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Georgia 27, Ole Miss 13: The Dawgs Stare Into The Grove, And The Grove Stares Back Into Them

OK, the Dawgs aren't Ole Miss. But how much better are we?

I had two things on my mind a week ago as I trudged toward our tailgate before the Coastal Carolina game: One, how I'd ended up wearing shorts and a polo in 60-degree weather, and two, the Ole Miss Rebels. Not that I was looking ahead or anything, mind you, but I'd noticed some uncomfortable parallels between our situation and theirs. Could I live with my beloved alma mater becoming the Peach State's version of Ole Miss: venerable state institution in a gorgeous town, with a great party scene and all-world female talent -- and a marginally relevant football program? Then, of course, there was the realization by day's end that when the two teams met up in Oxford a week hence, they'd both still be looking for their first win over an FBS opponent.

Georgia ended up getting that win, of course, and in fairly dominating fashion, despite what the plain-vanilla final score would tell you. If Houston Nutt wasn't fired coming into this game, he surely is now, though it remains to be seen whether a year or two from now we'll all be chuckling about him getting "Richted" the same way we used to talk about poor suckas getting Croomed.

But the more pressing issue is that Georgia's not quite out of the woods yet when it comes to Ole Miss comparisons, because while we got confirmation that the 2011 Dawgs aren't a bad team after all, neither did anything necessarily point to us being a great one. We may not be as bad as the Rebels are now, or as bad as they were when Ed Orgeron was leveling the Ole Miss program and doing his best to salt the earth behind him; but on Saturday, at least, you couldn't necessarily find a lot of daylight between us and, say, the Rebels' 2009 team, or the squads of the mid-David Cutcliffe era. Like them, we beat an opponent we were supposed to beat, but we found ways not to do it in a fashion that would make people think, "Dang, those guys are really gonna make a run this year."

If two things really nagged at me about Georgia's performance in Oxford, it's probably because those things have bugged the crap out of me for the last five or six years. Actually, make it even longer than that when you're talking about Georgia's propensity to settle for field goals, because it seems like that's been a feature, not a bug, of Mark Richt's entire tenure in Athens. Yeah, I'd probably be less inclined to pick at that particular scab if Blair Walsh had actually, you know, converted more than two of his five tries on Saturday, but whatever yips he was experiencing in his game, they weren't responsible for Michael Bennett dropping that pass in the end zone on Georgia's first drive of the day, and they darn sure weren't responsible for the following coaching decisions:

  • Very end of the third quarter, Dawgs have driven down to the Ole Miss 39, and then Isaiah Crowell busts a nine-yard run that lands him just short of the first-down marker. Quarter ends, Georgia has time to draw up something nifty on fourth-and-1 from the Rebel 30, and Richt sends in . . . the field-goal team, for a 48-yard try Blair Walsh misses. Did any of y'all keep up with the "#notoriousTOB" tag that caught fire on Twitter on Thursday in anticipation of the N.C. State-Cincinnati game? Maybe the missed field goal was my punishment for contributing so gleefully to it, because that was a Tom O'Brien play call if ever I saw one.
  • Four or five minutes later, Dawgs are on a long clock-grinding drive down inside the Mississippi red zone, and second-and-4 becomes third-and-6 when a Rebel player jumps across the line and Aaron Murray kneels on it but the refs determine the defender got back in place first. Instead of trying some play-action or maybe tossing one in the flat to Orson Charles, who was having a pretty productive day, Richt calls a straight-up run and Crowell gets stuffed after two yards. Call in the FG unit, and Walsh misses a 35-yarder.
  • Four minutes and change left, Georgia has gotten the ball back in great field position after the Rebels failed to convert a fourth-and-10 in their own territory. Three runs, the first two from Richard Samuel (que?), and on fourth-and-2, we call in the kicking team yet again, and Walsh finally nails one.
Now, in the case of the last one -- and perhaps the one before it as well -- it's possible Mark Richt sensed that the Ole Miss offense couldn't get out of its own way and figured that a 14-point cushion would be so insurmountable that the extra risk of going for more points wouldn't be worth it. While perhaps inadvisable in the ass-out-of-you-and-me sense, that assumption wasn't unreasonable. Yet, leaving aside any judgments about how it might behoove any coach on a seat as hot as Richt's to exhibit a little more killer instinct, it's not like Ole Miss was completely incapable of scoring points. They'd put 13 points on the board in just four plays toward the end of the first half; even if Richt determined there wasn't an urgent need for extra points, it would've been nice to have them just in case anything else unpleasant happened.

And "anything else unpleasant" brings me to the other thing that bugged the crap out of me: Georgia's ongoing inability to maintain focus after something good happened. I've complained about this at length in other venues, and you could see us working overtime to squander momentum after building a big lead Saturday: Score a TD to go up 17-0, then let Ole Miss' drag-ass offense hit on a couple big pass plays and get seven of those points back just 61 seconds later. (Don't think those two long completions were utterly out of character for the Rebels? Those two plays comprised more than 50 percent of their passing output for the entire day.) Then, score another TD, hold the Rebels to a three-and-out, only to whiff on three straight passes and give up a second TD on a tricksy punt return right before the half. I gotta give the Rebels' special teams a little love here, because that toss from Jeff Scott to Nick Brassell was a thing of Boise-State-in-the-Fiesta-Bowl beauty, but still, when the Dawgs get the ball back with under a minute and a half left in the second quarter, I feel like I should get to be confident that the other team won't be putting any more points on the board before halftime.

Now, maybe I'm just being way too picky for a guy whose team started the season 0-2. We crossed our first conference road game off the list, we got back to .500 in the process, and the rest of the schedule looks manageable: Mississippi State is struggling, Tennessee lost their best player last week, and Vanderbilt is still Vanderbilt, meaning that they'll force you into playing the most ass-ugly game you can possibly imagine while you win by two scores anyway. (Er, unless you're Ole Miss, apparently.) Aaron Murray on an off day is still preferable to 90 percent of the QBs out there; Isaiah Crowell is everything he was hyped up to be and then some; our defense is even figuring out how to take down the quarterback.

Yet I think back to the guy sitting next to me at the Coastal Carolina game, the one who said Georgia wasn't going to lose another game for the rest of the season and finish 10-2, and I think: Is the team that beat Ole Miss on Saturday capable of that? Not at the moment they're not. Capable of winning more games than they lose, but not reeling off 10 in a row, not with Florida and Georgia Tech still down the road. When the Big Reckoning comes in December, Mark Richt's not going to be Houston Nutt and the Dawgs aren't going to be Ole Miss, but with all due respect to the Rebels -- whose tailgating skills are beyond reproach whether they're winning or losing -- it sure would be nice to put some more distance between us and them in the meantime. Not that the Rebels should be our yardstick or anything, but when they say "We may not win every game, but we never lose a tailgate," all I can do is think of how much fun I was having when the Dawgs were schooling people right and left in both those arenas.

Photographs by coka_koehler used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.