OXFORD, Miss. -- Considering the way everything had gone, the Georgia football team was going to be content to leave Mississippi with a victory. A small step, for sure, but a necessary one.
So that part was fulfilled. The Bulldogs did indeed outplay their weaker opponents and came away with a 27-13 victory.
It was their first win on the road, as well as their first in SEC play, since October of 2010.
But there was enough left undone, enough points left unfulfilled, that all the good feelings came with an asterisk.
“A lot of things to correct,” said tight end Orson Charles, when asked to sum up the game. “It definitely felt good to get a win, but we still have a lot of work to do.”
Georgia (2-2, 1-1 SEC) dominated the stat sheet, outgaining Ole Miss (1-3, 0-2) by 475 yards to 183. So the Bulldogs probably should have been resting their first-teamers in the fourth quarter. Instead they struggled to put the win away until the final few minutes.
“I’m happy with the way the team played. But I think we could’ve played better in the second half,” said tailback Isaiah Crowell, who finished with a game-high 147 yards on 30 carries. “We should’ve scored points in the second half. We had a lot of chances and we should’ve taken advantage.”
Crowell continued to show what a weapon he is as a freshman. Georgia’s offensive line, hit by injuries and depth concerns, did an admirable job in opening holes for the tailbacks. And with a few exceptions, quarterback Aaron Murray had enough time to have a solid day.
But the pillar of the team once again was an improving defense. The Bulldogs had four sacks -- after entering the game with just one -- and limited the Rebels to 1.3 yards per rush attempt and eight first downs.
“We had great players last year, like Justin Houston, Akeem Dent and all those guys,” said safety Bacarri Rambo, who had two interceptions. “But it’s like we have that chemistry now. We’re all brothers, and we stick together. We know we’re just one. We’re all together, and not just one individual. We’ve just gotta keep that mentality and continue to get better every week.”
In fact, Ole Miss’ only offensive points came on a gadget play, a 38-yard strike late in the first half, and on special teams. That came with 49 seconds left in the first half, when a reverse handoff on a punt return yielded an 81-yard touchdown.
Special teams play was the weakness for Georgia. Place-kicker Blair Walsh, a preseason All-American on some lists, missed on three field goal attempts in the second half.
“It seems like every game we’ve got just one area that we’re not hitting on. And this game it was special teams,” said tight end Aron White, who along with Charles caught Murray’s two touchdown passes. “We consider ourselves one of the best special teams in America, just across the board. And we really dropped the ball on our (punt) team, and we dropped the ball on our field goal team. But we’re going to pick it up.”
Head coach Mark Richt summed things up by saying his team got better on defense, was “definitely making progress” on offense but “regressed” on special teams.
Overall, Richt also made clear his frustration that the Bulldogs, who jumped out to leads of 17-0 and 24-7, didn’t win going away.
“Our guys were tired. Their guys were tired,” Richt said. “But when we get a defense tired we need to stick a fork in them, and I don’t think we were able to do that. We’ve gotta work on that.”
So it may not have been the clear rout it could have been. But Georgia still came away with a league win to equal its mark there, two weeks after opening SEC play with a home loss to South Carolina.
It appeared that, at least for now, a measure of confidence and hope has been restored to the team.
“It’s kind of scary how we just get better and better every week,” Rambo said. “Just imagine at the end of the season how we might look. That’s a scary sight.”
“We run the table, and there’s no reason we shouldn’t be going to a BCS bowl or going to the SEC championship, unless South Carolina wins out,” White said. “And then what you can do?”