The time has come to bring my pregame breakdown to a close and offer my prediction of tomorrow afternoon's outcome. (Just so you won't skip ahead to the ending, I'll go ahead and tell you: I'm predicting a Georgia victory.)
I already have shared my thoughts on the passing game and the running game, so now I aim to wrap everything up by providing you, as always, not an appreciable portion of information, not a heaping helping of information, but instead . . . Too Much Information.
A pregame breakdown at Dawg Sports, much like a costume party at the Georgia Institute of Technology, contains inordinate amounts of Data.
History and Coaching
Georgia leads the all-time series with Ole Miss, holding a 29-12-1 advantage overall and a 12-3-1 lead in games decided by a touchdown or less. The latter fact could prove relevant, as seven of the last ten clashes between these two teams have been decided by eight or fewer points.
The Bulldogs have won seven straight series meetings with the Rebels, including three in a row under Mark Richt. Coach Richt is 17-5 overall against S.E.C. West opponents, whereas Ed Orgeron is 2-6 against the S.E.C. East during his tenure in Oxford.
The 'Dawgs have scored 27, 24, 32, and 31 points, respectively, in their last four games against Mississippi in Athens. Since 1973, the Classic City Canines have posted a 14-2-1 ledger over the Rebs in games played between the hedges.
Defensively, Georgia has clamped down on Ole Miss in recent years. In the last seven clashes involving these combatants, the Rebels have scored 14, 17, 17, 14, 15, 17, and 9 points, respectively, against the Bulldogs. In fact, the Red and Black have held Mississippi to 18 or fewer points 19 times in the last 23 series meetings.
Sorry, Coach O, but, even though the math makes you mad, it's still math.
The Kicking Game
Georgia and Ole Miss are comparable squads on special teams, the differences between the two being matters of decimal places. The Rebels average 23.8 yards per kickoff return and 41.8 yards per punt, whereas the 'Dawgs average 23.3 and 41.6 yards, respectively.
One area of concern is Mississippi's punt return game. The Rebs lead the league in this category, averaging 28.0 yards per return, and they are one of only two teams in the S.E.C. to have brought back a punt for a touchdown. This would be cause for alarm, were it not for the fact that the Rebels only have one punt return to their credit, so I'd have to say those numbers are---or, rather, that number is---a little on the skewed side. Thus we see the perils inherent in averaging.
On the other hand, Ole Miss is the worst kickoff coverage team in the conference. The Rebels, like the Bulldogs, have yet to put one in the end zone for a touchback, but, while the Classic City Canines are netting better than 41 yards per kickoff, Coach O's squad is averaging just under one-third of a football field in that department.
Overall, the Rebels' placekicking is pretty sporadic. Mississippi is the only team in the league to have attempted fewer than ten extra points, yet the Rebs missed one of their seven point after tries. Joshua Shene has connected on five of his eight field goal attempts, having made a 30-yarder and missed a 30-yarder. In fact, Shene has made a 40-yarder yet missed a 28-yarder.
Brandon Coutu, of course, has gone six for six on three-point tries of 45 or fewer yards, but has hit only one of his four attempts from farther than 46 yards away.
Also, Coutu is popular with the Ladies . . .
Odds and Ends
- Tomorrow afternoon's combatants are virtual equals in total offense, with Ole Miss holding a slight edge (365.2 yards per game) over Georgia (364.0 yards per game). Nevertheless, the Rebs have run the third-fewest offensive plays (245) of any team in the S.E.C.
- If the foregoing fact made you somewhat uncomfortable, consider these data: Mississippi has surrendered more first downs (112) and more touchdowns (16) than any other Southeastern Conference squad. The 'Dawgs, on the other hand, have permitted the league's fourth-fewest first downs (66) and third-fewest touchdowns (6). Both teams can move the ball about equally as well . . . but can the Rebels stop the Bulldogs more often than the Bulldogs stop the Rebels?
- Here is a possible partial answer to the previous question: Ole Miss ranks 10th in the S.E.C. in scoring defense and 11th in scoring offense. The 30.0 points per game surrendered by the Rebels matches almost exactly the 29.5 points per game scored by the Bulldogs. On average, Mississippi gives up 30.5 points per game against S.E.C. opposition and 33.0 points per game against B.C.S. conference competition.
- Although Georgia has never been a blitzing team under Coach Richt, Willie Martinez made judicious and effective use of bringing extra pressure against Alabama, particularly in long-yardage situations on second down. Coach Martinez should remember that against Ole Miss, as the Bulldogs have tallied the S.E.C.'s second-most sacks (9) and they will be going up against a Rebel offensive line that has surrendered the most sacks in the league (11).
Not bad for a defensive coordinator I once compared unfavorably to a gorilla in a zoo and a whale in a movie.
- I find myself torn by the possibility that (as Craig noted) Ole Miss may field a healthy Dexter McCluster. On the one hand, I don't want the Rebel passing attack to be made more challenging for the Bulldog secondary. On the other hand, I like having an excuse to use the words "Dexter McCluster." Go ahead . . . right now, wherever you are, utter the name "Dexter McCluster" aloud. It's just plain fun to say. Whatever you do, though, don't imagine Coach O saying "Dexter McCluster" while you're drinking an Orgeron Crush or you'll wind up shooting orange juice and vodka citron out your nose. I've never tried that, but I'm guessing you can really feel the burn in the ol' nasal passages when that happens.
