Conference road wins have been rare the last couple of years for Georgia.
So the Bulldogs escaping Oxford, Miss., with a 27-13 victory against mistake-prone Ole Miss brought a sigh of relief and rejuvenated morale in their camp.
Georgia (2-2, 1-1 Southeastern Conference) didn’t play especially well for the full 60 minutes, but it outplayed embattled Ole Miss, which seemed to fade quickly in the second half.
Errors, especially on Georgia’s special teams, gave Ole Miss multiple chances to change the game’s outlook. But solid defense and the Rebels’ sagging spirits kept Ole Miss at arm’s length.
Georgia had many bright spots. Freshman running back Isaiah Crowell had a dominant first half. Aaron Murray reconnected with his tight ends for two touchdowns. Other than getting caught flat-footed on gadget plays, the defense locked down Ole Miss (1-3, 0-2), which was ranked last in the SEC in total offense going into the game.
Ole Miss caused almost as much damage to itself as Georgia did. On the third play of the game, Ole Miss’ Jeff Scott ran for a 66-yard touchdown that came back because of a holding infraction. Ole Miss committed eight penalties for 69 yards, turned the ball over twice and only converted 3 of 14 third downs.
After a two-game hiatus, Georgia’s offense rediscovered its tight ends as Orson Charles and Aron White combined for eight catches, 111 yards and two touchdowns. That was four times their combined total of catches against South Carolina and Coastal Carolina.
Charles’ touchdown was a beautiful 2-yard leaping grab in the corner to cap a 99-yard drive. White’s 35-yard touchdown reception started short route, but he found enough downfield blocking to enter the end zone for the first time this season.
White and Charles have the speed to escape linebackers, so they’ve got big-play ability. But Georgia’s shortcomings in pass protection have forced the tight ends to help plug holes in the pocket more often that offensive coordinator Mike Bobo would like. Georgia didn’t allow a sack in the second half, so maybe that’s a sign that pass blocking has improved. It might also be a sign that Ole Miss’ pass rush became more lethargic as the game went along.
Georgia’s special teams were special in all the wrong ways. Blair Walsh missed three straight field goals. The Bulldogs were surprised by a first-half onside kick. Maybe the most egregious error was Georgia’s complete befuddlement that Ole Miss would run a reverse on a punt return.
Houston Nutt had already gambled and won on a reverse pass for a touchdown and recovered an onside kick. Georgia should have been on point for something sneaky in the final minute of the first half. But the Bulldogs’ containment wandered toward the middle of the field, Ole Miss set up a convoy of blockers down the sideline and Nickolas Brassell ran 81 yards to the end zone.
This is the second time this season that Georgia’s special teams have been fooled. South Carolina’s 276-pound defensive end Melvin Ingram ran a fake punt 68 yards for a late first-half touchdown. Looks like the league coaches have found something they can exploit.
The offense Ole Miss rolled out in the second half was truly offensive.
The Rebels stumbled to 49 yards, three first downs and no points after the reverse punt return for a touchdown gave them momentum going into halftime.
Ole Miss’ utter ineptitude came in critical situations when Walsh missed three straight second-half field goals to keep the difference at 10 points.
Georgia’s defense had a lot to do with the Rebels’ struggles. The Bulldogs had probably their most productive day of pass defense with four sacks and two Bacarri Rambo interceptions. But pitiful execution to that extreme when the outcome is in doubt is a symptom of a team resigned to its fate to finish near the bottom of the standings.
Georgia hosts another struggling team from the Magnolia State when Mississippi State (2-2, 0-2) calls at Sanford Stadium on Saturday. Kickoff is at noon.