ATHENS, GA - SEPTEMBER 10: Head coach Mark Richt of the Georgia Bulldogs looks on against the South Carolina Gamecocks at Sanford Stadium on September 10, 2011 in Athens, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Well, with the Rebel confidence poll having plummeted over the course of this past week, I’m excited to bring you another installment of "I don’t know what to expect, but I’ll do my damndest to let you know what I think." Before you venture further, just know that my cynicism is at an all time high, so if you're looking for a homer's prediction for the game, you've come to the wrong place. However, I am not being pessimistic, but instead am trying to be as honest and realistic as possible.
The Jawja Booldawgs come into town for another 11:21 kickoff. Both Georgia and Ole Miss sit at 1-2 and 0-1 in SEC play. Both teams earned their wins against FCS/Buy-a-win teams. Both teams feature two of the longest-tenured coaches in the SEC and both fan-bases are in a state of flux right now. The biggest difference between our record and the Bulldogs' is that Georgia lost by a combined 17 points to two top-15 programs.
After Ghost, Juco and others speculated as to how many prognosticators would dub this the "Hot Seat game", the Clarion-Ledger quickly obliged us with a piece telling Ole Miss fans exactly what we already know. So, let’s just get right into it.
When the Rebels are on offense
It pains me to say, that for the fourth week in a row, I don’t quite know what to expect. Zack Stoudt will again be the Rebels’ starter under center despite throwing five interceptions against Vanderbilt. Brandon Bolden looked to be returning to form last week despite getting just 8 carries for 39 yards…and two tackles. The Rebel offensive line has been the Achilles heel of…well…our entire team. We have been unable to run the ball or protect the passer which has kept our defense on the field way too long, all season. Considering UGA fancies its defense as the strength of this team, I have a hard time thinking we’ll move the ball effectively against the Bulldogs’ 3-4 alignment.
To help with that, Offensive Coordinator David Lee chunked a third of the playbook over this week to give our offensive line just three protections to run. I’m pretty skeptical about this, mainly because, from what I’ve seen, we’ve got about 6 running plays and 6 passing plays. I don’t know how much more simple our offense can be, unless we have some absurd blocking schemes that have limited our ability to not jump offsides on 3rd and 2. I’d expect us to try to establish the run early, and late, even if it doesn’t work through three quarters.
The wide receivers continue to show that they are the most improved unit from last season. Ja-Mes Logan and Donte Moncrief are starting to inch away from the rest of the corps as our go-to-targets. I would look for Stoudt to zero in on Logan a bit too much, just as Snead did with Shay Hodge in 2009. While Logan is our best receiver, Stoudt has some issues with staring receivers down and throwing it occasionally to the other team. If there’s one thing I’d like to see out of our passing game, it’d be some intermediate and between-the-hash routes that aren’t either bubble-screens or fades down the sideline. If we can’t pass effectively in the 8-14 yard range, we’ll have a long, long season.
As for whether Stoudt finishes the game as the starter, I’m through trying to figure out what is going to happen at quarterback.
When the Rebels are on defense
Though our defensive unit gave up 30 points against Vanderbilt, it’s becoming more and more clear that they are giving up points to exhaustion. If our offense does not get going soon, we will become completely reliant on takeaways by the defense to give us any chance of putting points up against decent teams.
I expect us to run our regular 4-2-5 hybrid, but with a few players closer to the line this week. Georgia isn’t going to go three and four wide as much as our previous opponents, so that should help us stop the run a bit more. Nix will likely blitz the hell out of Aaron Murray, as Nix is want to do. I expect us to bring pressure from the outside when we do blitz as Murray is especially dangerous when he gets outside the pocket.
Our defensive backs continue to impress me and I expect the same out of them this week. Had you told me that in week four, our defensive backs would look to be the most competent unit on either side of the ball, I would have slapped you. However, despite our inability to get any sort of pass rush without blitzing, our defensive backs have not given up a huge play or been caught grossly out of position so far this season.
Though I’m not quite as emotionally invested as I was before last week’s lost, this game will tell us pretty much everything we need to know about Nutt’s coaching prowess and potential future at Ole Miss. Our Rebels return home after an embarrassing defeat and I am really anxious to see how they respond. I hate to be cliché, but you can really see the measure of a team’s resolve in how they bounce back from a terrible defeat. Last year, we all but closed up shop after the loss to Jacksonville State. However, we’re just 1-2 with a struggling UGA squad coming into town, so there is still just enough season for me to hold a modicum of hope. If we come out playing listless, emotionless football again, I will respond in kind with listless, emotionless fandom.
I expect this game to be ugly from the start. I expect it to be a one-possession game at the half with little scoring having occurred. However, after watching our offense this season, they’ve given me little reason to expect that they can score more than 10 points. I have a hard time seeing Stoudt being able to throw well against UGA after having his lunch eaten by Trey Wilson and company. I think the Ole Miss defense will play a big part in any points we score, whether that be returning a pick/fumble for a touchdown, or setting up our offense on UGA’s side of the field. Though the Rebels keep it close heading into halftime, I expect our defense to show serious signs of fatigue by midway through the third quarter because our offense can’t stay on the field for more than five plays at a time. I don’t think our offense can put up more than 300 yards against a decent Bulldog defense as the Rebels suffer an SEC loss at home, 24-10.