Ole Miss (5-3, 2-2 SEC) at Georgia (7-1, 5-1 SEC)
Kickoff: 2:30 p.m.
Ole Miss enters Saturday's game at Athens, Ga., looking for its third consecutive SEC win.
SETTING THE STAGE…
This one is another “David versus Goliath” affair, and David is feeling pretty good about himself right now.
So, too, is Goliath.
Ole Miss is coming off a 30-27 road victory over Arkansas, while Georgia has wind at its back after downing Florida 17-9 in Jacksonville last week.
For Georgia, Ole Miss appears to be the Bulldogs biggest obstacle remaining between them and a berth in the SEC championship game. The Bulldogs schedule after Saturday looks all downhill with games against Auburn, Georgia Southern and Georgia Tech. Beat Ole Miss and Georgia looks like a lock for a division championship.
For Ole Miss, Saturday is about sustaining momentum. The Rebels don’t have to win in Athens to keep trending upward, but if they do, they’ll become bowl eligible with three games remaining and two of those last three to be played in Oxford.
An Ole Miss win coupled with the right combination of results in games played elsewhere Saturday, could also see the Rebels in a tie for second place inside the SEC West at day’s end. Then it’s all about winning a moving up the bowl ladder.
THE ONE TO WATCH: GEORGIA…
Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones
Keep an eye on No. 29 Jarvis Jones. He’ll line up at outside linebacker opposite Ole Miss left tackle Pierce Burton most of the time. He is the heart, soul, hammer and nails of the Bulldog defense.
Last week against Florida, he was a one-man wrecking crew, tallying 13 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, three sacks and forced two fumbles in which he recovered both. His performance prompted Georgia coach Mark Richt to say he thought Jones was the best football player in the country, and he might be right.
How the Rebels handle Jones will be a key to the outcome of this game.
Jones, meanwhile, seems to already have his game face on. He certainly sounds like he does.
“I lot of people don’t understand. The Ole Miss game is going to be a big game just like last week was,” Jones said. “They’re a tremendous team, way better than they were last year. Their coach and everybody there has got them playing well. They’re definitely a team that we can’t look past. They’re coming to play, and they’ve got some athletes that are capable of making plays with a good quarterback. So definitely we’ve got to come out and play early and execute.”
HOW WILL OLE MISS HANDLE “JUGULAR?”
By the way, Jones’ most appropriate nickname is Jugular.
So how will Ole Miss deal with a linebacker who has earned the nickname “Jugular?”
Expect the ball to get out of quarterback Bo Wallace’s hands very quickly Saturday, especially in the first half. Like last week against Arkansas, Wallace will work the quick patterns. Wallace’s longest pass went for 23 yards against the Razorbacks, yet he was still effective. If the Rebels can wear down Georgia with a quick pace, then we may see more three and four- step dropbacks later in the game and a shot or two taken down field.
THE ONE TO WATCH: OLE MISS…
Ole Miss linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche
I’m going with redshirt freshman linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche.
First and foremost, Denzel has established himself as a defensive playmaker. He makes a lot of tackles and is starting to show signs of becoming a game-changing force on the defensive side of the ball. He had an interception with a subsequent 32-yard return last week against Arkansas to go along with a basket full of tackles.
But there are some intangibles for Denzel on Saturday, too.
Little brother Robert Nkemdiche will be there watching. The brother duo is as close as brothers can be. His mother and father will be there, too, and it will mark the first time mom has seen Denzel play live on the collegiate level.
Then there’s the fact that Denzel is returning to his home state of Georgia as an Ole Miss Rebel for the first time.
Big time players make big time plays in big time games. Saturday fits the bill for Denzel Nkemdiche to shine.
Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace and running back Jeff Scott
I get the feeling that you will see the Ole Miss offense operate at the most frenetic pace it has all season on Saturday. The Rebels ran 10 plays in a little over a minute of game clock last week versus Arkansas. Expect that kind of pace Saturday at Athens.
On paper, Georgia probably has a matchup advantage at almost every position when comparing the Rebels’ offense to the Bulldogs’ defense.
With that being said, you use what you got. Ole Miss has the ability to wear a defense down and keep it off balance with its rapid-fire attack. If it works, the Rebels will have success moving and scoring the football.
The quick pace, however, doesn’t seem to bother Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham.
