new scheme for Ole Miss.
The Bulldogs are coming off their best showing of the season in a 17-9 win against Florida. The Gators were held to 266 total yards of offense and three field goals.
“I did not see a Georgia team that shied away from any physicality,” Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said. “They’re a very physical football team. Their interior defensive line has huge guys, and they surround them with all of those linebackers that can run. They’re not too small themselves.”
Bulldogs linebacker Jarvis Jones is coming off perhaps the best game of his career. He had a career-high 13 tackles, three sacks, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries against Florida. He leads the SEC in sacks (8.5), tackles for loss (14.0), forced fumbles (5) and is eighth in tackles per game at 8.2.
Georgia will test an Ole Miss secondary that includes a freshman safety, Trae Elston, and is giving up 221.5 yards per game through the air.
“They showed me that defensively they can play man coverage with a really good passing attack,” Richt said of the Arkansas game. “They did a very good job of doing that, mixing coverages and trying to make things confusing for the quarterback.”
Special Teams Edge: Even
Ole Miss kicker Byron Rose hit a 31-yard field goal as time expired for a 30-27 win against Arkansas in Little Rock, Ark., last week. He also nailed a 53-yarder earlier in the fourth quarter. Rose missed his first four field goals of the season, but has made 10 of 11 since. He is 35 of 44 on field goals in his career. Ole Miss punter Jim Broadway from Roswell, who averages 42.3 yards per punt, is the son of former Georgia punter Jim Broadway Sr., who punted for the Bulldogs from 1980-82 as the Bulldogs won three straight SEC championships and a national title. Broadway joined the team this spring. He previously played at Miami (Ohio). Jaylen Walton ranks second in the SEC in kick returns, including a 100-yard return for a touchdown. The Rebels are last in the SEC in kickoff coverage and punt return average at 5.2. Georgia is seventh in kickoff coverage and 10th in punt return average. Georgia punter Collin Barber is averaging 39.4 yards per punt. Kicker Marshall Morgan is 6 of 8 on field goals.
Coaching Edge: Georgia
It’s a rookie SEC coach against the dean of SEC coaches in terms of longevity at the same school. Hugh Freeze is 5-3 at Ole Miss and 35-10 overall in four seasons as a head coach, including one season at Arkansas State (10-2 in 2011) and two at Lambuth (20-5 in 2008-09). Richt is 113-39 overall in 12 seasons. He is 27-11 at Georgia against teams from the SEC West.
The Rebels have won two straight SEC games after snapping a 16-game conference losing streak. They need one more win to become bowl eligible. Ole Miss is seeking its first three-game SEC winning streak since 2008.
Overall Edge: Georgia
Georgia hasn’t lost to Ole Miss since the Rebels won 31-27 on Nov. 23, 1996. Ole Miss’s victories this year came against 1-7 Auburn and 3-5 Arkansas. Georgia has the talent to make this a rout but also has let teams stick around that probably shouldn’t have. Ole Miss is a team on the rise, but look for the Bulldogs to get their 10th straight victory over Ole Miss to move one game away from reaching the SEC championship.
— Marc Weiszer
Matchup to watch
Georgia running game vs. Ole Miss defense
Georgia got its ground game going again against Florida after being held in check against South Carolina and Kentucky.
The Bulldogs, who average 194.9 yards per game rushing, should be able to create holes for Gurley to run through again against an Ole Miss defense that ranks ninth in the SEC against the run, allowing 148 yards per game.
Arkansas rushed for 167 yards last week, Texas A&M ran for 290 yards on Oct. 6 and Texas for 350 yards on Sept. 15.
“It seems to me that they’re getting stronger and stronger each game,” Gurley said.
Gurley rushed for 118 yards against Florida last week, the first running back to hit 100 yards against the Gators this season.
“I thought we did a nice job of getting a hat on a hat and giving him some space,” Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. “We did not dominate Florida up front, but we put our hat in the right spot and got on the right guys and that gave that guy some space.”
Gurley had a career-high 27 carries and scored a touchdown against Florida.
“We start off with the run mostly every game,” Gurley said. “We try to get it going, get the line good confidence. If you start off running, it just makes them feel good and then keep moving on and on.”
Linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche is the top playmaker in Ole Miss’ front seven. He has 52 tackles, nine tackles for loss and two forced fumbles.
“I think they do a good job with slanting up front and blitzing linebackers,” Bobo said. “They defeat you with their quickness and their speed and their scheme. We’ve got to do a good job of recognizing what they’re in and taking the proper angles up front.”
Ole Miss freshman nose tackle Issac Gross is 6-1 and 254 pounds but is strong and quick, Bobo said.
Georgia center David Andrews is 6-2 and 295 pounds and guards Dallas Lee and Chris Burnette are 300 and 322 respectively.
“It’s definitely different,” Andrews said. “He’s just a quicker guy and a shiftier guy. It’s still the same thing with those guys. You’ve just got to get your hands on them and your feet set. It’s the same thing with those big guys. They’re going to throw you off rather than juking or running around you.”
Said Bobo: “Sometimes people look at a guy’s weighs this and our guy weighs that, and we’re supposed to just knock them off the ball. Nobody really just knocks anybody backwards anymore in college football. It’s moving them side to side. We’ve got to recognize what they’re doing and getting them in the right run checks at quarterback and the linemen have to recognize things.”
— Marc Weiszer
The Rebels and Bulldogs played annually from 1966-2002. Georgia was 27-10-1 during that span. The last Ole Miss win in the series was 31-27 in 1996.
Ole Miss has 10 players from Georgia on its roster: Jim Broadway (Roswell), Will Few (Augusta), A.J. Hawkins (Lithonia), Mike Hilton (Fayetteville), Jason Jones (Albany), Joel Kight (Lithonia), Denzel Nkemdiche (Loganville), Evan Swindell (LaFayette), Justin Watts (Suwanee) and Cameron Whigham (Snellville).
The Bulldogs are ninth in the nation in forcing three-and-out nationally with 39 total. The Bulldogs, however, are only 10th in the SEC in third-down defense at 37.3 percent (47 of 126).
This is Georgia’s homecoming game. The Bulldogs are 71-17-2 all-time on homecoming. Ole Miss has never been the homecoming opponent for Georgia before, even though they have met 44 times previously. This is the first time CBS has aired the homecoming game since 1997, when Georgia beat Kentucky 23-13.
“They’ve had a hard time winning there, and he’s come in and kind of turned them around. You can tell when you watch their tape that they play hard and they work to finish. They’ve got some belief in them. — Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham on Ole Miss under Hugh Freeze.
“What I see is a team that has a brand new head coach that’s brought a lot of energy to the program. A lot of times you just never know how close you are to winning and breaking through and having success. — Georgia coach Mark Richt on Ole Miss.
“Any time you win, particularly on the road, it builds confidence. We’re playing so many young kids, for them to experience that on the road, it helps expediate the journey that we’re on. It doesn’t mean we’ve arrived or done anything great yet, but it certainly helps for them to win that fashion. — Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze on winning 30-27 at Arkansas on 31-yard field goal as time expired.
“We haven’t been home in a while. We haven’t been home the entire month of October, so we’re happy to be home.” — Richt on the first home game since Sept. 29 against Tennessee.