Mississippi-Georgia Preview

After underachieving through much of the season, Georgia’s

defense rose at the right time with a dominant performance in last

week’s win over Florida.

The important 17-9 win over the previously undefeated Gators

came after safety Shawn Williams said the defense had been playing

soft.

It was a dramatic turnaround after the Bulldogs allowed at least

20 points in six of their first seven games.

What defense will show up for No. 7 Georgia on Saturday against

Mississippi? It may be difficult for the defense to play with the

same intensity against the unranked Rebels when it hasn’t been

challenged by one of its own players.

Coach Mark Richt insists he doesn’t have the answer – but he

hopes it’s more motivation for his defense.

“That’s a good question,” Richt said Tuesday at his weekly news

conference. “You ought to write a story about that, maybe make

everybody mad. That would be nice.

“I’m serious, I don’t know. I don’t know what they are going to

do this week. I hope they play like they did this past week. I hope

we continue to get after it with that kind of emotion and

heartbeat.”

Linebacker Jarvis Jones had a career-high 13 tackles with three

sacks, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries as the defense

forced six turnovers.

Bacarri Rambo and Damian Swann had interceptions as Georgia held

Florida without a touchdown.

Georgia (7-1, 5-1 SEC) can clinch its second straight trip to

the SEC championship game by beating Ole Miss (5-3, 2-2) and

Auburn.

Georgia players insist playing for a SEC championship is ample

reason to avoid a letdown this week.

“Just keep up the intensity, play with the same chip we played

with last week,” Swann said. “We’re in control of our own destiny.

We just have to win out.”

Asked if the defense can match the intensity it displayed

against Florida, Swann said “Of course.”

“I think that game gave us a lot of momentum, and we enjoyed

that,” he said. “We just have to keep moving forward, keep

playing.”

Jones, a 2011 first-team All-America, is rated as a possible No.

1 overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft. The junior was named the

Walter Camp national defensive player of the week and SEC defensive

player of the week.

Richt said Jones may rank with Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o

as the nation’s best defensive players.

“I don’t know if there is a better defensive football player in

America than Jarvis,” Richt said. “I know the linebacker at Notre

Dame is a great player as well. They might be equally great, and

they are both so important to their team.”

Richt then talked himself into a bigger compliment when he

reviewed Jones’ season totals of 8 1/2 sacks, five forced fumbles

and 14 tackles for losses despite missing two games with

injuries.

“I think he’s the best player in America,” Richt said.

Best player? On offense or defense?

“I can’t think of a better player than Jarvis in the whole

United States of America,” Richt said. “He’s the best.”

First-year Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said there should be no

more suggestions that the Jones-led defense is soft.

“I did not see a Georgia team that shied away from any

physicality,” Freeze said. “They’re a very physical football team.

Their interior defensive line has huge guys, and they surround them

with all of those linebackers that can run. They’re not too small

themselves. Their secondary is very sound. They’re solid tacklers

and big, physical kids. When you look at it, you certainly see an

SEC defense.”

Jones isn’t the defense’s only highly regarded player. Rambo

also was a 2011 first-team All-America. Linebacker Alec Ogletree,

Williams, massive defensive tackle John Jenkins (6-3, 358) and

others are also highly regarded by NFL draft experts.

The long list of talented players makes the unit’s uneven play

this season difficult to explain. Georgia struggled to beat

Tennessee 51-44 in its last home game Sept. 29. It gave up 23

points to Buffalo and 20 points to Florida Atlantic.

The defense proved last week it could answer a challenge.

“When somebody tries our manhood or says anything to belittle

us, we always respond,” said defensive end Garrison Smith.

Now the unit must show it can play at a high level in

back-to-back games.

“We have a great defense and a great team,” Smith said. “It’s

possible. It’s in us. We’ve seen it. Game after game, sometimes,

you know, we come out not like that. But always it’s in us. We’re

going to do our best to bring it back every week and play like this

every game from here out.”

Mississippi should present a challenge after totaling 71 points

in back-to-back wins. The Rebels beat Arkansas 30-27 last Saturday

on Bryson Rose’s 31-yard field goal as time expired, giving them

consecutive victories in SEC play after they snapped a 16-game

league losing streak with a 41-20 win over Auburn on Oct. 13.

Ole Miss hasn’t won three in a row since Nov. 7-21, 2009, and

hasn’t posted three straight conference wins since a four-game

stretch late in the 2008 season.

“You’ll never hear me say we’ve arrived,” Freeze said. “We’re

still on a journey. We’re still young and inexperienced but I’ll

tell you this, our coaching staff, our strength staff, our support

staff have done a great job of building relationships with these

kids, the trust that they’ve built.”

Georgia has won nine straight over Mississippi since a 31-27

loss Nov. 23, 1996.