“Our offense does it,” Grantham said. “So from that standpoint, it’s not that big of a deal. We’ve worked against it. We’re prepared. … We’ll make sure that we’re prepared from a substitution standpoint and from personnel standpoint and just play.”
WHICH GEORGIA WILL SHOW?
Outside of a lop-sided loss to Texas, Ole Miss has been consistently competitive this season. Georgia got skull drug in early October against South Carolina 35-7, but has won every other game. The Bulldogs, however, have not been consistent with their talent level.
Prior to last week’s win over Florida, the Bulldogs had turned in two rather ho-hum efforts in a row, losing to South Carolina and simply surviving a terrible Kentucky team in Lexington by a 29-24 score.
Georgia coach Mark Richt
The Bulldogs’ most complete effort came in the win over Florida. Georgia’s challenge will be to be the team that beat Florida on Saturday. I was in the stands at Lexington for their win over Kentucky, and Ole Miss can beat the Georgia team that I watched that night.
“I don’t know what they’re going to do this week,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said of his defense. “I hope they play like they did this past week. I hope we continue to get after it with that kind of emotion and heartbeat.”
BY THE NUMBERS…
Points per game: Ole Miss 32.4; Georgia 36.7
Points allowed per game: Ole Miss 26.6; Georgia 22.2
Rushing yards per game: Ole Miss 194.4; Georgia 194.9
Rushing yards allowed per game: Ole Miss 148.0; Georgia 157.0
Passing yards per game: Ole Miss 235.6; Georgia 265.2
Passing yards allowed per game: Ole Miss 221.5; Georgia 197.8
Total offense per game: Ole Miss 430.0; Georgia 460.1
Total offense allowed per game: Ole Miss 369.5; Georgia 354.8
THE MATCHUPS TO WATCH…
Jarvis Jones vs. Pierce Burton: Burton figures to be the Ole Miss offensive lineman who will get the most chances to block the Georgia linebacker on Saturday, but this really could be Jarvis Jones vs. whichever Rebel on whatever play has the assignment. Jones, I believe, is the best defensive player Ole Miss has or will face this season. If he’s allowed to have too much of an impact, it will make a difference in the outcome of the game.
There are some schematic things Ole Miss can do to minimize Jones’ impact, but it’s still going to take someone putting helmet and shoulder pads on him. He’s not the only concern on a talented Georgia defense either, but it certainly starts with him.
Jones is a stripper, too. Ole Miss ball carriers had best hold onto the football tightly. He’ll be lurking near every collision.
Ole Miss offensive tackle Pierce Burton
The Ole Miss secondary vs. Aaron Murray: Murray is one of the most talented and seasoned quarterbacks in the nation. The Rebels, outside of Charles Sawyer, are young in the secondary. If Murray has time, he’ll be effective. If he feels pressure, he’ll be less effective. The combination of scheme, pressure and decent coverage gave Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson fits last week. The defense, as a whole, will need an encore performance on Saturday.
BO’S ON IN THE RED ZONE…
Ole Miss has scored on 26 of 28 trips inside the red zone this season. That’s an average of 92.9 percent, which is sixth best in the nation and second best inside the SEC.
THE MAGIC NUMBER…
The most points Ole Miss has ever scored against Georgia is 31. It’s happened three times in the 44 games between the two schools.
Hugh Freeze has everyone in Rebel Nation believing in this football team and this football team has begun believing in itself. Georgia, however, falls into that class of opponent of the likes of Alabama and LSU. The Bulldogs win most of the on-paper matchups between these two teams.
With that said, something special is happening in Oxford. There is a transformation taking place. In addition to having a knack for calling a great game, Freeze seems to be a master at harnessing the intangibles and using them to his team’s advantage.
Saturday will come down to the X’s and O’s and the Jimmy’s and Joe’s. Georgia has an advantage in the Jimmy’s and Joe’s it will put on the field, especially in the depth department. The X’s and O’s, I’ll give to Freeze and his staff.
Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze
No one expected Ole Miss to be 5-3 at any point this season, and if they said they did, well, they’re most likely fibbing. I’m expecting for the unexpected to keep happening Saturday in Athens. Call me crazy, or it may just be that my live viewing of Georgia came when they struggled against Kentucky, but I’m calling for the upset.
THE SCORE: Ole Miss 32, Georgia 31