Looking ahead to Georgia-Ole Miss (Saturday, Noon ET/11 a.m. CT, ESPN), the undefeated Georgia Bulldogs (3-0) will take on the Ole Miss Rebels (1-2) at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
Though Georgia has yet to lose this season, the Bulldogs have looked less than stellar over the last two weeks. Expected to face a tough test against an Ole Miss team that has blown big leads in two games this year, Georgia needs a signature win against an SEC West opponent to set the tone for the remainder of its SEC schedule and hold serve in the SEC East division race.
Ole Miss has the talent to beat any team. The Rebels inexplicably blew a 28-13 halftime lead en route to a 45-34 loss to the Florida State Seminoles to open the season. Last week, Ole Miss led the Alabama Crimson Tide 24-3 before giving up two touchdowns in a span of 65 seconds before halftime. Alabama prevailed 48-43, but only after Ole Miss scored 13 points in just eight seconds in the fourth quarter. With another SEC loss, Ole Miss is essentially eliminated in the race for Atlanta.
The Georgia-Ole Miss game features an abundance of talent, but which team has the edge?
Offense: Ole Miss
Sure, Georgia quarterback Jacob Eason led the Bulldogs to an improbable road win at Missouri, and wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie has shown flashes of brilliance. But Georgia has a major problem: it’s offensive line. Left tackle Tyler Catalina has struggled mightily in pass protection, and the Dawgs have been pushed around, limiting the effectiveness of its biggest weapon, running back Nick Chubb. Eason has been solid, but against Ole Miss, Georgia will need a more balanced attack. Ole Miss has an explosive quarterback in Chad Kelly, who is picking up right where he left off after a superb 2015 season. Tight end Evan Engram is on pace to shatter his career-best totals for receptions, yards and touchdowns. There is just too much firepower for the Rebels, and Georgia will have its hands full.
The Ole Miss defense has not been able to stop good offensive teams, surrendering an average of 459 yards per game (110th in the country). In its two losses, that number rises to 536 yards per game. Georgia has allowed 340.7 yards per game (T-42nd overall). The Bulldogs have done a good job forcing turnovers on defense, with a +3 turnover margin (eight turnovers forced). Ole Miss (-5 turnover margin) has only forced two turnovers. The talent level on defense for Georgia-Ole Miss is similar for both teams, and the two teams rank 60th and 61st, respectively, in passing yards allowed, but Georgia has a distinct edge when it comes to rushing defense, especially if Chubb and the offensive line can break out of their recent slump.
Special Teams: Ole Miss
This one is simple: Georgia kicker William Ham has still not made any field goal attempts from beyond 30 yards. He also missed a 23-yard field goal against Missouri. Georgia kicker Rodrigo Blankenship struggles to reach the end zone on kick-offs. Sure, McKenzie is a prolific special teams talent for the Bulldogs, but special teams is a major weakness for Georgia. When fans would rather go for it on fourth down in the red zone, there is a major problem. To make matters worse, Ole Miss kicker Gary Wunderlich is perfect on his four field goals attempts this season. In any game – let alone a close SEC battle – special teams mistakes can be the difference between winning and losing.
There any many questions for both teams in the Georgia-Ole Miss game. Can the Rebels hold a lead? Will Chubb find any running room behind a much-maligned offensive line? Can Ole Miss pressure Eason and force turnovers on defense? Does Eason have the clutch gene Georgia is desperately looking for? Either way, both teams should view this game as a must-win, even if it is for very different reasons. Ole Miss needs it more, and the Rebels will come out on top.
Prediction: 41-30 Ole Miss