So why weren’t the Rebels on the winning end of the 14-9 final? Mostly because they couldn’t make a single big play in the passing game. Ole Miss completed only six passes that night in Oxford, Miss.
The Rebels (1-3, 0-2 SEC) who will play No. 15 Georgia (3-1, 1-1) Saturday at 1 p.m. in Sanford Stadium won’t have that problem.
“They were just a going to run that rock last year,” Richt said, “and they were not passing the ball as well as they are this year.”
Ole Miss is fourth in the SEC and 38th in the nation in passing offense this year with 256 yards per game. It finished last year 112th in the nation with 136.1 per game.
“I knew we were going to get better because of the work we’ve put into it,” Rebels offensive coordinator Dan Werner said. “To be honest with you, I didn’t think we’d go out and throw for 300 yards. We’ve done it twice already.”
One of those times came last week against No. 3 Florida.
Ole Miss will be following a new quarterback this season, having given up on the Brent Schaeffer experiment. They are now led by senior Seth Adams, a former walk-on who began his collegiate career by redshirting at Delta State University but is now 35th in the country in passing efficiency.
“The receivers believe in him that Seth is going to run the offense,” third-year Ole Miss coach Ed Orgeron said. “He is going to do it almost exactly like he’s supposed to do it. Those are the things you’re seeing this year.”
The Rebels haven’t forgotten about senior running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who’s fifth in the conference with 102 yards per game. Last year against the Bulldogs, Green-Ellis rushed for 135 yards, the second-highest total Georgia surrendered.
Ole Miss was the most physical team the Bulldogs played last year, but it’s impossible to make a living simply on rushing the ball in major college football unless the quarterback is a running threat, too, Richt said.
“Remember (in 2005) when Auburn said, ‘We’re going to smash everybody in the country with these two great backs?”” Richt asked.
The Tigers were a trendy national title pick that year but lost their first two games and finished 5-6 despite having Cadillac Williams and Ronnie Brown carrying the ball.
“And then (offensive coordinator) Al Borges came in, and they became much diversified in what they did and all of a sudden you couldn’t stop either (Williams or Brown),” Richt said.
Ole Miss has undergone a similar transformation, he said. The Rebels have a wonderful complement to Green-Ellis in wide receiver Mike Wallace, a junior who was an all-state high school sprinter in Louisiana. Wallace, who Orgeron calls the most improved player on his team, is second in the SEC with 100 receiving yards per game and second in the nation with 25 yards per catch.
“He’s always had the speed,” Werner said. “Now the thing that I see is that he gets off of jams really well. He’s making good plays on the ball, too.”
The Rebels’ 30-24 loss to Florida last week was proof enough for Richt that Ole Miss is on the right path.
“They are not very far away at all from having a big signature win,” he said, “and we’re trying to keep that from happening this week.”