Here is what I’m NOT worried about as we get an early visit from Kris Kiffin Kringle:
1. Fins Up. The Landsharks defense is 8th in passing yards allowed in a conference that only has 2 teams in the top 10 nationally in passing offense, and only 4 in the top 20. Even Auburn and Arkansas are ranked considerably better than Ole Miss when it comes to stopping the forward pass. This is the first year for Pete Golding as the baby blue Defensive Coordinator, and he was not on staff until January having missed the first signing day. So it’s possible he doesn’t have the hosses he wants, or at least needs, to execute his defense.
This is a team that is bottom half nationally in both 1st down and 3rd down defense, as well as in the red area. So how are they 8-1 and ranked in the top 10? Smoke and mirrors. Actually, they get in the backfield, make sacks and take runners down behind the line. And they’re doing well in the turnover department – Jaxson Dart has only thrown 4 picks and they’ve only lost 1 fumble. I’d call them opportunistic, fortunate, and not necessarily playing great in all facets of the game.
2. We mentioned last week that Missouri was prone to penalties, and that proved to be the case Saturday as the Tigers drew 8 flags (should there have been more? I thought the SEC crew was its usual eagle-eyed and consistent self, not concerned with any bias or favoritism). Lane Kiffin may know how to scheme an offense, but he hasn’t figured out how to clean up the penalties. The Rebels have over 7 flags per contest – they had 8 against Alabama and last week vs. Texas A&M. What is worse is they had 11 against both LSU and Auburn. If we show pressure, we could get more false starts. If we get pressure, we could get more holding calls.
Then there is time of possession. Never in the history of ever has someone described Lane Kiffin as “patient”, “in it for the long haul”, or “lets the game come to him”. He is confident, even cocky, of his playcalling chops and feels he can read a defense and has a play to exploit whoever is across the ball. And as such, his is more a quick-strike offense, looking to use tempo and a multitude of plays out of the same formation to catch the defense in a mistake. This results in boom or bust drives, and the ReBears only hold onto the ball for less than 27:00 a game. By contrast, and you may have heard this before, but Kirby does lean a little into the “ball control” category – to the tune of over 33:00.
3. Carson Beck was good Saturday. He had his worst statistical performance of the season, with lows in yards and completion percentage. But he was also harassed and faced a ton of pressure. For the majority of the game, Missouri was bringing at least one extra defender in the pass rush. And they got to the Georgia QB 3 times. Yet he had positive rushing yards for the game (which include his sack yardage). And how many times did Beck turn the ball over on a bad forced pass or not seeing the defense? Exactly.
Beck might be missing some open receivers or the big play downfield, but he’s patient. He has good pocket presence, especially for a first year starter in the SEC, and is usually aware where the pressure is coming from and getting rid of the ball (that LOS audible resulting in the Lovett quick screen for a TD is a perfect example). And while he might have missed some reads, he doesn’t rush things and make the big mistake. Missouri quarterback Brady Cook did - Beck didn’t. And that was the difference in the ballgame. And why UGA is leading the SEC East and is in the playoff hunt.
Now forgive me, as I was weaned at the nipple of Larry Munson’s scratch. So here’s what does worry me about facing the Fightin’ John Fourcades:
1. Carson Beck doing his best Stetson Bennett impression, just not in a good way. The last 3 or 4 games, I’ve seen an increasing frequency of passes by Beck batted down at or behind the line of scrimmage. There were at least 2 by Missouri, one even by a crashing defensive back. None of these have necessarily hurt the Bulldog offense, but it is only a matter of time before that oddly-shaped pigskin deflects in a certain direction and for a certain amount of time, and before you can say “tarmac!” there’s a linebacker going the other way or a Nazir Stackhouse-like DL rumblin’ down the sideline.
This Ole Miss defense does like to intercept. They have 10 on the season, and at least one in 8 of their 9 games (Jayden Daniels/LSU escaped unscathed). Ole Miss picked off KJ Jefferson twice, the Auburn platoon twice, and the Vandy platoon twice. Maybe Carson can exercise a shoulder pump or two, or at least get out of the pocket more. This is a game that will be won by whomever executes better, and turnovers could be that deciding factor.
2. After a couple of bursts by Luther Burden last week, and a solid game from fellow Tiger wideout Theo Wease, I don’t feel great about shutting down opposing receivers. And Ole Miss has one of the best in Tre Harris. The 4th year player and transfer from Louisiana Tech has been torching SEC secondaries his first year in the league. He’s big, he’s rangy, and he high points the ball like few others in college football.
#9 has 4 games over 100 receiving yards this season, including a season and career-high 213 yards last week against Texas A&M. Harris accounted for 45% of the receptions, 55% of the receiving yards, and 50% of the receiving touchdowns (11-213-1). And they have two more senior wideouts in Jordan Watkins and Dayton Wade – both of which have more catches than Harris but not quite the eye-popping stats or highlight reel snags. So it will be the 2nd game in a row where the UGA secondary is covering a superstar and a healthy supporting receiver cast.
3. Don’t expect the Rebels to dink and dunk either – they throw it down the field. Using said receiving corps, they dig, post, and just plain go vertical. In fact, Ole Miss is 4th in the country in yards per completion – higher than Heisman favorites Jayden Daniels (LSU) and Michael Penix (Washington). The reason they can do that is because they also run the ball. In fact, Ole Miss runs the ball a full 8 points more than Georgia does with almost the exact same number of plays (OM run: 57%, UGA run: 49%).
Lane Kiffin likes to play chess with a defense. He will burn two plays just to set up a scoring play or at least something explosive. He is just waiting for a safety to bite or a linebacker to get out of position, because he knows tendencies. Not to mention he has a mobile quarterback. Okay, I’m going to end this before I have to call in my refill of omeprazole.
Call me crazy, just don’t call me late for dinner. Sound off in the comments below what worries you about the Bulldogs of Georgia hosting the Rebels of Mississippi. And as always…