By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – Confidence can be the most coveted and most fickle intangible element of college athletics, and it’s something both Ole Miss and Georgia claim to have in their corner this weekend.
Georgia can claim history too.
It has won nine straight in the series. Although the teams don’t play annually, Ole Miss hasn’t beaten Georgia since a 31-27 win in Athens by Tommy Tuberville’s Rebels in 1996.
The Bulldogs’ confidence, though, comes from a 17-9 upset win against BCS No. 2 Florida, its biggest SEC rival, last week.
“It was an unbelievable experience on the field and in the locker room celebrating afterwards,” Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray said. “It was a lot of fun to get that victory. It feels great to be on top of the SEC East again and maybe be able to compete for an SEC championship if we do our part in these next two games.”
After facing Ole Miss, Georgia concludes SEC play next week at Auburn.
While the Florida game has clearly given a lift to Georgia spirits sagging from a 35-7 SEC loss at South Carolina, confidence may be more easily achieved for a team accustomed to winning.
The Bulldogs are 7-1 overall, 5-1 in the league and ranked No. 7 in this week’s AP Top 25.
Georgia players didn’t spend the summer hearing their coach describe the state of the program as in the “wilderness.”
That was how Hugh Freeze, preparing for his first season as the Rebels’ coach, assessed the state of the program.
Confidence is strong for Ole Miss, however, following a 30-27 last-play win against Arkansas in Little Rock, giving the Rebels back-to-back SEC wins for the first time since 2009.
Before the Rebels could build up their confidence Freeze had to tear them down after a 66-35 loss to Texas. He challenged their effort, telling them losing an individual battle because the opponent was physically superior was one thing but blowing assignments was another.
“We needed it. We didn’t play good. Sometimes you just need it,” said senior linebacker Joel Kight, one of 10 Ole Miss players who will play in his home state on Saturday afternoon. “We look at coach Freeze like a father. It might not be what you want to hear, but he’ll give you what you need.”
Offensive tackle Pierce Burton, a junior college transfer who was not part of the 6-18, 1-15 SEC record of the past two seasons, was taken aback at the fragile psyche earlier this season.
“We were up against Texas A&M, and you could kind of sense on the sidelines that guys were like, ‘Wow, we’re actually really winning this game.’ I didn’t think they were really used to it, but now it’s almost expected.”
Burton said he saw a very different confidence level from his teammates after Arkansas applied the pressure with a game-tying drive in the final minutes.
It’s that rebuilt self-esteem that has Ole Miss players believing they can knock off a top 10 team on the road.
“On that last drive of the Arkansas game, everyone was saying, ‘They can’t stop us. It’s our game to lose. Let’s go down there and get a field goal or a touchdown to win it,’” Burton said.