To the jaundiced eye of an outsider, tomorrow night’s contest between the Georgia Bulldogs and the Mississippi St. Bulldogs in Starkville might appear to be an inconsequential bout between combatants who each sport an 0-2 record in SEC play. This is, however, a critical contest for Mark Richt’s team, so I plan to give this week’s statistical and historical breakdown the thorough treatment this game warrants. Toward that end, I bring you not a minuscule morsel of minutiae, nor do I deliver a diminutive dollop of data; instead, I present Too Much Information:
Georgia is 16-5 all-time against Mississippi State, having carded nine straight series victories since the Classic City Canines’ last loss to MSU in 1974. The Red and Black have gone 4-0 in Starkville since falling there in 1951. Inasmuch as another close contest is anticipated, it is worth noting that the Eastern Division Bulldogs are 6-2 against the Western Division Bulldogs in games decided by a touchdown or less, including a three-point victory in 2006. Georgia has not lost a close one to Mississippi State since 1970.
Mississippi State’s recent success has been the product of coaching more so than talent. In the first and third quarters, when scheme reigns supreme, the Western Division Bulldogs have outscored the opposition 56-24. In the second and fourth periods, when talent tells, the Maroon and White have been outscored 29-14.
Although Mississippi State gains roughly 20 yards per game more than Georgia (361.0-340.7), the Eastern Division Bulldogs hold a slight edge in yards per play (5.6-5.5). The Western Division Bulldogs score just 23.3 points per game, the second-fewest in the conference. Georgia and Mississippi State have scored ten touchdowns apiece.
Expect a clean game tomorrow: Georgia and Mississippi State are two of the three least-penalized teams in the conference.
2010 marks only the second season in school history in which Georgia faces Mississippi State in a year in which the Red and Black also lost to the Arkansas Razorbacks. It happened before in 1975, when our Bulldogs beat the other Bulldogs 28-6.
The Maroon and White are the only team in the SEC that has not split the uprights on a field goal try this season. They also are the only club in the conference to have attempted a successful on-side kick in 2010.
Georgia is one of only two teams in the SEC not to have gained so much as a single first down by penalty in 2010. Mississippi State is tied with South Carolina for a league-leading five first downs picked up on penalties this year.
For just the tenth time in the 78-year history of the league, Georgia is off to an 0-2 start in SEC play. It happened before in 1934, 1936, 1937, 1943, 1951, 1956, 1961, 1970, and 1993, and, in those nine campaigns, the Red and Black were 4-5 in the third conference contest of the autumn. Winning or losing their third SEC game after dropping the first two made a big difference for the Bulldogs, who finished the year with four or more losses in all five of their 0-3 SEC starts but ended up at or above .500 in three of the four seasons in which they righted the ship in their third league outing. By the way, Georgia faced Mississippi State in the third conference game of the season following an 0-2 start in 1961, and the Red and Black carded a 10-7 victory over the Maroon and White.
Half of the 70 points scored by MSU this season have come in the third quarter. Todd Grantham’s defense, which has yet to allow an opponent as many points in the second half as in the first, has surrendered seven third-quarter points through three games this year.
The two sets of Bulldogs are tied for sixth place in the SEC in first downs allowed. Both teams have permitted opposing clubs to move the chains on 46 occasions. The 27 first downs given up by Mississippi State on running plays are the most surrendered by any conference team not located in Nashville. Georgia, which ranks third in the league in rushing defense, has conceded 19 first downs on running plays, the identical number allowed by Alabama, Florida, and LSU.
Dan Mullen’s Bulldogs have turned the ball over a league-high eight times, including throwing a conference-worst seven interceptions.
Dan Mullen’s crew has made just five trips into the red zone this autumn, fewer than any other SEC squad except Vanderbilt. However, all five forays into the shadow of the other team’s goalposts have resulted in touchdowns, whereas just three of the eight treks opposing offenses have made inside the MSU 20 have culminated in the end zone.
The Red and Black have allowed opposing offenses inside the 20 yard line four times, surrendering a score in each such instance, in the form of three rushing touchdowns and a field goal. The Georgia offense’s eleven trips into the red zone have yielded four rushing touchdowns, four passing touchdowns, two field goals, and one fumble in Columbia.
Georgia heads into Starkville trailing the sixth two-game losing streak of the Mark Richt era. The last five times the Red and Black took the field as the losers of two straight, they emerged victorious all five times.
That 5-0 mark in streak-snapping triumphs includes a 3-0 record in away games and a 1-0 ledger against the Maroon and White (in 2006). Coach Richt’s teams have tended to be rather emphatic when halting two-game skids, as the ‘Dawgs have scored 35.6 points per game overall and 35.3 points per game on the road in games following two consecutive losses. Defensively, Georgia has given up 15.4 points per game in such outings, and just 13.3 points per game in the opposition’s home stadium.
As I indicated in my interview with For Whom the Cowbell Tolls, I’ve been impressed with Mississippi State’s defense so far this season, so I anticipate a hard-fought, low-scoring SEC slugfest. That is not the only sense in which I expect tomorrow night’s battle in Starkville to be in keeping with longstanding Southeastern Conference tradition, however.
While thinking about this game earlier in the week, I was reminded of a previous season of which this autumn is reminiscent. In 1945, as in 2010, Georgia fielded a freshman quarterback from the first snap of the fall: Johnny Rauch 65 years ago, Aaron Murray today. In 1945, as in 2010, Georgia was undergoing a significant transition on one side of the ball: Wally Butts was using the T formation on offense for the first time using top-caliber athletes (after spending two wartime years using freshmen too young for the draft and upperclassmen too infirm to serve) then, Todd Grantham is installing the 3-4 defense now. In 1945, as in 2010, Georgia was without its star player to start the season: Charley Trippi was not mustered out of the Army Air Force until midseason following the end of World War II, A.J. Green is serving an NCAA-imposed four-game suspension at the moment.
In 1945, as in 2010, Georgia lost consecutive SEC games---to LSU and Alabama before, to South Carolina and Arkansas more recently---before going on a tear. I’m not necessarily predicting the start of a 17-game winning streak (which was what happened 65 years ago), but I do believe the Red and Black will get back on track with a victory.
My Prediction: Georgia 20, Mississippi State 17.