It's been, uh, one of the more "intense" ones we've had. Definitely fun. RT @positivistme: UGA Hate Week has been a blast.— The Cup (@RedCupRebellion) October 30, 2012
As tempting as it is to remain focused on the win over Florida, the Georgia Bulldogs have a game to play against the Mississippi Rebels, who, evidently, hate our living guts. (Who knew?) It is important, therefore, that our team be prepared for this weekend’s outing, and that we as fans enter Sanford Stadium (a) so loud it starts to annoy Marlon Brown and (b) armed not with a few tidbits of minutiae, nor with a scattered assortment of data, but, instead, with . . . Too Much Information:
Georgia and Ole Miss played annually from 1966 through 2002, beginning when the Rebels replaced the Alabama Crimson Tide as a yearly opponent following the Saturday Evening Post scandal and ending when changes to the SEC interdivisional rotation reduced each team from two permanent rivals to one. The Bulldogs are 31-12-1 over Mississippi all-time, including a 17-4-1 record against the Rebels between the hedges. The Red and Black have won nine straight in the series, with Mark Richt boasting a 5-0 ledger versus the Rebs. Mississippi last won an SEC championship in 1963, the year before Vince Dooley began his coaching career in the Classic City.
Statistically, these two teams are more evenly matched than you think. As noted on this week’s podcast, Georgia and Ole Miss are ranked within one spot of one another in the conference standings in opponents’ fourth-down conversion percentage, passing offense, rushing defense, rushing offense, total defense, and turnover margin, and within two of one another in long scrimmage plays, passing defense, scoring defense, and third-down conversions. Where, then, are the areas of greatest disparity? They are fourth-down conversions (Ole Miss is fourth in the SEC with a 66.7% conversion rate; Georgia is 13th with 25%) and penalties (Ole Miss is third with 4.5 flags and 37.1 penalty yards per game; Georgia is 11th with 8.3 and 61.3, respectively).
The last dozen clashes featuring these two combatants have seen a sea change in the series. Between 1994 and 1999, six straight contests pitting Georgia and Ole Miss were settled by eight or fewer points. Since then, five of the ensuing six matchups have been decided by at least 14 points, all in Bulldog victories. Still, if the visitors manage to keep it close, the Red and Black may take solace in the knowledge that the Classic City Canines are 12-3 over Mississippi in single-score outings.
The Rebels are second only to Alabama in red zone scoring percentage among SEC squads, as Ole Miss comes away with points nearly 93 per cent of the time when driving inside the opposition’s 20 yard line. The Bulldogs languish at eighth in the league in that category, but the Black Bears have fewer red zone touchdowns (20) than Georgia (22), as well as an only marginally higher touchdown percentage in the red zone (71.4% to the Red and Black’s 71.0%).
Mississippi has not beaten a top five opponent on the road since defeating the Florida Gators in the Swamp in 2008. The Rebs’ last outing against a ranked Red and Black team came in 2007, when Georgia won, 45-17, in the game that marked the debut of Soulja Boy’s “Crank That” in Sanford Stadium. Ole Miss has not beaten a Bulldog squad ranked in the top 25 since 1995, in a game in which starting quarterback Mike Bobo was lost to a season-ending injury.
Georgia leads the SEC in kicks and punts blocked this season, so I’d say the neon lights are bright on Broadway.
The Bulldogs have held the Rebels to 17 or fewer points 26 times in the last 35 series meetings, including the last nine clashes in a row.
For all the focus on the Ole Miss offense, the Rebels have their moments on defense, as well. Mississippi has tallied 60 tackles for loss, including 22 sacks, and is fourth in the SEC in both categories. Granted, the Black Bear D has made its bones against the worst teams on its slate, but we all know what can happen if Aaron Murray is rushed. (Bad things, man. Bad things.) Fortunately, the ‘Dawgs should be at full strength on the offensive line.
Georgia is 18-3-1 all-time against Ole Miss in seasons in which the Bulldogs beat Florida. The three Red and Black squads that fell to the Rebels but defeated the Gators all featured Ray Goff as a player (in 1975 and 1976) or as a head coach (in 1989). As long as Coach Goff isn’t going to be on the sideline in Sanford Stadium on Saturday, the ‘Dawgs should be fine.
The Rebels are a much improved football team under Hugh Freeze, so this game offers legitimate cause for concern. Since falling by 35 points to the Texas Longhorns and losing by 19 against Alabama, the Black Bears have hung tough with the Texas A&M Aggies in a three-point setback, clobbered the Auburn Tigers in Oxford, and notched a conference road win over the Arkansas Razorbacks. This is not a team with whom to trifle; nevertheless, the fact remains that Ole Miss has not beaten a Division I-A team with a winning record.
The question is one of focus. Georgia is favored for a reason; the Rebels are not bad, but the Bulldogs are the better team, and the Red and Black ought to win comfortably, if not necessarily convincingly. Then again, there also is a reason why Kit predicted Georgia would beat Florida but lose to Ole Miss, and why fellow Bulldog bloggers believe such a setback “would be the most Georgia thing ever.” The issue is whether the ‘Dawgs will come into the homecoming game hung over from their win in the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party or determined to make the most of their opportunity to make a statement. I’ll be pleased beyond measure if the latter proves to be the case, but, so far this season, the Classic City Canines have appeared pedestrian on defense without a specific external challenge to motivate them.
Though there are signs the team may have its head on straight about the present relative insignificance of last Saturday’s victory, there also are signs the team is not as ready as it ought to be. Accordingly, I expect a game much like last year’s matchup, which left us wondering how the victorious Athenians did not win more handily than they did. I expect a Red and Black victory. I do not expect it to be pretty.
My Prediction: Georgia Bulldogs 35, Mississippi Rebels 21.