The difference is an absence of talent and depth, two terms that have dogged Ole Miss in this transition season.
On Saturday against the SEC East leading Georgia Bulldogs, it was finally fully exposed in conference play. The Bulldogs shook off a wonky first half to thump the Rebels 37-10, and the biggest areas of concern for Ole Miss seemed to be exposed all at once.
Missing two corners — Wesley Pendleton and Senquez Golson — out of an already thin group, there simply wasn’t much that could be done against an opponent of this caliber. Aaron Murray, who had been sacked on back-to-back plays and was set to enter the locker room down 10-7 at the half, sent a perfect touchdown pass to Tavarres King in single coverage as rover Trae Elston was late arriving to provide help.
It was a gut punch that negated any momentum Ole Miss had built, and when Georgia opened the second half on offense, Murray found Malcom Mitchell practically gliding out of his break, again in single coverage, against converted safety Dehendret Collins. That touchdown pass put UGA up 21-10, and effectively ended the Rebels’ day just minutes into the third quarter.
More work to do
For all the work defensive coordinator Dave Wommack and his staff have done to spit-and-tape together this Ole Miss unit, Georgia proved there’s no scheming in the world that can combat a balanced attack of run and pass executed by top SEC talent.
Wommack wouldn’t allow the Rebels’ failings Saturday to be deemed as simply youth, but that coaching and game planning could’ve improved the defense’s chances. With a group spread so thin and lacking SEC-level playmakers, it’s hard to see how.
That’s not to lay the blame solely on the defense. Georgia’s offense hiccuped for almost an entire half of football and the Rebels failed to take a three-score lead.
Offensive coordinator Dan Werner was non-committal on specifics following the loss, but did comment that it looked like Ole Miss struggled to contain Georgia’s pass rush and open running lanes.
Jeff Scott was tackled in the end zone for a safety after what Freeze called a bad decision in not cutting inside and sweeping out. And to be backed up on their own 2-yard-line to begin with, returner Korvic Neat failed to field a punt two plays prior. Bo Wallace seemingly regressed in his decision making, including an awful interception in the second quarter on a pass thrown seemingly short into double coverage.
With Vanderbilt looming, the gap between pure talent and available depth when comparing Ole Miss and the opponent will lessen greatly. Georgia is as complete a team in the SEC outside of Alabama, and effectively wrapped up the division with only Auburn remaining in conference play.
What Freeze has done in the broad view is still unarguably remarkable and there’s little good in lingering on a blowout loss to a team with every advantage possible, especially in Year 1 post Houston Nutt.
The Rebels just need one more win with three chances remaining. That’s the focus, and should be. Saturday was just a reminder of what exactly the real SEC is about, and how far Ole Miss has to go to compete at its upper level.
(Steven Godfrey can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter, @38Godfrey.) (November 5, 2012, Page 1B)