Occasionally the SEC schedule sends Georgia on an extended road trip in October. Usually that includes the Tennessee-Vandy circuit, but the shuffled 2012 schedule meant an intinerary that began in Columbia, visited Lexington, and ended in Jacksonville.
A lot has happened in the month since September 29th, Georgia’s most recent home game. The Dawgs were undefeated, a top five team, and had scored at least 40 points in every game. Georgia’s goals of divisional, conference, and even national titles were still intact. An explosive offense and “Gurshall” led the way, and it was only a matter of time before the return of several suspended players rounded the defense into its expected form.
We return home a little more sober about the Dawgs’ place in the college football world. Georgia is still a top 10 team with most of its goals attainable, but they’re not among the pack of four undefeated teams currently atop the polls. The team’s impact freshman tailbacks have been slowed somewhat, though Gurley’s performance at Florida tells us that September wasn’t a flash in the pan. The defense – well, the defense spent the month going through an identity crisis. Its showing against Florida was promising, but November and beyond will tell us whether more permanent changes have taken root.
Home field has played a big role in the SEC this year. Georgia’s biggest road test of the year was a flop at South Carolina. The Gamecocks, who weren’t exactly dominant in earlier road game at Vanderbilt and Kentucky, saw their hopes dashed in two of the conference’s toughest venues. Florida rose to #2 on the back of two impressive home wins over LSU and South Carolina but barely escaped Texas A&M and Vanderbilt.
Georgia has had their shakiest moments of the year on the road, especially on offense. They finished with 41 points at Missouri, but we remember how long it took things to get going. Things never got going at South Carolina. Only the passing game looked functional at Kentucky as the running game and defense weren’t much help.
Sanford Stadium has been much more kind to the Bulldog offense. They’re averaging 49.5 PPG and 288 yards rushing per game in home SEC games. Though the defense has been hit or miss home and away until the Florida game, the offense has come out firing in nearly every home game so far. Ole Miss is on a bit of a roll right now and, at least from the Georgia side, you like that that this game is in Athens.
Ole Miss has somewhat bucked the trend of faltering away from home. They’re 2-1 on the road this year with a win at Tulane and an SEC win over Arkansas in Little Rock. The Rebels’ lone road loss to date was at Alabama, and it was no poor showing. The worst Ole Miss loss of the season came in Oxford against Texas – a defensive disaster that saw the home team give up 350 rushing yards and 676 total yards.
That Texas game was a cleansing of sorts. Since that blowout loss on September 15th, the Rebels are 3-2 (2-2 in the SEC). Those two losses were a respectable 33-14 defeat at Alabama that was 27-14 after three quarters and a narrow heartbreaking loss to Texas A&M in which the Rebels led by 10 halfway through the fourth quarter.
It’s Homecoming, but this isn’t a typical Homecoming situation. It’s a national TV appearance against an underdog gaining confidence and gunning for a bowl bid. The Georgia team will be trying to build on the Florida win and make the most of their second chance to claim the SEC East. They’ll need alums and students to leave the Homecoming tailgates a little early and give Sanford as much juice as it had for the Vandy and Tennessee games.