There came a point during the fourth quarter, once it was clear that the outcome no longer was in doubt, at which I found myself on the fence. Should I feel as badly as it was possible to feel after a conference win by a large margin or should I feel as good as I could possibly feel about a game in which the 'Dawgs had played poorly for a large portion of the contest?
Fred Munzenmaier's six-yard touchdown run bumped me over into the category of feeling good about the game. It was touch and go for a while there, though.
In truth, the game largely went according to form: Mississippi hung with the Bulldogs for a half before the Red and Black's superior speed and athleticism broke the game open for the home team. This was not appreciably different from the 2002 Georgia-Ole Miss game and Musa Smith's stellar performance in that earlier outing was outshone by the Bulldogs' senior tailback yesterday.
Oh, that's why he's still the starter!
Knowshon Moreno carried the ball 14 times for 90 yards and a touchdown . . . and he was the Bulldogs' second-best running back by rather a large margin. Thomas Brown averaged 11.0 yards per catch receiving---O.K., he had one grab for 11 yards---and 11.3 yards per touch rushing, turning his 16 carries into 180 yards (including a 50-yard scamper) and a score. He also politely peppered his postgame interview answers with a series of "yes, sir"s despite Loran Smith's disjointed rambling, which revealed, inter alia, that Vidalia is not the county seat of Toombs County.
The defense gave up a lot of yards (386, to be exact) and surrendered lengthy touchdown drives to start both halves. It felt like BenJarvus Green-Ellis and his understudies ran on the 'Dawgs all day long, a perception at least partly confirmed by the fact that Ole Miss averaged 4.8 yards per carry against the Red and Black.
Georgia gave up 20 first downs, including six of them on 14 third-down tries and two more on a trio of fourth-down attempts. Seth Adams was able to work so efficiently because he rarely found himself under pressure, resulting in 24 completions on 35 attempts for 228 yards and a touchdown. If given the same kind of time, Erik Ainge will pick the 'Dawgs apart next weekend.
The Ole Miss quarterback's entire family was pleased with his performance. Well, O.K., we think Cousin It was pleased, but, honestly, who can understand what the heck he's saying?
Still, the Bulldogs gave up only one of the big pass plays that the Rebels broke out in their near-upset of the Gators, that being a 45-yard touchdown strike to Mike Wallace on the game's opening drive. Mississippi garnered a lot of yards---particularly after the initial, futile contact by the defense---but Georgia gave up only three points on drives other than those to start the first and third quarters and only seven points in the second half.
The Bulldogs' fumble recovery was fortuitous rather than forced, but the interception was a thing of beauty, as was the fact that the 'Dawgs did not turn the ball over or get a punt blocked. In fact, both of Georgia's punts were solid efforts, including a 50-yarder.
Although Matthew Stafford picked up more yards per pass (6.9) than Adams (6.5), the Bulldogs' sophomore quarterback did not have a great day, completing 13 of his 21 passes for 144 yards and a touchdown but frequently failing to spot the open receiver downfield. Arguably, Stafford also might have succeeded in scoring the touchdown at the end of the half had he tucked the ball and run; at a minimum, with one time out left, he would have given Georgia slightly better field position from which to kick the field goal.
Tripp Chandler had another rocky start, but he partially redeemed himself with a couple of catches for 40 yards. It was a shame to see the onside kick squandered, but the special teams play was timed perfectly, both in the making of the call and in the executing of the play. As with the similar decision against Virginia Tech in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, it underscored the fact that Mike Bobo's greater creativity as an offensive coordinator has made Mark Richt more bold as a head coach, which is a good thing.
Although the Ole Miss fans on hand made their displeasure known with a couple of the calls, it was a well-officiated game. Every flag that was thrown was justifiable under the rule book, even if the delay of game call on Stafford was overly technical. The only really debatable officiating decision was the questionable non-call on what likely ought to have been a pass interference penalty.
Saturday saw a rare instance of Rebel fans booing someone else's flag instead of having their flag booed by someone else.
It might plausibly be claimed that the turning point of this game was the singing of "Happy Birthday" to Larry Munson, but I believe the turning point came during the time out for the official review following the change of possession. I am too old and unhip to know the name of the song that was played in the stadium, but the younger alumni in the west end zone knew the song and did the accompanying dance.
When the image of Brown and Moreno also doing the dance on the sideline appeared on the scoreboard, though, the crowd was energized and Ole Miss was never in the game after that point. In fact, I'm in favor of jettisoning the "Superman" theme---yes, I love it, too, but come on; I did believe a man could fly . . . in 1978---and replacing it with that newer, hipper dance music.
Wisconsin plays "Jump Around." Florida fans lock arms, sway, and sing "We Are the Boys" at the end of the third quarter. There's no reason this song and dance can't become our thing, particularly if our more recent alumni and our players know the choreography already. I hate ditching "Krypton Fanfare," but let's face it . . . any music we're using that invokes in me strong positive associations with my own youth is, by definition, utterly useless for recruiting athletes who were born after I graduated from high school.
Sadly, "Don't Stand So Close to Me" and "Every Little Thing She Does is Magic" have no traction with today's student-athlete.
There is no question that the Bulldogs will have to play a much better game if they hope to emerge victorious from Neyland Stadium next Saturday. What we saw yesterday, though, were intermittent flashes of what this team is capable of doing.
Moreover, a glance at the top 25 reveals just how dangerous a weekend it really was. The No. 1 team led Tulane 10-9 at the half; the No. 2 team survived a scare against Washington; the No. 3, No. 4, No. 5, No. 8, No. 9, No. 12, and No. 13 teams all lost, most of them to lower-ranked or unranked opponents.
Georgia, meanwhile, was playing an untelevised early game against a pesky opponent that just put a scare into the Gators and was doing so one week after a huge win and one week before a significant divisional showdown, yet, despite all the distractions and miscues, the Red and Black managed to beat a conference foe by precisely the same margin by which No. 14 Kentucky beat Florida Atlantic. I'm going to call that a successful afternoon in the Southeastern Conference.