This Saturday, the Ole Miss Rebels will storm into the Classic City to take on the Bulldogs of Georgia. With SEC East title hopes on the line, Hugh Freeze will look to channel his inner William Sherman as he invades the Peach State. Both schools are coming in with momentum and swagger after paramount weekend victories. The Rebels were able to defeat West rival Arkansas, proving that their victory over Auburn was not a fluke as well as gaining their first conference road win since 2009. Georgia on the other hand, moved into the driver’s seat in the East with their victory over the second ranked Gators. If Georgia can defeat Ole Miss and Auburn, they will advance to the SEC Championship game for the second consecutive year.
A loss for the Dawgs would create a logjam in at the top. Florida has finished SEC play with a 7-1 record and owns the head-to-head over South Carolina. The Gamecocks are 5-2 in conference and own the head-to-head over the Bulldogs. If Georgia can get past the Rebels, they should be able to cruise past the lowly Auburn Tigers who have reached a colossal level of ineptitude previously reserved for Ed Orgeron-led teams.
Freeze & Co. will have to buck a storied trend of Georgia dominance in the series. The Bulldogs have won the last nine meetings dating back to a 31-27 Rebel road victory in 1996. John Vaught was 3-7 against Georgia in his illustrious career with the red and blue, but those times are forgotten as current UGA head coach Mark Richt has yet to lose to Ole Miss.
When you discuss the Georgia defense, it all starts with outside linebacker Jarvis Jones. With much of the media bias surrounding Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o, Jones has been largely overlooked. A physical freak, Jones is 6’3 and 241 pounds and is consistently in the backfield. A likely top five pick in the 2013 draft, Jones is arguably the best all-around college player in the country. Jones leads the team in tackles for loss (14.), sacks (8.5), and quarterback hurries (19) despite playing just six games this season. He is the toughest test that the offensive line has had to face this season, and will likely require HR Greer to block and buy time for Bo Wallace.
Jones is not alone in the linebacking core as all four are tremendous talents. Freshman Jordan Jenkins is second on the team in tackles for loss with 6.0. Jenkins has seen less time than the others as he is a true freshman, but at 6’3 and 257 pounds, he is hard to leave off the field if you are Richt. Michael Gilliard is a sure tackler with 40 tackles on the season and typically plays the pass. Alec Ogletree is a big hitter and has not missed a step since being reinstated four games ago. Ogletree missed a few tackles as well as an interception, but performances like that have been anomalies for the junior.
Most of Georgia’s pressure comes from within as a pair of monster defensive tackles clog up the middle and free space for the linebackers to attack. Kwame Geathers and GCCC product John Jenkins have been forces in the middle all season and will eventually play on Sundays. What benefits Ole Miss is that the Rebels have no true power back like they did with Brandon Bolden a year ago. While the clogging of the inside prevents big draw plays up the middle by Wallace and Jeff Scott, the outside remains vulnerable. Georgia is 56th in the country against the run, largely due to outside sweeps and pitches where a pulled guard and center free up blocks on the perimeter. If Freeze and Dan Werner want to have a big day on the ground, they will have to do it outside the hashes.
Georgia had struggled against athletic quarterbacks this season, but contained Jeff Driskel last week, allowing him to -4 rushing yards on 13 carries. Wallace is much stronger than Driskel, and has been able to gain yards after contact all season. If the line can pick up their blocks, but the downfield coverage is there, Wallace can get big plays with his feet against this defense. It all depends on whether or not he picks up his blind side, otherwise we could see a fumble or two in the backfield.
With the great rush the Bulldogs get, opposing teams rarely have lots of time to throw. That isn’t to say it’s impossible. Tyler Bray was able to pass for 281 yards on the Dawgs in a 51-44 shootout against Tennessee. The Vols got over 200 yards on the ground that day, freeing up a lot of space over the top. If Ole Miss can get a running game established on the outside, the middle is freed up with a lot of space for the quick receivers.
Georgia does not give up many big plays behind them, leaving a lot of breathing room for opposing receivers. This is due in large part to the dominant safeties defensive coordinator Todd Grantham has in Bacarri Rambo and Shawn Williams. Both safeties help deep and are very good when the ball is in the air.
Despite all of the talent that Georgia has on defense, their numbers are not reflective of it. The Dawgs are 38th in total defense and red zone defense, 40th in turnovers gained, and tied for 56th in sacks. While the defense is coming off their best performance of the year, sans Ogletree, there are a lot of matchup opportunities for Freeze.
Ole Miss got a lot of big plays in the passing game from their running backs. If they can pose a threat on the outside, that draws a few linebackers out of the box, allowing more time for Wallace. This could create space on the draw play for Wallace. With the heavy cushion by the defensive backs, Ole Miss is able to get into a comfort zone along the sidelines that they have been with Vincent Sanders and Donte Moncrief. The two have made a comfortable living getting open outside for Wallace to dump it to for first downs. Quick outs will be a huge asset for the Rebel offense. The short-to-intermediate passing game could open up deep plays for Moncrief and Ja-Mes Logan as well.
If Ole Miss can get into a good rhythm early, they could pose a lot of problems for the Georgia defense. Freeze will look to get over 80 plays in and limit the substitutions for the Dawgs. The Rebels are one of the premier teams in the country when it comes to 3rd down conversion rates, and they will need to make a lot of short opportunities. If they force themselves into third and longs, put the ball in Rambo’s basket, or allow Jones to tear the ball out, there is no chance for the Rebels in this one. It all depends on the rhythm of the offense for Freeze if he wants to buck the Bulldogs between the hedges.
Topics: Alec Ogletree, Bacarri Rambo, Bo Wallace, Dan Werner, Donte Moncrief, Georgia Football, Hugh Freeze, Ja-mes Logan, Jarvis Jones, Jeff Driskel, Jeff Scott, John Jenkins, Jordan Jenkins, Kwame Geathers, Manti Te'o, Mark Richt, Michael Gilliard, Ole Miss Football, Randall Mackey, Shawn Williams, Todd Grantham, Tyler Bray, Vincent Sanders