Call it the hot seat bowl.
Both Georgia coach Mark Richt and Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt could use a win to stave off critics who say they should be fired. Only one coach will get one when Georgia plays its first road game of the season.
"Ole Miss might be a little wounded, a little mad," Richt said. "But we're a little wounded and a little mad too. So it oughta be a good game."
Richt said he saw positive signs in Georgia's 59-0 rout of FCS opponent Coastal Carolina. Georgia showed good balance on offense, while the defense pitched a shutout and forced three turnovers.
"Overall, I think we're a team that is on the rise, but we'll see," Richt said. "We're going to play that first SEC game away from home and get a better feel for what kind of progress we have really made."
Support is dwindling fast for coaching staff in Oxford
After a weird week in Oxford, Ole Miss' Sept. 24 game against Georgia will be judged by many fans based on parameters set by things that have happened off the field.
The Rebels' 30-7 loss at Vanderbilt a week earlier has only intensified criticism of coach Houston Nutt and the Ole Miss administration. One group of Ole Miss fans even spent money to place full-page ads in the Monday editions of six major newspapers in Mississippi and Memphis criticizing the administration. Fan unrest is at a high.
Athletic director Pete Boone and Nutt appeared together at a news conference on Monday, a day normally reserved for a simple preview of the week's opponent. But Ole Miss football by mid-September has already evolved to a point at which a simple preview of the week's opponent doesn't tell the whole story.
Georgia may well be a make-or-break game for fan confidence in Nutt, although many supporters bailed after the Vanderbilt loss. With such murky unrest hanging in the air, how will it manifest itself on the team? Will even more freshmen play in an effort for the Rebels to prove they have a bright future? Will that pendulum swing the other way?
Will the bad vibes extend from the stands to the field? Doubtless, the Rebels are at a confidence low right now. For Nutt, known as a motivator, he has his work cut out for him against a talented Georgia team.
--Freshman RB Isaiah Crowell aggravated his bruised ribs against Coastal Carolina. Georgia coach Mark Richt said that Crowell did not wear the protective padding sports medicine director Ron Courson provided for him. Crowell, who initially hurt his ribs the week before against South Carolina, said he didn't re-aggravate the rib injury on a hit. "I just twisted the wrong way," Crowell said. "I hurt myself, really. So I'll have to go to treatment and stuff and get them worked on. But I'll be ready for next week." Richt said he felt Crowell should have worn the padding. "That's what freshmen do," Richt said. "I'm sure he felt good by the end of the week and didn't feel like he needed them." Crowell is expected to wear the padding for the Ole Miss game.
--For someone who has been around the Southeastern Conference as long as he has, this is an odd stat: Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt, now in his 14th season as an SEC head coach, is 0-5 against Georgia. All five of those games were played while he was coaching Arkansas, however.
--Ole Miss is looking to avoid its first 0-2 Southeastern Conference start since 2007, when it finished 0-8 in conference play. The Rebels have lost six straight SEC home openers.
SERIES HISTORY: Georgia leads 30-12, one tie (Last meeting, 2007, Georgia 45-17)
SCOUTING THE GEORGIA OFFENSE: Georgia has been fairly balanced this season, with 519 yards rushing and 760 yards passing. The offensive line has had some issues with pass protection, allowing eight sacks in three games. Georgia has turned the ball over five times this season, with three lost fumbles and two interceptions. Two of the five turnovers have been returned for touchdowns.
SCOUTING THE OLE MISS DEFENSE: Vandy scored 30 against the Rebels, but the comparisons here are much kinder to the current group. Last year's defense gave up 35 points per game, so this year's unit appears to be doing better, at least on paper. There are certainly some tackling woes and inefficiencies. But the strength continues to be the secondary, which has already produced six interceptions -- the same amount the Rebels had for the entire 2010 season. That's not something to ignore, a defense doing its job by getting off the field.
SCOUTING THE GEORGIA DEFENSE: Richt said he would like to see the Bulldogs play better defense in the red zone. Georgia has allowed opponents to score seven TDs on eight trips inside the 20. OLB Cornelius Washington has been disruptive on the pass rush early this season with five quarterback hurries and one pass deflection. Overall, though, Georgia has just one sack through its first three games this season.
SCOUTING THE OLE MISS OFFENSE: Three games into David Lee's tenure in Oxford, the results aren't positive. Ole Miss' offense is ranked last in the Southeastern Conference in terms of yards gained and only managed a touchdown in garbage time last week against Vanderbilt. The Rebels have been hampered by some injuries at tailback and an underperforming offensive line, but many fans are puzzled by the quarterback play, and the decisions made to reach this point. Zack Stoudt will apparently start this week after throwing five picks against Vandy, though Randall Mackey will play some. The first game starter, Barry Brunetti, hasn't played since the first half of the BYU game, when he went 2-for-3.
