The seventh-ranked Georgia Bulldogs continue their quest for a spot in the SEC Championship Game, as they play host to the Ole Miss Rebels this Saturday afternoon.
After winning just two games a year ago, Ole Miss has turned things around in 2012 under new head coach Hugh Freeze, winning five of their eight games and it is just one win away from becoming bowl eligible. After losing 16 straight SEC games dating back to 2010, the Rebels have now won back-to-back games in conference, defeating Auburn (41-20) at home and Arkansas (30-27) on the road.
"We're excited to get a road win," Freeze said at Monday's press conference. "In this conference, anytime you can go on the road and get a win, you don't take that lightly. We're very excited particularly in the state in which our program has been in and struggling to win an SEC game period, much less on the road. Now we turn our attention to Georgia, which is going to be a tremendous task. It will be another step to kind of see how we're maturing."
Georgia won its first five games of the season before slipping up on the road to South Carolina, 35-7, back on Oct. 6. But since then it has won back-to- back games, including a crucial matchup with previously-undefeated Florida last week in Jacksonville, 17-9. With the win, the Bulldogs now control their own destiny in the SEC Eastern Division, and a pair of wins over Ole Miss on Saturday and Auburn next week will land them in the conference title tilt on Dec. 1, but head coach Mark Richt isn't taking the road lightly.
"I've been watching (Ole Miss) from afar," Richt said. "I've been impressed with what they've done. They had a big victory over Arkansas (last week). I know we have our work cut out for us. We haven't won the east yet, but we're in control of it."
The Bulldogs have been dominant over the Rebels in recent years, winning nine consecutive matchups in the series. Georgia owns a 31-12-1 advantage all-time.
The Ole Miss offense has gone from an afterthought in years past to a finely- tuned unit (32.4 ppg, 430 ypg), thanks to the emergence of sophomore quarterback Bo Wallace.
Wallace has completed more than 66 percent of his passes for 206.1 ypg and 10 touchdowns, while adding another dimension to his game with his legs by rushing for 263 yards and five more scores. One thing Wallace would like to improve upon down the stretch is taking care of the football as he has been intercepted nine times.
Wallace has developed a great chemistry with receiver Donte Moncrief (39 receptions, 540 yards, five TDs). He is coming off an eight-reception game in the win over Arkansas, which tied a career-high.
Jeff Scott has turned into one of the more reliable running backs in the SEC, putting up 612 yards and six touchdowns despite missing a game due to injury.
The defense (26.6 ppg, 369.5 ypg) has also played better than expected and is coming off a game where it intercepted Arkansas' quarterback Tyler Wilson twice and sacked him three times.
Denzel Nkemdiche has been the unit's top playmaker with nine tackles for loss, two interceptions, two sacks, and a team-high 52 tackles. Cody Prewitt (49 tackles) and Dehendret Collins (24 tackles) also have two picks.
Despite putting up only 273 yards of offense and committing three turnovers last week, Georgia still has the third-highest scoring offense in the conference (36.8 ppg).
Although he's falling short of the 35-touchdown season he put up a year ago, Aaron Murray is nonetheless having a stellar campaign, completing 63.7 percent of his passes for 258 ypg with 17 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Murray tends to come up small in big games however, combining to go just 23-of-55 passing with one touchdown and four interceptions against South Carolina and Florida.
Murray has perhaps the best receiving corps in the conference at his disposal, as Tavarres King, Marlon Brown, Michael Bennett, and Malcolm Mitchell all have at least 23 catches and 300 yards.
The Bulldogs have ridden a pair of freshman running backs with great success, as Todd Gurley (740 yards, 10 TDs) and Keith Marshall (492 yards, five TDs) are both off to fast starts to their careers.
The defense (22.2 ppg) has not lived up to lofty preseason expectations, but it came up huge last week when it needed to most, forcing Florida into six turnovers.
Jarvis Jones was a beast in the win, racking up 13 tackles, three sacks, two forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries en route to being named SEC Defensive Player of the Week. Jones' season as a whole has been special, with 49 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks, 19 QB hurries, five forced fumbles, and an interception, further proving he's one of the best defensive players in the country.