- The good news for the Rebels is that Ole Miss stands atop the S.E.C. in red zone defense, allowing other teams to score on just 65.2 per cent of their trips inside the 20 yard line. The bad news for the Rebs is that no team in the league has allowed as many trips into the red zone (23), as many touchdowns in the red zone (12), or as many rushing touchdowns in the red zone (8) as Mississippi. Whenever Georgia gets inside the 10 yard line, I'm for handing it off to Knowshon Moreno . . . particularly since Ole Miss has snagged a league-leading pair of interceptions in the red zone.
- If the 'Dawgs get into trouble, they cannot count on being bailed out by Ole Miss penalties. The Rebs have conceded the league's fewest first downs on penalty yards (3) and they have been assessed the second-fewest penalty yards overall (37.8 yards per game).
- The Rebels' first four games have been played in venues with seating capacities of 62,380 (at Memphis), 60,580 (two home games in Oxford), and 39,773 (Vanderbilt in Nashville). Playing in a stadium which seats 92,746 may provide a rude awakening for some of the younger players on Mississippi's team . . . or it may not: Ole Miss lost a pair of three-point ballgames at Alabama and at L.S.U. last season.
Just the same, let's do what we can to make this an intimidating place for the Rebels to play, O.K.?
- In their first four outings this autumn, the 'Dawgs have scored 34 second-quarter points, which represents their largest aggregate output of points in any period. During that same span, the Rebels have surrendered 49 second-quarter points, which represents the most points Mississippi has allowed in any 15-minute frame. By contrast, Ole Miss has scored the plurality of its points in the third quarter (40), while the Bulldogs have conceded the fewest points in the third quarter (10).
- Although the Rebels have made more trips inside the other team's 20 yard line (16) than have the Classic City Canines (15), Georgia has scored more than twice as many touchdowns in the red zone (11) as has Ole Miss (5). Coach Orgeron's squad ranks last in the league in red zone offense, having twice fumbled in the shadow of the opposition's goal posts.
- I noted this last week and I turned out to be right, so I will call attention to this datum anew: Georgia should go for it on fourth and short, but Georgia's opponent should not. The Bulldogs possess the conference's third-best conversion rate on fourth down (57.1% made) and the Rebels give up the league's highest fourth-down conversion percentage (75.0% allowed). Conversely, Ole Miss ranks 11th in the S.E.C. when going for it on fourth down (25.0% made) and the Red and Black stand atop the Southeastern Conference in preventing fourth-down conversions (0.0% allowed).
- With any luck, though, it won't come down to a fourth-down call on Georgia's part, as Mississippi allows the league's highest third-down conversion rate (48.4% permitted). That is good news for a Bulldog offense that picked up the requisite yardage nine times on 19 third-down attempts last weekend. In the other direction, the Rebels have the S.E.C.'s second-worst third-down conversion rate (36.7% made) and the 'Dawgs are the conference's best team when it comes to stopping the opposition on third down (21.2% allowed).
Georgia and Ole Miss are very different teams on third down. One thing the Bulldogs and the Rebels have in common, though, is the fact that fans of both teams can't stand Tommy Tuberville.
The Feel Good Stat of the Week
I went back and forth on this one and, in the end, I couldn't decide by which datum I was more emboldened. Take your pick:
- In four games this season, Georgia has yet to allow more than 20 points in regulation play. In four games this season, Ole Miss has yet to hold an opponent to fewer than 21 points.
- Since beating South Carolina in Columbia in October 2004, the Rebels have lost 12 straight road games against B.C.S. conference opponents.
Remind me again why y'all fired this guy?
The Bottom Line
The causes for concern are obvious and MaconDawg already has alluded to them. Coach Orgeron's Rebels have lost 11 of their last 15 games, so it is tempting to overlook Ole Miss . . . which is the source of the entire problem. Coming off of an emotional road win last week and looking ahead to an emotional road game next week, the Red and Black could come out flat against a team which the Bulldogs ignore at their peril.
For all their lack of success in wins and losses, the Rebs have not been pushovers. In the team's last dozen outings, Mississippi has lost single-score games to Florida (30-24), Louisiana State (23-20), Auburn (23-17), Alabama (26-23), and Georgia (14-9). There is little question that Georgia's best game beats Ole Miss's best game, but the Red and Black can find themselves in a real slugfest if they arrive at the stadium less ready to play than the visitors.
Although I am confident that the Rebels will not roll over and play dead, I also am confident that Coach Richt, acutely conscious of the sloppiness and lack of focus that plagued the 'Dawgs mightily during the middle seven weeks of the 2006 season, will keep his team's concentration where it belongs.
A blowout is too much for which to hope, but a solid victory seems likely and I have faith that the Bulldogs will deliver.
My Prediction: Georgia 30, Ole Miss 17.