One week after notching a narrow win in what Coach Mark Richt characterized as a gut-check game against Colorado, the No 10 Bulldogs showed their gumption again in a 14-9 win over struggling Ole Miss.
What they didn’t show was any particular aptitude for the game of football. In front of 57,184 fans in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium who had seen their team whipped three weeks in a row by Missouri, Kentucky and Wake Forest, Georgia struggled on offense, survived on defense and finally emerged with a 5-0 record and 2-0 mark in the Southeastern Conference.
“Football is a strange game sometimes,” Coach Mark Richt said. “Sometimes you think you might have some things figured out and you really don’t. We’re definitely thankful to be 5-0, but there’s no doubt we have some things to get better at, and in a hurry probably.”
Ole Miss (1-4, 0-2 SEC) led 3-0 at halftime and pulled within one score when quarterback Brent Schaeffer threw a 49-yard touchdown pass to Dexter McCluster with 6:17 remaining. The Rebels’ two-point conversion attempt failed.
Georgia cornerback Paul Oliver intercepted a Brent Schaeffer pass in Bulldog territory with 1:32 left to finally secure victory in a game that ended at 12:15 a.m. Eastern time.
Junior tailback Kregg Lumpkin, who started the game, finished with 101 yards rushing on 13 carries. It was his first career game with more than 100 yards.
“I think he’s definitely deserving of another start after that performance,” Richt said
Next up for Georgia is a key test against Tennessee, but who will quarterback that game is as up in the air as ever. Redshirt freshman Joe Cox, who led the comeback against Colorado, started gainst Ole Miss, becoming the third quarterback to start this season for the Bulldogs.
The last time Georgia started three quarterbacks in the same season was 1995, when Brian Smith, Hines Ward and Mike Bobo did it.
Cox and true freshman Matthew Stafford rotated the job two series at a time against Ole Miss until the second half, when Stafford took over for good. Stafford didn’t earn that right with his arm but with his feet.
On Georgia’s first drive of the second half and the Bulldogs facing third-and-eight, Stafford escaped two Ole Miss rushers on a busted play and scrambled 8 yards for a first down at the Rebels 1-yard line.
On the next play, fullback Brannan Southerland scored the first of his career-high two touchdowns to put the Bulldogs ahead 7-3 with 11:13 left in the third quarter. All 54 yards of that drive came on the ground, which marked a change of philosophy for Georgia.
“It was just a rough first half,” Cox said. “It’s always tough when you’re splitting time to get in a groove. Luckily, Matt found his in the fourth quarter, and when Coach Richt said, ‘Hey, we’re sticking with him,’ I definitely agreed with him.”
In the first half, the Bulldogs threw the ball 15 times and ran it nine times on the way to gaining just 66 total yards. For the second time in as many weeks, Georgia went to the halftime locker room without scoring. It was the first time the Bulldogs have been shut out in the first half of back-to-back games since 1984 when Auburn and Florida did the honors.
The Bulldogs didn’t get any breathing room until the fourth quarter, when a 50-yard drive ended with another 1-yard run by Southerland and put Georgia up 14-3 with 14:01 left in the game.
Stafford set up that score with a 32-yard pass to Demiko Goodman. He finished 7-for-18 passing for 91 yards.
Cox finished 4-for-10 passing for 24 yards and didn’t lead a scoring drive.
Both quarterbacks may be in trouble this week. Senior Joe Tereshinski, who dressed out for Saturday night’s game and looked healthy bouncing up and down on the sideline to encourage his teammates, will return to practice Monday and could be ready against the Volunteers.
“I’ve got to come out and make sure I can run the offense, make sure I’m clicking with the other guys out there and the best guy is going to play,” Tereshinski said.
“The biggest question on Joe is if he’s really full speed,” Richt said.
The same could be asked of all the Bulldogs.