When Mississippi State (2-2; 0-2 SEC) travels to Athens this weekend to play Georgia (2-2; 1-1 SEC) in a battle between Bulldogs, the Georgia squad will attempt to avenge the stinging defeat they suffered at the hands of Mississippi State in Starkville last year. With Georgia trailing by only 1 entering the fourth quarter, Mississippi State scored 17 unanswered points, powering the Mississippi State team to a 24-12 victory.
On paper, the two teams appear to be heading in different directions. Mississippi State opened the season with a 59-14 trouncing of Memphis. In their week 2 matchup, they outplayed the Auburn Tigers in most facets of the game, but lost when quarterback Chris Relf came up short on a goal line carry as time expired that would have tied the game. Since then, Mississippi State has regressed, sacrificing 361 yards while gaining only 193 in their week 3 loss at LSU. Last week, they needed overtime to defeat Louisiana Tech, who gutted the Bulldogs for 359 yards.
On the other hand, Georgia seems to have righted a ship that, for the first two games, appeared wildly out of control. The Georgia Bulldogs front-loaded their schedule with difficult opponents, playing #5 Boise State and #12 South Carolina in their first two games. Against Boise State, the Dawgs allowed the Broncos to jump out to an insurmountable 28-7 third quarter lead, one which Boise State never surrendered. With five minutes left in their week two matchup against South Carolina, the Bulldogs appeared poised to defeat a nationally ranked SEC East rival. However, key defensive lapses late in the game and a fumble that was returned for a touchdown by the South Carolina defense sealed the Bulldogs’ demise. But after a 59-0 thumping of Coastal Carolina in week three, and a decisive 27-13 triumph over Ole Miss last week, the Bulldogs are sitting at .500, poised to compete in a topsy-turvy SEC East.
For Mississippi State to be successful against the Bulldogs, they will have to find ways to poke holes in a stout Georgia defense, which is ranked 13th nationally in total defense, and allows only 270 yards per game. One of the ways could be behind the efforts of Vick Ballard. Ballard, a 5’11”, 220lb senior running back from Pascagoula, MS, has been a perfect fit for the run-focused offense that Coach Dan Mullen fields. Alongside scrambling quarterback Chris Relf, Ballard has led a Bulldog rushing attack gaining 217 yards per game on the ground, good for 26th best among FBS teams. Ballard has garnered much interest from professional scouts, and has been projected as one of the top 15 backs in the 2012 NFL Draft by several scouting websites.
Georgia’s high octane offense, which has performed well even in losses, is anchored by sophomore quarterback Aaron Murray, who is on pace to have a historic career as a Bulldog. In just 17 games, Murray has thrown for 35 touchdown passes, putting him on pace to shatter David Greene’s four-year record of 72, which Greene set between 2001-2004. This season, Murray has thrown for 940 yards and 11 touchdowns, while being intercepted only 3 times. Alongside Murray is freshman running back Isaiah Crowell, who is exceeding expectations with every passing week. Crowell is fourth in the SEC in rushing, averaging 103 yards per game. Last week, Crowell was named the SEC Freshman of the Week, on the heels of his 147 yard rushing effort against Ole Miss.
Mississippi State is undefeated in the past three years when they force more turnovers than they give up, but 2-13 when they surrender as many or more than their opponents. With Georgia’s ball-hawking free safety Bacarri Rambo patrolling the secondary (with his 4 interceptions on the year, tied for the most nationwide), Mississippi State will have to be precise on offense to prevent another Georgia victory. Tune in Saturday to catch the excitement!