I’m going to be up front with you about this: I caught virtually none of this game. My son, Thomas, who is eight years old, is playing local youth association football this year, and his team had a game at 2:00 this afternoon. We had to have him there an hour early for warmups, which meant leaving the house shortly after 12:30.
Consequently, I watched the first few minutes of this game at the house, listened to the rest of the first quarter in the car, and otherwise had to rely on text messages from my cousin to keep me up to date throughout the remainder of the game. Since I saw very little of it, I had to rely upon a peek at the box score, which, frankly, reveals that the Georgia Bulldogs utterly dominated the Mississippi Rebels in this game.
The Classic City Canines led by large margins in first downs (25-8), total offense (475-183), passing yardage (268-149), rushing yardage (207-34), and time of possession (38:36-21:24). The Athenians converted nearly half of their third downs (8 of 18), posted a Brian VanGorder-like second-half shutout, more than doubled up the Rebs in yards per pass (10.3-5.0) and yards per rush (3.7-1.3), and committed half as many penalties (4-8) and half as many turnovers (1-2). Aaron Murray connected on 17 of 26 aerial attempts for 268 yards and a couple of touchdowns, while Isaiah Crowell led the way with 147 rushing yards on 30 carries.
It is no surprise, then, that Georgia routed Ole Miss by a final score of . . .
Wait, what? 27-13? Is that all?
After an eleven-play, 61-yard Bulldog drive ended in a 36-yard Blair Walsh field goal, Todd Grantham’s defense forced a three-and-out to set up a seven-play march covering 53 yards and ending in a touchdown. Murray was picked off early in the second quarter, but the defense again rose to the challenge, holding the Oxonians to six yards in three snaps and forcing another punt.
Starting three feet in front of their own end zone, the Bulldogs covered 99 yards in 240 seconds. The Georgia possession was highlighted by Crowell’s 29-yard scamper on third and nine, setting up a 69-yard completion to Malcolm Mitchell. Murray found Orson Charles in the end zone on the eighth play of the drive to make the score 17-0.
The Rebels responded with back-to-back big passes by Randall Mackey, who found Nickolas Brassell for a 37-yard gain and Donte Moncrief for a 38-yard touchdown, the latter on a reverse handoff. Having seized a measure of momentum, Houston Nutt’s squad successfully executed an onside kick to reclaim possession near midfield. The Georgia D was having none of it; Abry Jones sacked Mackey on first down, and Bacarri Rambo broke up a pass on second down before intercepting another on the ensuing snap. Three plays later, Aron White hauled in a pass from Murray for 35 yards and a touchdown.
An 81-yard return of a 57-yard Drew Butler punt made the score 24-13 just before halftime, so Georgia led only narrowly a game in which the visitors had outplayed their hosts. That trend continued after intermission, as the Bulldogs’ first four second-half drives ended in a punt and a trio of missed field goal attempts. Walsh twice came up short from 48 yards out, and a third extended drive went for naught when he missed a 35-yarder.
Fortunately, there was no let-up in the defense in the final 30 minutes. On their first five possessions of the second half, the Rebels punted thrice, turned the ball over on downs, and tossed another interception to the resurgent Rambo. Following the break, no Ole Miss drive lasted longer than six plays or traversed more than 21 yards. The game ended happily, with Walsh earning a confidence-boosting measure of redemption by making a 43-yard field goal for the only points of the final two quarters and Cornelius Washington sacking Mackey on the game’s last play.
Given the Bulldogs’ recent struggles, it is hard to argue with an SEC road win in which the Red and Black dominated the opposition. Nevertheless, this game was more frustrating than satisfying, for three reasons:
- Mark Richt’s teams historically have dominated Mississippi, on the scoreboard as well as on the gridiron. Since 2001, the ‘Dawgs have gone 5-0 against the Rebels, never allowing more than 17 points in the process. Georgia scored more than 30 points against Ole Miss three times in Coach Richt’s first four encounters with the Oxonians. Judged against the standard set by the previous series meetings of Coach Richt’s tenure, the 27-13 final margin represents a subpar performance by Georgia against Ole Miss.
- Three lengthy marches ended in missed field goals, which is maddening enough on its own merits, but a solution would appear to suggest itself when your placekicker doesn’t have his best stuff and your offense is converting on 100 per cent of its fourth-down attempts and your defense is holding on 12 of 15 third- and fourth-down attempts by the opposition and your top three tailbacks all are averaging four or more yards per carry. This was the game in which to roll the dice a little more and go for it. The Rebels remained in this game at halftime due to gutsy play calls; the Bulldogs demonstrated admirable boldness by attempting an onside kick against South Carolina. The problem wasn’t that too many field goals were missed; the problem was that too many field goals were attempted.
- While 2-2 is a darned sight better than 0-2, this fact remains a fact: Georgia has not beaten a Division I-A team that finished with a winning record in its last 18 games, and there is little likelihood that either of the last two weekends will change that fact. What Georgia desperately needs is a quality win over a decent opponent. This was a decent win over a lousy opponent, which represents both a regression from what we have seen the last two weekends and an omen that does not augur well for the next four Saturdays, on each of which the Red and Black will face a team better than they one they faced today.
Two favorable observations might fairly be offered on behalf of this performance: Georgia roundly outplayed the opposition, and Georgia won. It is difficult, though, to focus on those two facts to an extent that permits us to ignore this equally valid reality: Georgia did not defeat this team even remotely as convincingly as the Bulldogs ought to have, which makes this result more worrisome than encouraging as a daunting October slate looms just over the horizon.