Georgia vs. Ole Miss Game Preview: The UGLY Truth(s)
The odd significance of last weekend’s win over Florida is that every game now matters more than ever. Georgia didn’t win the SEC East or clinch anything last weekend (although Florida could have done so with a win), the Bulldogs just took the pole position in a two-week race to the divisional finish line. Accordingly, Georgia needs to beat Ole Miss and Auburn for last week’s victory to mean anything. And in light of that this weekend’s matchup with Ole Miss has a whole new meaning.
That meaning is intensified by the fact that Ole Miss is having a pretty darn good year themselves under first-year head coach Hugh Freeze. Before the season I picked the Rebels to win two or three games (Central Arkansas, Tulane and possibly one upset) and they’ve already won five. I’ve been wrong before, but when I handicapped the West and made hypothetical bets I did a pretty good job (projecting to finish 5-1 with a firm Vegas line on Ole Miss ironically unavailable before the season). Not only am I off on the Rebels, I’m off big time. They’re one win shy of bowl eligibility and I’d all but guarantee they beat the Vanderbilt Commodores and I like them to upset Mississippi State at home during the last week of the season.
And yet the Rebels come into Athens as a 16-point underdog against the Dawgs. And the ugly truth (the first of five ugly truths, I should say) is that line is too large. A number of factors are working against the Bulldogs this week: fatigue (both physical and emotional), a new pressure on this game that wouldn’t have existed 7 days ago and a fired-up nothing to lose Ole Miss team with nothing to lose. Accordingly, I think it will take a perfect game from the Bulldogs to cover that point spread convincingly (20+ points). And, as Georgia fans have so shamefully demonstrated, we are by in large (at least in volume) a fickle fan base that would be disappointed with a win by a smaller margin. Even worse, the Bulldogs need a 16+ point victory to gain credibility with voters and ultimately the BCS. That, my friends, is the (second) ugly truth. The Dawgs need to play perfectly this weekend, yet again.
As I mentioned earlier this week I think the Bulldogs need to keep their “switch” on and play the remainder of the season with the same passion and precision they possessed in Jacksonville last Saturday. The Bulldogs need momentum when they head into the Georgia Dome and they need a few more wins to get there. A lights-out defense aids both of those causes. Will we see one? I certainly hope so, but the (third) ugly truth is we’ve only seen such a defensive effort twice this season: against Florida and against Vanderbilt. Both of those games had some bad blood (against Vandy it was their jerk of a coach; against Florida it might have been teammate Shawn Williams), there has not previously been such blood with Ole Miss. Maybe some needs to be created over the next few hours.
Georgia needs to run a balanced offensive attack, but the attack needs to come at its own terms – not at the direction of Ole Miss’s defense or the forced terms of creative play calling. A healthy dose of Gurshall combined with smart, accurate passes from Murray can yield solid offensive output – something the Bulldogs once-feared offense hasn’t seen since September. The (fourth) ugly truth is that Georgia can’t win by a large margin without scoring points. Those points are needed, and they’ve been at a premium as of late (just over 15 points per game over the last three contest).
The last ugly truth is the continued presence of ugly special teams play. That phase of the game needs a dramatic renovation and needs one immediately. The Bulldogs need to make extra points (I can’t believe I’m saying that), make short field goals, return kicks that should be returned, not return kicks that don’t need to be returned and make tackles when kicking off and punting. Is that too much to ask?
This is going to sound like a cop-out but Georgia is going to win the game in one of two ways I’m afraid: Either the Dawgs will score late in the fourth quarter to make a tight game seem wider than it really was or they’re going to let Ole Miss score late in the game to make a comfortable lead – albeit not a huge one – look minuscule In the first scenario I just described I think the Dawgs will win by 12-16 points. In the second scenario I’d expect the Dawgs to win by 7-10.
Prove me wrong by covering the spread comfortably Bulldogs, because that would be impressive.
That’s all I got/