Georgia and Ole Miss move into this week holding their heads just barely above water.
But the loser of Saturday’s game might sink toward the bottom of the Southeastern Conference standings and stay there.
The Bulldogs and the Rebels are winless in the conference so far and their respective coaches regularly appear on hot seat lists.
But Georgia’s Mark Richt does not want to attach any more importance on beating Ole Miss beyond staying afloat in the SEC East.
“There’s a sense of urgency where if we want to stay in this Eastern Division race, we’ve got to win,” Richt said. “That’s just the way it is. It’s a mathematical equation now. Bottom line is, we’ve got to have the best record in the East and if you tie, you’d better have the tiebreaker on your side. Right now, we’ve kind of lost control of our destiny in this thing. Our goal is to win our first Southeastern Conference game of the year, period. That’s all we’re thinking about right now.”
Georgia (1-2, 0-1 SEC) plays Ole Miss (1-2, 0-1) at 12:21 p.m. Saturday at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford, Miss. Neither Georgia nor Ole Miss has a win against a Football Bowl Subdivision team this year. But Richt wants to take the patient approach to returning to serious conference contention.
“You can’t do anything quickly,” Richt said. “All you can do is play the game you’ve got that week. We’ve got a string of Southeastern Conference games coming up before our open date. We’ve got to play the games as they come the best that we can and deal with the injuries that we’ve got. We’ve got to put a plan together and put it in the hands of these players to make plays. You can’t make the clock go faster.”
The heat under Richt’s seat has cooled a few notches with an improved level of play each week. Georgia looked sloppy in a 35-21 loss to Boise State. The Bulldogs outplayed South Carolina for long stretches, but eventually lost 45-42. Last Saturday, Georgia trampled overmatched Coastal Carolina 59-0 to erase the goose egg from the win column.
Richt says the fan base has been mostly supportive.
“I was very pleased with how our fans have reacted toward our team, especially at home,” Richt said. “We had a tremendous crowd at the South Carolina game. There was a lot of cheering and ovations for our players as they walked off the field. I think the fans appreciated the effort of our players. I’ve had good feelings with what’s been going on with our fan base and our students and the Redcoat Band.”
The burner under Houston Nutt’s chair cranked up a few degrees last weekend. Ole Miss looked utterly disorganized as it threw five interceptions and had four false start penalties in a 30-7 loss at Vanderbilt. The Rebels have also lost 14-13 to BYU at home. Like Georgia, Ole Miss’ only win was against a Football Championship Subdivision program — a 42-24 win over Southern Illinois.
“I’ve never felt that way on a sideline,” Nutt said after the loss. “I just didn’t have that confidence we were going to make first downs and move the ball like I normally do. It just didn’t feel right. That was a first.”
Although Georgia is 0-1 in the conference, Richt likes the direction the Bulldogs are moving.
“The thing I like is we are a team getting better as we go,” Richt said. “Overall, I think we are a team that is on the rise. We’re going to see when we get that first SEC game away from home.”
NOTES: Georgia played four first-year freshmen against Coastal Carolina, offensive linemen Watts Dantzler, Hunter Long and David Andrews plus outside linebacker Ray Drew. Dantzler and Andrews had earned spots with the second-team offensive line during preseason workouts and were expected to contribute this season. Drew, a much-hyped recruit last year, had been slowed by injuries during preseason drills but has recovered and could start pushing for more playing time. Freshman cornerback Damian Swann made the first start of his career against Coastal Carolina.