QUOTES TO NOTE: "You think they could've thought of something better than that. A kindergartner could have thought of that." -- Georgia coach Mark Richt, on the Georgia-Ole Miss game being labeled as the "hot seat bowl."
"I hate that we have to have a press conference like this. No one hates it more than I do. Anyone who was disappointed Saturday you can multiply that times 99 for me. It all starts with me. I appreciate Pete meeting with me and my staff and what he has done in the last 24 hours. Now the bottom line is that it is up to us as players and coaches to do our job." -- Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt, after an awkward Monday press conference during Georgia week that saw his boss, Pete Boone, speak first.
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Georgia at Ole Miss, Sept. 24 -- Georgia (1-2, 0-1 SEC) is seeking its first SEC win over the season at struggling Ole Miss (1-2, 0-1 SEC). Georgia needs a win to keep pace in a competitive SEC East race.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Look for Georgia to try to establish the running game against an Ole Miss defense that ranks 99th nationally in rushing defense. Ole Miss allowed 281 yards rushing on 5.7 yards per carry in last week's loss to Vanderbilt. Defensively, look for Georgia to stack up to stop the run first and force Ole Miss QB Zack Stoudt to win the game. Stoudt threw five interceptions last week against Vanderbilt.
Ole Miss must have some serious improvement from its offensive line to give its offense space to operate. Whichever quarterback the Rebels have used this year, he hasn't had much time. And the running backs aren't finding much in the way of holes. Ole Miss must also get better play from its defensive front. But if the Rebels' secondary can continue what it's done and get interceptions? It might just be the momentum-builder the team needs.
GEORGIA PLAYERS TO WATCH:
QB Aaron Murray - Murray has picked up where he left off last season, throwing for an average of 224 yards per game with nine touchdowns and two interceptions. Murray will need to play smart and avoid mistakes against an Ole Miss defense that plays the pass better than the run.
RB Isaiah Crowell - Crowell re-aggravated the bruised ribs he suffered against Coastal Carolina, but he should be OK for the Ole Miss game. The 5-foot-11, 215-pound true freshman already has emerged as Georgia's top rushing threat. He's rushed for 264 yards and an average of 5.6 yards per carry, with a pair of TDs.
WR Malcolm Mitchell -- Mitchell has a team-high 159 yards receiving on 14 catches, with two TDs. Mitchell's pure speed and route-running ability has allowed him to make an impact as a true freshman.
CB/KR Brandon Boykin -- Boykin, a senior, has emerged as the leader of Georgia's defense. Boykin's speed makes him a big-play threat on both kickoffs and interceptions. He could have a big day against a suspect Ole Miss passing attack that's prone to mistakes.
OLE MISS PLAYERS TO WATCH:
RB Brandon Bolden -- After suffering an ankle fracture in the Rebels' first game, Bolden returned to the field against Vanderbilt in a limited role. It was an early return for the senior, at least based on expectations, and may signal that he's willing to work overtime to lead this team out of its funk.
QB Zack Stoudt -- A week after a five-interception game, how will he respond? It's not all on him, and the Rebels have shown that they're willing to stick with him in the meantime. Stoudt is a true downfield pocket passer.
OL Bradley Sowell -- The left tackle and senior leader for Ole Miss was like the rest of the guys of his unit at Vanderbilt -- he had a rough day. If Sowell can produce a better day, it may be a bellweather to see if the rest of the Rebels bounce back from the loss to Vanderbilt.
GEORGIA ROSTER REPORT:
--S Jakar Hamilton announced he is transferring. Hamilton, on a medical redshirt due to a stress fracture, said he needed a "fresh start."
--RB Richard Samuel, who sat out the Ole Miss game with a bruised heel, returned to practice this week and is expected to play against Ole Miss.
--WR Marlon Brown (high ankle sprain) is questionable for Ole Miss.
--LG Kenarious Gates (ankle) is questionable for Ole Miss.
OLE MISS ROSTER REPORT
--CB Nick Brassell will remain just that, a cornerback, Nutt told The Clarion-Ledger. Brassell played the first two games at wide receiver before moving to the defensive backfield against Vanderbilt. He is a true freshman.
--P Tyler Campbell, the field-flipping junior, has an average of 47 yards per punt, which is seventh-best in the nation. His 46.4-yard average last year led the country.