We won. By a fairly substantial margin. In an SEC game. On the road. Conference wins have been pretty hard to come by lately, as have wins outside the hedged confines of Sanford Stadium, so this is good.
The defense played lights-out. The offense looked good. Isaiah Crowell shows signs of becoming a game-changer; he finished with 147 yards on 30 carries. 29 of those yards came on 3rd and 9 from the shadow of Georgia’s goal line; this helped spark a 99-yard touchdown drive that would put Georgia up 17-0 in the second quarter. Aaron Murray was solid for the most part, with 17 completions in 26 attempts for 268 yards, 2 touchdowns and 1 interception.
All told, Georgia outgained Ole Miss 475-183. In terms of covering real estate, Georgia owned Ole Miss. If this were Monopoly, Georgia would have had hotels from Pacific Avenue all the way to Boardwalk while Ole Miss would have been mortgaging Baltic.
But this isn’t Monopoly. This is college football. In order to win this game, you have to score points. And the primary way you score points is by scoring touchdowns.
Georgia scored a whole bunch of those in the first half. In the second half…uh, not so much.
The 2011 edition of Ole Miss is one of the worst teams in the conference, if not the country. After three games they rank at or near the bottom of the SEC in several major statistical categories, including but not limited to the following: scoring offense (11th), total offense (12th), rushing offense (11th), rushing defense (11th), and total defense (11th). In their previous game this team got punked by Vanderbilt like no SEC team gets punked by Vanderbilt–the 30-7 win was Vanderbilt’s greatest margin of victory over a conference opponent ever. Knowing this, one would have expected Georgia to dominate.
And they did, in all sorts of other categories. On the scoreboard? Uh…not exactly.
Letting an overmatched opponent hang around in a game in which you are given ample opportunity to put them away is an excellent way to get yourself beat. Georgia should have learned this lesson against South Carolina. But instead, they never really put Ole Miss away. Georgia had numerous opportunities during the second half, yet the score remained 24-13 for the longest time and I could not breathe easy until Zack Stoudt got picked off with just under 3 minutes left in the game.
One particularly telling occurrence came on the very first play of the fourth quarter. Still leading 24-13 and in desperate need of a score to get some margin, Georgia had been moving the ball very well. They now faced a very makeable fourth-and-1 from the Ole Miss 30. One would have expected a coach who is feeling the heat and wanting to put the kabbash on all the speculation about his job security to go for the first down and go on to pick up the touchdown. Instead, Mark Richt sent in the field goal team. Surely he had to know that a field goal would not be automatic; at that point in the game the normally reliable Blair Walsh had already missed two. Sure enough, Walsh whiffed and the score remained 24-13.
This game had been billed by many in the media as the “Hot Seat Bowl”, because if Mark Richt is on the hot seat this year then Houston Nutt is even more on the hot seat. Fans at Ole Miss are usually a laid-back bunch who focus all their energies on tailgating in The Grove before the games, but one group of fans was so riled up by the adverse fortunes of Ole Miss football that they took out full-page ads in five area newspapers basically demanding that the administration bury Houston Nutt up to his neck in the middle of The Grove and then subject him to Native American ant torture. Things haven’t gotten that bad for Mark Richt–at least nobody is taking out full-page ads in the paper. Yet.
But in many ways this game reaffirmed some of the same flaws we have seen all season long. Some of this is due to youth and inexperience–after all, this is a very young team, and young teams tend to get better as the season progresses, which means they are not usually at their best in September.
But some of this is on Richt. A lot of the concerns I have with Mark Richt are cultural. He doesn’t miss field goals or throw interceptions or make penalties on onside kick attempts or allow huge defensive linemen to go unblocked and sack the quarterback and force a fumble that gets returned for a score. But in recent years he has created a culture where such things tend to happen. The worst possible play at the worst possible time has become the new normal at Georgia.
When you’re trying to change that kind of culture, you need to do things which send the message that Georgia is back and Georgia means business. Going conservative and settling for a field goal on the first play of the fourth quarter was not the best way to send that message. In such an instance, isn’t a more aggressive approach called for?
Could you have imagined Nick Saban or Urban Meyer or Paul Johnson or the old Mark Richt of the early 00’s settling for a field goal under similar circumstances? I didn’t think so.
Still, it was a win, though it wasn’t exactly the wrecking ball that we had hoped to see. And a road win over an SEC opponent is better than losses to Boise State and South Carolina and a win over Cedar Shoals.
But Georgia had the opportunity to make a statement. Instead they made a yawn. That may do against an Ole Miss team that is not good enough to make you pay for your mistakes, but it will certainly not do against Mississippi State, Florida, or Auburn, and it may not do against Tennessee, Vanderbilt, or Kentucky.