Legge: Ole Miss Should Win, But...

ATHENS - For the record, I think Georgia will lose to Ole Miss on Saturday, but there’s plenty of precedent setting up a UGA win.

1. Noon kick after a big-game loss…

The Rebels will have to get ready to play an important game where a loss would pretty well eliminate them from the SEC title hunt and beyond, and that game will start at 11 AM local time the week after losing a big game to a big foe after building up a pretty big lead that seemed insurmountable. 

The Rebels haven’t been in this situation a ton under Hugh Freeze - losing a big game, and then turning around to play another big game early at home the next week. For the most part, Ole Miss plays pretty well after playing ranked teams. They are 14-6 in weeks following games against ranked teams. But this situation is different. The entire weight of the game is on Ole Miss. They are a substantial favorite (7 points). And they can’t lose this game and stay in the SEC race. Needless to say, and this won’t matter in the game, a loss would drop the Rebels from the rankings for the first time since the end of the 2013 season - an epic two-year run the school hasn’t seen in the last two decades. 

Ole Miss has played a slew of games in the noon hour since Hugh Freeze took over. The Rebels are 11-2 in those games, but have lost both times they’ve played ranked teams during that hour - a 42-3 loss to No. 6 TCU (2014) and a 37-24 loss to No. 22 Memphis (2015). 

2. Ole Miss Turns it over a lot. 

A lot of this has to do with the fact that the Rebels have played two good teams to start the season - Florida State and Alabama. But sometimes once you start turning the ball over, you just continue to turn the ball over. UGA, on the other hand, has gotten a case of the sticky hands - taking the ball away from the other team eight times in three games this season. The Rebels have turned it over seven times. 

Not that this would apply to UGA, but Ole Miss’ turnovers have resulted in 27 points this season, or not quite four points a turnover and nine points a game. Of UGA’s eight turnovers, the Bulldogs have scored exactly six points off turnovers this season - pretty bad. That’s two points a game and only 0.75 point a turnover… horrible. The Dawgs, too, have turned the ball over five times, and allowed 24 points from them… or about five points a turnover and eight points a game. Again, that’s a lot. 

So the key for the Dawgs is to protect the ball as much as possible. Although Jacob Eason has played quite well in his time under center this season, he’s been directly responsible for ten of the 24 points off turnovers the Bulldogs have surrendered. These mistakes are expected from a QB who has been throwing it as much as Eason (or Ole Miss QB Chad Kelly) has this season. 

The point is that Eason is throwing an interception about once in every 44 throws, meaning he’s likely to throw a pick with a heavy volume of throws (naturally). Kelly is more likely to throw interceptions - he’s throwing an interception about once in every 35 throws. Kelly has played two seasons. He's thrown 16 interceptions in 16 games. It would be unlikely that Kelly avoid an interception considering his propensity to throw them as well as UGA’s ability to go get the ball. 

What UGA needs to do to win, however, is to actually turn what looks like Kelly’s inevitable mistake into seven points rather than two.

End of the day: Ole Miss has a -5 turnover margin; UGA is +3. That’s a big spread, and concerning for the Rebels.

3. UGA plays pretty well straight up as a 7-point or more underdog

Couple of things on this one. First of all, UGA is typically the favorite in vast majority of the games it plays. Since 2001, UGA has been the underdog in games only 36 times. In those 36 games, UGA is 12-22 in those games straight up. In games where UGA was a 7-point or more underdog, which has been quite rare, the Bulldogs are 3-5… not horrible. 

On thing of note, as well, is that UGA has never been a 7-point or more underdog to a team ranked outside of the time ten. Here are the list of games since 2001 where UGA has been a major underdog: 

2012 vs. No. 2 Alabama 32-28 L

2011 vs. No. 1 LSU 42-10 L

2009 vs. No. 1 Florida 41-17 L

2007 vs. No. 10 Florida 42-30 W

2006 vs. No. 9 Florida 21-14 L

2006 at No. 5 Auburn 37-15 W

2001 at No. 6 Tennessee 26-24 W

2001 vs. No. 6 Florida L

Ole Miss has only been a 7-point favorite over a ranked team once in the last few decades, and the Rebels won that contest last season against No. 17 LSU 38-17.

