Though Aaron Murray had a banner day, the defense was what I wanted to see. The thin and young Ole Miss secondary made their pass defense a known liability. Their offense, and QB Bo Wallace in particular, was playing well enough to win consecutive SEC games and nearly knock off Texas A&M. Things might’ve looked shaky down 10-0, but the defense only got better. They began creating turnovers, getting pressure, defending long passes, and soon adjusted to the short swing passes designed to get Ole Miss skill players into space. A decent running game was held over 130 yards below its season average, and when the backup QB is a team’s second-leading rusher, you’ve done well against the run. With the run held in check, Georgia’s defense became more and more suffocating and gave nothing back once the offense claimed the lead. Even with the game more or less in hand for the entire fourth quarter, the defense allowed just 20 yards of total offense in the final period.
Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze, who’s done a very impressive job this year bringing the gutted Ole Miss program to the brink of bowl eligibility, admitted that this game was the “first time this season that I felt like we were zapped of our passion.” Georgia’s relentless defense had a lot to do with that, and that’s exactly the kind of follow-up performance you love to see after a physical and draining experience like the Florida game. We were hopeful after one game, we can be much more confident after consecutive outstanding defensive games, and we can declare the defense back if they can keep it up as the Dawgs attempt to clinch the SEC East this weekend.
No one can accuse Murray of being incapable of learning from his mistakes. A week after some poor decisions led to three interceptions and a rough three quarters against Florida, Murray was noticably better at checking down and finding open receivers. His touchdown passes came on big plays, but his successful day was made possible by spreading the ball around to 11 different receivers. His 21 completions included four to tight ends, three to tailbacks, and two to the fullback. Two of the three passes to tailbacks were for first down yardage, and a nice swing pass to Gurley against a blitz went for a long gain that set up the scoring chance at the end of the first half. Murray also pulled the ball down and got positive yards on the ground a couple of times. Even with the pressure he faced early on, these small adjustments helped Murray keep his composure and made him deadly once opportunities began to present themselves.
More from a beautiful Homecoming afternoon:
- Pointing to a turning point other than the touchdown at the end of the first half might be trying too hard. But there was another important moment just after halftime. Georgia faced 3rd-and-eight on its opening series of the half. A three-and-out there takes some of the edge off of Georgia’s halftime momentum and gives Ole Miss the ball down only four. Murray found Marlon Brown on a short pass still about seven yards short of the marker. Brown made a defender miss though and turned a minimal gain into a 17-yard play. The Dawgs moved the chains and scored three plays later to open up a double-digit lead.
- If you’re able to defer the opening kickoff, there’s nothing better than scores that bookend halftime. We saw it at Tech last year where Georgia got a field goal right before halftime and a score on their first possession of the second half to turn a tight four-point game into a manageable 14-point Georgia lead without Tech having a meaningful offensive play. Georgia’s score to close the first half against Ole Miss gave them a similar opportunity. Brown’s third down conversion kept the opportunity alive, and Georgia was able to post 14 points without Ole Miss running a play. After the defense forced a 3-and-out, the Dawgs ended up with 21 points and had turned a deficit into a 17-point lead by the time Ole Miss ran four plays.
- As much as the game was about Murray and the defense, Todd Gurley quietly had another 100+ yard game. He’s less than 150 yards from 1,000. He’d be only the second true freshman tailback at Georgia to reach that mark. (You can probably guess who the other guy is.)
- While Gurley has cranked out consecutive 100-yard games, it’s been a quiet month for Keith Marshall. He’s not playing poorly…the long runs just aren’t developing as frequently as they did in September. He’s still a dangerous guy to play along with Gurley and will likely make more noise before the end of the season. Marshall showed some additional utility with a couple of receptions Saturday, and he had important blocks on a pass to Rome and the final touchdown to Wooten.
- It wasn’t a great start from the offensive line, and the coaches put a lot of that on the tackles. Ole Miss was quick off the edge and frustrated Georgia’s ability to get drives going early on. This is one area of the team where “coming out flat” applies – center David Andrews admitted that the early troubles were “just not waking up and going out and playing.” The line could also be dealing with tackle issues against Auburn depending on the availability of guard Chris Burnette. If Burnette can’t go, Mark Beard will get his first start at LT as Ken Gates moves inside. Auburn’s best defensive player might be defensive end Corey Lemonier, so this matchup will be worth watching.
- You don’t ask for a lot of production from the fullback, but it’s something that Zander Ogletree has just about doubled the season production by the position in just two weeks. Ogletree’s run was the last thing anyone would expect in that situation, and he finished off as if he were Gurley. Blocking is still job #1, but Georgia’s had a 100-yard back both times with Ogletree in there. It will be an interesting call if Hall is healthy enough to return, but my untrained eye thinks that Ogletree has done plenty to hold onto the start.
- Turning to the defense, there’s plenty good to say about all three units. Garrison Smith continues to be an important piece of the turnaround on defense. Smith followed up a five-tackle performance against Florida with seven tackles and a sack against the Rebels. A good day by Smith and the rest of the line opened things up for the middle linebackers to close off the center of the field. Alec Ogletree had his best game since returning from suspension with a team-high 11 tackles, one sack, and one impressive interception. Herrera, Gilliard, and Robinson added another nine tackles for the interior linebackers.
- As well as the front seven played, the secondary was outstanding. Williams’ near-miss of the early interception was the lone costly miscue, and he more than atoned for it. The cornerbacks were as visible as they’ve been all year. Swann made big plays in pass coverage and recovered two fumbles. Branden Smith broke up two passes and made some incredibly physical tackles. Aside from the early 51-yard pass that set up their field goal, Ole Miss had only one other reception for over 20 yards. The secondary did a good job of denying the long passes and cleaning up the intermediate completions.
- It was a relatively quiet day for Jenkins and Jones at outside linebacker. Each saw an Ole Miss quarterback elude a sure sack, but largely their lack of productivity had to do with the Ole Miss game plan. The quick out passes attacked Georgia’s pressure off the edge, and they were intially effective. It didn’t take long for Georgia to adjust, and the passes and runs away from Jones put other defenders in positions to make plays. Jones still got his – with his pass rush limited, he became active containing the run and pursued well from the back side. He was instrumental in setting up the safety, and Ogletree and Smith did a great job finishing it off.
- A week ago Georgia held Florida’s top receiver, Frankie Hammond, Jr. without a reception. Against Ole Miss the Dawgs shut out the opponent’s best receiver once again. Donte Moncrief had 18 receptions over the past three games and has 39 receptions on the season, but he doesn’t appear in Saturday’s box score. (In case you’re wondering, Emory Blake is Auburn’s leading receiver.)