With their win in Oxford having pushed them back to .500 both in conference play and overall, things are starting to look up for the Georgia Bulldogs. Now it's back home to face the Bizarro Bulldogs of Mississippi State, the team that arguably signaled Georgia's ominous turn from "rebuilding season" to "utter disaster" in 2010. Our Manic-Depressive Previewers are reacting to this pretty much exactly the way you think they would.
Manic Doug: No worries, bro. Hitched a ride back with this nice older couple from Fayetteville. They didn't have enough room in the cab of their pickup truck, so I had to ride back in the trailer, but that was probably better anyhow. Got to stretch out on the bed and sleep pretty much all the way back to Columbus.
DD: OK, so what were you doing in Oxford that you weren't answering your cell phone and didn't meet up with us at the place and time we'd agreed on?
MD: What happens in Oxford stays in Oxford, bro.
DD: Is that a fact. You know, I don't think that's a thing.
MD: Doesn't matter. You ready to start talking about Mississippi State?
DD: Yeah, I guess so. But I've been stressing about this game ever since we lost to them last year.
MD: Well, I've got good news: You can stop stressing. The Bizarro Bulldogs lost to Auburn, lost to LSU and then needed overtime to beat Louisiana Tech last week. Their one dominating win this season is still Memphis, who can lay a pretty convincing claim to being the worst team in Division I-A at the moment. Last year State snuck up on us and turned out to be way better than anyone expected; this year it turns out they're probably worse.
DD: There's that word, probably. How can you be sure they're not going to do the same thing to us that they did last year? They won in 2010 by getting Chris Relf and Vick Ballard out to the edge and rocketing around our defense. Looking at the way Marcus Lattimore got going a few weeks ago when Steve Spurrier finally wised up and started running him outside, I'm not at all convinced they won't be able to do the exact same thing this year.
MD: Hey, it's not like State ran wild all over us last year -- they only rolled up 314 yards and 24 points. It only felt like they were unstoppable because we couldn't score to save our lives. Things are different this year, though -- Isaiah Crowell is a major upgrade in the running game, we seem to be getting into a groove with the no-huddle offense. And State's run defense has fallen off in a big way. Last year they finished with the nation's 15th-ranked run defense, allowing fewer than 120 rushing yards a game. This year they're 77th and allowing more than 160.
DD: Well, sure, you play Auburn and LSU in the first four games of the season and anybody's numbers would suffer after that.
MD: I'm not even talking about Auburn or LSU. Lennon Creer had 82 yards and a TD against them last week. Memphis went off for 164 rushing yards against them and averaged nearly five yards a carry from their running backs. If they can do that, Crowell's going to have a huge day on Saturday.
DD: OK, let's assume for the sake of argument that he does. I'm still worried about how we're going to contain Relf and Ballard. One of our biggest Achilles heels last season was containing teams that had mobile quarterbacks; just as one example, Relf was their leading rusher against us, and nearly went over 100 yards that night. We haven't played a team with a truly mobile QB yet this season, so you'll have to excuse me if I don't have a lot of confidence just yet in that area.
MD: The difference this year is that State's passing efficiency is down despite facing defenses ranked 54th, 90th and 110th in the country. They're not getting touchdowns in the red zone -- Relf has only four TD passes all year -- and their third-down conversion percentage has dropped by quite a bit compared to last year, when they converted more than half their opportunities against us. So that's gonna let us devote more bodies to containing them outside, and if we can pull that off, we stand a pretty good chance of exacting our revenge.
DD: (sigh) I never dreamed it would come to this. That we'd actually be needing to get revenge against fricking Mississippi State.
MD: Well, that's the situation we're in. But it's gonna be a big motivator for our side. The loss in Starkville last year was what really showed the world that we were in big trouble, and our guys haven't forgotten how that felt. This year, though, instead of coming off two consecutive losses, we're coming off two consecutive wins and have built up some confidence. Between that, the revenge angle and the fact that we'll be playing in front of the home crowd, I think the intangibles are all on our side this weekend.
DD: Well, yippee for that. But if the revenge angle was such a big deal for us, then explain the loss to South Carolina a couple weeks ago. Or Tennessee in '07. Or Florida, like, pretty much every year.
MD: Hey, I didn't say that'd be the one big thing that won the entire game for us. But it'll be a factor.
DD: Let's go back to that South Carolina game for a second. Big plays lost that game for us -- the turnovers, the fake punt that went for a touchdown. Big plays were the only thing that Ole Miss had going for them last week: the two big pass plays on their one touchdown drive, that wild punt return late in the first half. Fundamentally, I actually think we're a pretty solid team right now -- it's just big plays like that that kill us, and I just can't be sure it's not going to happen again this week.
MD: So fess up, then: You think we're going to lose to the Bizarro 'Dawgs? For the second year in a row?
DD: I think that until we demonstrate that we can keep them from running outside on us all afternoon long, they manage to move the ball pretty well on the ground and keep the game close. Meanwhile, we struggle to get going early because they're getting pressure on our QB but we can't mount enough of a pass rush to return the favor. I think we'll finally go ahead on a long touchdown drive in the fourth quarter, but as we've done so many times the past few years, we lose focus after something good happens and let State run it right back down our throats. We try to mount a game-winning drive in the last few minutes but come up short, and we lose 27-23.
MD: Now you're just looking for ways to make yourself miserable. I think Isaiah Crowell follows in the footsteps of Michael Dyer and Spencer Ware and runs all over that Mississippi State front seven, moving the chains and opening things up for Aaron Murray in the passing game. Not only that, but he wears down State's defense kind of like LSU did, which enables us to put up a couple scores in the fourth quarter and sock the game away. Final score, 34-24, with Isaiah Crowell notching his third 100-yard game of the season.
DD: Well, that's certainly a nice thought. Average up our two predictions and you get Georgia 29, Mississippi State 26 -- can you live with that?
MD: A win, a winning record on the season, and revenge for one of our most embarrassing losses last year? Yeah, I'll sleep like a baby after all that, thanks.
DD: How wonderful. Will you be doing so in the back of someone else's trailer again this week, or do you think you'll actually make it home without me having to call the police to find you?
MD: Depends on whether we win big enough to warrant a party that goes into the wee hours, bro.
DD: This'll be two straight games that have started around noon. Our tailgate last week started with coffee, OJ and Chick-fil-A biscuits, for crying out loud. How is it you can find ways to be out and about until the next morning?
MD: Well, for starters, I'm not a fricking nun like some other people I could name. Second of all, I've got a personality some people just naturally gravitate toward, so if Georgia wins and everyone's in a good mood and a group of Tri-Delts decides they want to take me to their lake house to celebrate, how do I say no to that?
DD: Are you saying that's why you disappeared last weekend? That sounds like one of those "I never thought this would happen to me" letters.
MD: Just let me finish uploading all the pictures to Facebook and I'll prove it to you myself.
DD: It's times like this that make me want to remind you what a damn good thing it is for both of us that I'm a regular churchgoer.