Ole Miss started off in familiar fashion Saturday by jumping out to a dominant 31-0 lead over Georgia in the first half. But in refreshingly unfamiliar fashion the Rebs tamped down on defense and whipped the Bulldogs out of Oxford, 45-14.
A four-possession lead probably sat better with Hugh Freeze and fans than in previous weeks this season, but the Landsharks executed brilliantly all afternoon and Chad Kelly and the offense backed them up with points to put the game away in the third quarter.
The theme of the early going was Ole Miss’ ownership of the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. Georgia running backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel ripped off a handful of 10+ yard runs, but three-down inconsistency from the Bulldogs forced freshman quarterback Jacob Eason into downfield passes early and often. That disadvantage led to Eason going one for seven on third downs in the first half, one of which found its way into the hands of Derrick Jones for the Landsharks’ first pick-six of the season.
Remarkable, not least because Jones has flipped from defensive back to wide receiver and finally back to defensive back this year. With injuries and inexperience hounding the Rebel secondary, Jones’ move back to defense is welcome and selfless, and his interception Saturday is a satisfying payoff for that willingness to play where he’s needed.
On offense the Rebs got ticking from the get-go. A first drive field goal perhaps gave reason for sighs, but touchdowns came early and often following Jones’ pick-six. Like, say, a beauty of a bomb from Chad Kelly to DaMarkus Lodge.
Somewhat surprisingly, Jason Pellerin made an early showing in the Rebs’ run-option package, which gave Kirby Smart’s team a wholly unprepared-for look to deal with as early as the first quarter. Akeem Judd and D’Vaughn Pennamon ran well, and a deadly accurate Chad Kelly — aided by a monster day from his receivers — trashed Georgia’s defense into embarrassment.
Here are three things we learned from Saturday’s big win in Oxford.
Ole Miss won in the trenches against a mediocre opponent.
Georgia’s offensive and defensive lines are nowhere near as talented as Alabama’s, and a significant degree worse than Florida State’s. With that said, they’re comparable to the caliber of depth and talent that Ole Miss will meet from here on out, and the Rebs’ dominance at the line of scrimmage — especially on the defensive side — bodes well for the rest of the conference schedule. Chad Kelly committed no turnovers Saturday -- Pellerin threw a boneheaded interception in garbage time — and it’s that ball control which went a long way toward securing the day’s win.
Good grief the offense is humming.
Speaking of the offense, SWAG’s production mean streak continued in Week 4 with two passing touchdowns and another on the ground. Kelly ended the day 18 of 24 with 282 yards through the air and 53 with his feet. Further, he took a couple of shots from errant Georgia defensemen that would have put any number of other quarterbacks on their ass, but there he was, popping back up after violent hit after violent hit.
Ole Miss’ redwood forest of receivers continued apace Saturday, with Evan Engram and DaMarkus Lodge leading all Rebel catchers with 95 and 72 yards, respectively. Lodge, for his part, only needed two catches to rack up all that mileage, and Kelly gifted him with a glorious 52-yard touchdown for his efforts. A.J. Brown and Demore’ea Stringfellow were strong as well, as a full eight skill players tallied receptions on the day.
With the way the offense played on Saturday, perhaps some of that apprehension about the sustainability of such fireworks has been put to bed. These guys can play, and they’re fun as all hell to watch.
Hugh Freeze’s men are resilient.
This game was a must-win scenario for Ole Miss’ season. Georgia is still a pretty good football team — despite the game score — and two large-scale meltdowns against top tier talent could have severely psyched the Rebels out of this matchup. Nevertheless, Freeze calmed his guys down, prepared well through the week, and loosened up the play-calling when Ole Miss took the lead.
The Rebs are 2-2 with a pretty encouraging schedule remaining ahead of them. Onward.