The Georgia Bulldogs and the Mississippi Rebels first met on the gridiron in 1940, when Ole Miss beat the Red and Black by two touchdowns between the hedges. A year later, also in Athens, the Rebels tied an Orange Bowl-bound Bulldog squad that would finish the year with nine wins in eleven games.
Through 1970, Mississippi held a 5-3-1 series lead over Georgia. The Bulldogs were 0-2 against the Rebs in the Magnolia State prior to 1971, and the Bulldogs were 0-2 against the Rebs in Oxford prior to 1979. Georgia has won four straight series meetings in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium; the only other time the Red and Black arrived in Oxford having won four in a row in that fair city, the Classic City Canines returned home following a 17-13 loss there.
You say all that is in the past? Well, there’s a reason Oxford was the home of the man who wrote, "The past is never dead. It's not even past." Anyone who thinks the ‘Dawgs are going to walk all over Ole Miss is in for a rude awakening. I’m here to bring you that rude awakening, or, as I like to call it . . . Too Much Information.
Granted, matters are looking rather grim for the Rebels right about now. Mississippi enters the weekend ranked eleventh in the SEC in passing offense, rushing defense, rushing offense, scoring offense, and total defense, as well as twelfth (out of a current twelve conference teams, mind you) in total offense. These figures should not sway you, however, for a couple of reasons.
First of all, the Rebs’ 20.7 points per game leaps to 27.5 points per game when playing at home. Secondly, Ole Miss ranks fifth in the league in pass defense, and seventh in scoring defense; Georgia ranks tenth in the SEC in the latter category. (Yes, I know, the offense threw the defense under the bus in both of the Bulldogs’ games against Division I-A competition, but it doesn’t really matter how the other team’s points got on the board if they got there, now does it?)
The solid play of the Rebels’ secondary is attested to by the fact that Ole Miss is tied for second place in the SEC with six interceptions in three games. The 133 return yards the Oxonians have posted on runbacks following picks---including one that was taken all the way to the end zone---also rank second in the league. Although Aaron Murray has the highest pass efficiency rating of any SEC quarterback not named "Tyler," the sophomore signal caller’s lack of sharpness is worrisome as he prepares to face a secondary that is capable of capitalizing on Murray’s mistakes.
Much has been made of the fact that the Rebels have lost five of their last seven series meetings with the Vanderbilt Commodores. What has been overlooked is the fact that, the last two times Mississippi fell to the Commies, the Oxonians bounced back in time to win their next game, including a 55-38 throttling of the Fresno St. Bulldogs last year and a 31-30 win over the Florida Gators in 2008. (You may remember the latter game, because everything has been downhill ever since.)
Nevertheless, the 2000s were a good decade for Georgia with regard to the Mississippi series. Between 1994 and 1999, six straight contests between the Bulldogs and the Rebels were settled by eight or fewer points, but, from 2000 forward, Ole Miss has been held to 17 or fewer ticks on the scoreboard five times in as many meetings, whereas the Red and Black have scored 31 or more points on the Rebs in four of five games. The ominous reality masked by those figures, though, is this: Georgia’s last six trips to Oxford have produced two losses, three wins by margins of seven or fewer points, and only one outing in which the ‘Dawgs scored more than 21 points.
Let’s not kid ourselves, people; there’s a reason why Ole Miss fans consider this a clash between the worst two teams in the conference. Both teams are 1-2 overall and 0-1 in SEC play; each team has lost one close game and one game by a convincing margin; neither team has beaten a Division I-A opponent. The last time Georgia headed to the Magnolia State for a similar showdown between reeling squads, the result was an embarrassing road loss.
This much appears certain: This game will be much more meaningful for the loser than for the winner. The winner merely gets to breathe a sigh of relief at having avoided suffering a shameful setback to a sputtering squad; the loser will be forced to face the cold hard reality of that team’s situation. This is, in the truest sense, a "must win" game for both head coaches, as the losing team’s skipper almost certainly will not be back in his present billet next autumn.
The Bulldogs are better coached, more talented physically, in a better place psychologically, and playing with about as much confidence and poise as a team in Georgia’s circumstances may be expected to possess. I think they’ll get it done, but it won’t be easy, and, as I noted on this week’s podcast, that might not be a bad thing.
My Prediction: Georgia 24, Ole Miss 20.