While most of the attention this week in the SEC will be on the LSU-Alabama match in Baton Rouge, we should not forget another big game with plenty on the line.
Ole Miss will be at Georgia in a matchup that includes one already bowl-eligible team with a lot at stake, and one — Ole Miss — that needs a win to reach bowl eligibility.
Rebels coach Hugh Freeze knows that a bowl game will be a fitting endorsement for his first year on the job in Oxford, but there is plenty more on the line besides just reaching the sixth win of the season to qualify for a bowl game.
There is also recruiting and the perception of the Ole Miss program by current high school players.
“Georgiais such a highly recruited state and there are so many players there. You know that their eyes are going to be on this game, so I do think it’s important,” Freeze said. “I don’t necessarily say that you have to go in there and actually pull off the win. It’s important that they see there is progress being made within our program and that there’s an opportunity for them to add to that depth and make the difference in the winning and losing.
“They’ll see great team energy, a great passion from our kids and hopefully a competitive spirit that will be attractive to them.”
Added Freeze: “You turn on the film for the Georgia-Florida game and you see so many great athletes on the field on both sides. The margin of error in that game, when you’re playing with those types of athletes, is none.
“I did not see aGeorgiateam that shied away from any physicality. They’re a very physical football team. Their interior defensive line has huge guys, and they surround them with all of those linebackers that can run. They’re not too small themselves. Their secondary is very sound. They’re solid tacklers and big, physical kids.”
The Rebels will have to contend with a Georgia defense that features linebacker Jarvis Jones, who had 13 tackles, 4.5 for a loss, three sacks, two forced fumbles and two fumbles recovered last week against the Gators.
“What we’ve tried to do is get the ball out a little quicker,” Freeze said. “Coach (Matt) Luke has done a great job with them maturing and getting better in their one-on-ones. It’s a combination of those two things. As far as Jarvis goes, Abry Jones on the other side is almost as good. I know Coach Luke will have some ideas. Just from me watching the amount I’ve watched this morning, I’m equally concerned about both of those guys. We’re going to have to get it out in a short amount of time.”
The stakes are also high for Georgia, considering the Bulldogs are now in the driver’s seat for the SEC East championship and can’t afford a letdown in their final two conference games against Ole Miss or Auburn.
Bulldogs coach Mark Richt knows the Rebels will present an offensive challenge.
“Their offense is really high tempo and very productive,” he said. “They’ve already scored more points, had more first downs, had more touchdowns, more passing yards and just about every stat that you could have. They’ve had more of that now in eight games than they had all of last season, so it’s very impressive.
“What I see is a team that has a brand new head coach that’s brought a lot of energy to the program. A lot of times, you just never know how close you are to winning and breaking through and having success.
“I’m very impressed with them. I know it’s going to be a heck of a ballgame. I’m glad that we’re going to be at home. I’m glad that we’re going to have our fan base there and our students there and the Redcoat Band, and everybody else that’s going to be there,” said Richt.
Richt is concerned about his defense against the tempo of the Ole Miss offense, which is decidedly faster than the Bulldogs offense.
“They snap it faster than we do,” he said. “We have times where we’ll go fast, but we have times obviously where we’ll try to make it look like we’re going to go fast and then we’ll freeze our count to try to see what they’re in, and then we’ll try to make the call from there. It becomes a little bit of a guessing game at times, but we don’t go as fast as they go.”
Both teams have plenty on the line that will be settled on the field at Sanford Stadium Saturday at 3:30 ET, but, regardless of the outcome on Saturday, Ole Miss will have other opportunities to reach bowl eligibility this season.
On the other hand, Georgia still has the SEC East and conference titles in play. And another conference loss could cost the Bulldogs a shot both of those league treasures.