Commentary

Dawgs get shot of confidence

Easy win allows for positive spin as Georgia heads off to face reeling Ole Miss

Updated: September 18, 2011, 8:41 PM ET
By David Ching | DawgNation

ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia fans who think Mark Richt's seat is warm should get a load of Houston Nutt's.

No coaches in the country are on shakier ground than Richt and Nutt, according to the scientific process used to gauge such matters at www.coacheshotseat.com. When their Georgia (1-2) and Ole Miss (1-2) teams meet at 12:21 p.m. on Saturday in Oxford, one coach will take a small step toward stability while the other will slip ever closer to oblivion.

[+] EnlargeMark Richt
Jeff Vest/Icon SMIMark Richt could smile after getting on the winning track, but he knows Ole Miss enters Saturday's game as a desperate team.
"I don't think they'll be happy," Richt said after his Bulldogs defeated Coastal Carolina 59-0 on Saturday, shortly after Nutt's Ole Miss team completed an embarrassing 30-7 loss at Vanderbilt. "They'll be defending their turf. They'll be certainly playing for a lot of things. Anytime you lose a game and don't play the way you think you should, I'm sure they'll be under a tremendous sense of urgency to prove that they're a very good football team. So we'll have to be battling that as much as the gameplan."

Like Richt, Nutt has a lengthy resume as a mostly successful SEC coach, winning the conference's coach of the year honors three times between his 10 seasons at Arkansas and more recently in three-plus years in Oxford.

But Saturday's ugly defeat against Vanderbilt -- the Rebels' fifth loss in the last seven meetings against the league's traditional doormat -- was just the latest in a series of disappointments for Ole Miss.

It was the Rebels' eighth loss in the last 10 games and ninth in the last 10 SEC games. The Rebels' only two wins in the last 10 contests came against Louisiana-Lafayette and Southern Illinois -- a far cry from Nutt's first two seasons at Ole Miss when he led them to consecutive Cotton Bowl victories.

The atmosphere around Nutt's program has grown so toxic that Ole Miss athletic director Pete Boone told a reporter after the Vandy game that the football team's status is "unacceptable," and the Memphis Commercial Appeal's Ron Higgins opened his column from the game by writing that "Ole Miss took awful to a new level" in the five-turnover debacle.

"I've never felt that way on a sideline, ever," Nutt told reporters after the game. "I just didn't have that confidence we were going to move the ball and make first downs like I normally do. We just looked bad. Really bad."

Conversely, Richt's attitude was positively sunny after the Bulldogs blew out an FCS opponent for their first win, following back-to-back losses against highly ranked teams Boise State and South Carolina to open the season.

Fourth-ranked Boise State controlled much of the teams' opener in the Georgia Dome, but the Bulldogs say they outplayed No. 12 South Carolina, only to be undone by three turnovers that led to 21 points and a Gamecocks fake punt for a touchdown in a 45-42 defeat.

The Bulldogs are still 7-9 since the start of last season and 15-14 since the first game of 2009, but Richt and his team believe things are improving. They know games such as the one at Ole Miss are must wins if they are to re-establish themselves as one of the league's better programs and take some of the heat off their coach.

"Overall I just think we are a team that is on the rise, but we'll see," Richt said on his Sunday teleconference. "We're gonna go play the first SEC game away from home and get a better feel about what kind of progress we've really made."

"We just need to keep playing like we have the past two weeks. I think we've had two great games in a row," quarterback Aaron Murray said after the Coastal Carolina game. "Obviously last week I had the few turnovers, and a fake punt really killed us. But the way we played in that game and this game today, guys are competing and having fun and people are executing. We know our assignments, we're making plays, the defense has looked spectacular the past two weeks, so we've just gotta keep working hard and we'll be fine."

David Ching covers University of Georgia sports for DawgNation. He can be reached at davidchingespn@gmail.com.