With all of that said, UGA is playing this game on the road as a seven-point underdog. It should lose this game. According to data gathered over time, UGA has about a 30% chance to win this game. Example, the last ten games UGA was a 7-point favorite it is 8-2 with wins over No. 16 Clemson and No. 20 Louisville in 2014, Mississippi State in 2011, South Carolina and Vanderbilt in 2009, Arizona State and South Carolina in 2008 and Hawaii in 2007. But it lost to No. 18 Georgia Tech in 2008 and No. 25 Missouri in 2013. 

That means UGA has outperformed as a seven-point favorite (specifically seven points… not more or less) than the rest of the market of late. Ole Miss is 5-2 as a 7-point favorite. They had  wins over No. 17 LSU and Auburn in 2015, Memphis in 2008, South Carolina in 2003 and Vanderbilt in 1998. The Rebels had losses to Mississippi State in 2009 and Vanderbilt in 2008. So Ole Miss is also hitting around the 70% winning mark as a 7-point favorite, which is the norm in college football. 

4. Ole Miss is having a difficult time the ground

Not that things are going as well as expected for UGA, but Ole Miss is struggling more than the Dawgs on the ground. The Rebels are managing only 116 yards per game on the ground. That has a lot to do with injuries. Ole Miss was once one of the best run-stopping teams in the country, but that’s not the case right now at all. The Rebels are nearly last in the SEC on run defense - only 0.3 yards a game better than last-place Kentucky - averaging allowing 242.7 yards a game on the ground. 

But UGA has struggled of late running the ball. Georgia gashed Carolina on the ground, but has struggled since - struggling to establish the run in games with Nicholls State and at Missouri. If UGA can figure out how to establish the run this game could certainly go against the oddsmakers and towards the Bulldogs. Its not that Georgia has stopped trying to run the ball. They are 4th in the SEC with 129 rushing attempts already this season; that’s 43 runs a game. UGA has only thrown around 33 passes a game… again, skewed by the Jacob Eason’s 55-attempt night in Missouri. 

All of this should be taken with the understanding that Ole Miss has played Alabama and Florida State, so their stats are skewed thus far. They might not be great on the ground, but that could be made even worse statistically because of who they were playing. UGA, too, has been pretty good at run defense - allowing only 126 yards per game. 

5. Ole Miss Red Zone Defense is the worst in the SEC

Foes who reach the red zone have scored every time they’ve arrived there this season - 100%. The means the Rebels are the worst in the SEC at red zone defense. UGA is about average in the red zone - scoring 79 percent of the time (Douglas fumble vs. UNC, two missed FGs). The Rebels are relatively sensitive to the run in the red zone. 75% of red zone TDs surrendered this season have come on the ground. 

Ole Miss has also been in red-zone defense situations more (14 times) than anyone in the SEC besides Missouri and lowly Kentucky, who both have been confronted with 15 red zone defense situations. Ole Miss has allowed more red zone TDs (8) than everyone in the conference outside of Kentucky (11).

Long story short, a win for the Dawgs would no doubt be an upset even though UGA is ranked higher and hasn’t lost this season. But a win is hardly out of the question - its just going to have to be another gutty effort, but with some scoring efficiency mixed in, too. 

I would put UGA’s chances of winning at around 37% this week, that’s higher than a typical seven-point dog, but its still clear that Ole Miss should win the game - even though its not a slam dunk. Keep in mind that Ole Miss is playing at home; has the No. 2 scorer in the SEC (Chad Kelly) and the No. 3 offense in the SEC. Those factors matter for sure. Points matter in this league - its not the 2000s any more. Offense wins championships now in this conference.

All of that said… this is a game UGA can lose and still be fine. Its the game next week against the Vols that will be critical for this season’s chances of getting to Atlanta. Losing both games will make it quite difficult for UGA to get to Atlanta for the first time since 2012.

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