By Charles Odum/The Associated Press
ATHENS, Ga. — Ole Miss’ offense had been on a roll before facing Georgia’s talented defense.
Ole Miss’ two-game winning streak under first-year coach Hugh Freeze ended as the Rebels were held to their fewest points of the season in Saturday’s 37-10 loss to No. 7 Georgia.
Georgia’s defense, coming off last week’s 17-9 win over then-No. 3 Florida, held Ole Miss to 234 yards, including only 55 in the second half.
Jeff Scott led Ole Miss with just 21 yards rushing on 13 carries.
“It was obviously a pretty good beating that Georgia put on us today,” Freeze said. “Obviously, we just couldn’t make any plays to give our defense much hope. It was the first time this season that I felt like we were zapped of our passion.”
Ole Miss (5-4, 2-3 Southeastern Conference) scored a combined 71 points in consecutive wins over Auburn and Arkansas in its last two games. It took a 10-0 lead over Georgia in the second quarter but was shut out from there.
Aaron Murray threw four touchdown passes as Georgia moved one win away from a spot in the SEC championship game.
Georgia (8-1, 6-1 SEC) can clinch the SEC East title and a second straight trip to the conference championship game with a win at Auburn next week.
Rebels freshman linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche forced two fumbles during a spree of four turnovers — two by each team — in five second-quarter plays. Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall fumbled after hits by Nkemdiche, from Loganville, Ga.
Georgia linebacker Alec Ogletree intercepted a pass by Bo Wallace and Damian Swann had a 53-yard return of a fumble by Ole Miss receiver Vince Sanders during the wild exchange of turnovers.
“They have guys that are going to be top draft picks, and they were just really tough to deal with,” said Wallace of Georgia’s defense. “Going into halftime, I really thought we were still in the game, but they came to play in the second half and we just couldn’t get back in it.”
Wallace threw a 51-yard pass to tight end Ferbia Allen to set up Bryson Rose’s 34-yard field goal on the Rebels’ opening drive. Wallace threw a 13-yard scoring pass to tight end Jamal Mosley to make it 10-0 early in the second quarter.
Wallace was 16 of 25 passing for 187 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Barry Brunetti had four carries for 15 yards while sharing time with Wallace at quarterback.
Ole Miss was only 2-10 in 2011, including a 0-8 SEC record. It ended a streak of 16 straight conference losses by beating Auburn on Oct. 13.
Freeze said the Rebels “certainly weren’t as in sync” against Georgia.
“We have to look at our coaches, our game plan, our quarterback and our blocking, but I think we took a step back offensively today,” Freeze said. “Then again, Georgia is very talented defensively.”
Murray executed a perfect fake handoff on a 66-yard touchdown pass to Marlon Brown for the Bulldogs’ first points. Mark Richt, in his 12th season as Georgia’s coach, said he brought the play from Florida State, where he was offensive coordinator under coach Bobby Bowden.
Murray pulled off the fake to Todd Gurley, who was swarmed by Ole Miss defenders as Murray hid the ball with his back to the line. Murray then threw to Brown, who was standing alone near the 40 when he made the catch.
Murray said he prepared for the play by watching film of former Georgia quarterback David Greene have success with his version of the fake.
“I was going to text him this morning and tell him we were going to use it,” said Murray of Greene. “I didn’t want to jinx us.”
Freeze said his defensive backs’ lack of experience showed on the play.
“The first (touchdown) was just bad eyes,” Freeze said. “They were looking in the backfield instead of looking at your man. We have some freshmen back there who just got out of position. We missed some guys today. We’re very young back there, and they exposed that today.”
Ole Miss used blitzes to record five sacks in the first half. The defensive gambles left opportunities for Murray, who completed 21 of 28 passes for 384 yards with no interceptions and touchdown passes of 66, 40, 42 and 28 yards.
“I love when teams blitz,” Murray said. “They really open themselves up to holes in their coverages.”
Georgia linebacker Alec Ogletree had a safety, a sack and an interception. His twin brother, fullback Alexander Ogletree, had an 8-yard touchdown run.
Freshman tailback Todd Gurley had 18 carries for 117 yards, his sixth 100-yard game of the season.
After the long pass to Brown, Murray had a 40-yard touchdown pass to Tavarres King at the end of the first half. Murray capped the Bulldogs’ opening drive of the second half with a 42-yard scoring pass to Malcolm Mitchell and added a 28-yard touchdown to Rantavious Wooten in the fourth quarter.
Georgia offensive guard Chris Burnette left the game in the second quarter with a left shoulder injury. Brown hurt his left knee late in the game. Richt said he didn’t have details on either injury.
Read more in Sunday’s NEMS Daily Journal newspaper.