Saturdays in Athens
GEORGE SOMERVILLE – THE TOUCHDOWN SEC CORRESPONDENT
Saturday, 11th November 2023
This week in SEC football we really have got to crunch time. While the clash between Ole Miss and Georgia deserves to take headline status, there is also a full all-SEC slate this week. Which means tensions will be running high as seasons are on the line and there will be plenty of excitement.
But first lets take a look at what’s been happening in and around the conference this week!
Here are this weeks headlines….let’s get started y’all!
No question that the SEC game of this week is the 8-1 Ole Miss Rebels visiting Athens to play the unbeaten and #2 ranked Georgia Bulldogs. This is only the fifth time in the history of the fixture that both teams have been ranked whilst facing off and the first time in their history that they are ranked in the Top 10.
However, it was not so long ago that the Rebels and Bulldogs head coaches were team-mates at Alabama.
So this week the focus was not just on the match up of the two teams but also the relationship between the two head coaches.
Midweek Kiffin talked about the relationship he still has with Smart and how the two sometimes bounce ideas off one another.
“I just think Kirby’s really smart,” Kiffin said. “And I really enjoy talking to smart, intelligent coaches that you can bounce things off of, or ask them how they do things, or how they deal with a player issue or injury or something. He’s one of the first calls a lot of times if I’m looking for advice.”
But this advice hotline does not extend to this week. In the lead up to a make or break game for both teams, Smart isn’t returning calls.
“I tried to get that (group chat) going on Sunday and this morning,” Kiffin said during his Monday presser. “Other people responded. He’s not responded yet on it. I was asking if anybody has advice. I added (Eliah) Drinkwitz so he’s on there. But Kirby didn’t really respond. We haven’t played them before, so maybe he has a rule that during the week of the game, he doesn’t respond to you.”
The Alabama connection
The game at Sanford on Saturday really is a season maker or season breaker. A win for Ole Miss sends the SEC into chaos with at least three teams and possibly four sitting with one loss in the season. A win for the Dawgs seals their place into the SEC Championship game and places Alabama in pole position to face the Dawgs in Atlanta on December 5th.
So this game really is worthy of the hype.
The respect that Kiffin has for Smart is reciprocated by the Georgia head coach.
“He and I shared seats next to each other at Alabama for two years, I guess it was, maybe three. I don’t even know how long we were there together because it all runs together, but a lot of respect for him as a coach.” said Smart on the SEC head coaches midweek call.
“He was a head coach at a really young age,” Smart said. “He taught me a lot of things about what he believes in being a head coach and doing it your way. He’s certainly had a unique experience in terms of the places he’s been able to work as a head coach, and he draws on that.”
return of the Brock
Staying in Athens, it’s surely time for an injury update on the Bulldogs star tight end, Brock Bowers. But isn’t it only 3 weeks since Bowers had tightrope surgery on his ankle? Well, yes that would be correct but Bowers is running already. Which is great news for Georgia fans.
But, with this news comes expectations. Could Bowers actually play in this season defining game? Head coach Smart was keen to dampen any enthusiasm people might have for Bowers suiting up on Saturday.
Speaking on Wednesday Smart answered the question as to whether Bowers’ progress was sufficient to make him available to face the Rebels.
“I think there’s a lot of markers he’s got to hit,” Smart said. “He’s working toward that, and I’ve never seen a person work as hard as he’s worked to try [to get] an opportunity for himself.”
Unofficial reports suggested that Bowers had demonstrated some real speed in practice which had fuelled rumours of his return so quickly. Smart was quick to put Bowers’ status into context.
“There’s more than just the marker of sheer speed,” Smart said. “One of the first things you look at on this injury is acceleration and deceleration, not GPS speed. So, when your [deceleration] numbers and your acceleration numbers get closer to what your norm is, because we have a baseline on all these guys, then you feel much more comfortable about it.”
Smart was then asked of the dangers to rushing Bowers back to make the game. There seemed no possibility of Smart or any of his coaching staff making that call alone.
“It’s not a greater risk of long-term, career-type things,” Smart said. “What it boils down to is can he help us win and is he comfortable with that, and do we think that he can do the things he has to do to be able to help us do it? He’s got to hit those numbers and check off those boxes we talked about before that’s a decision.”
Not only is the game against Ole Miss a huge one, it will also be Bowers’ last opportunity to play at Sanford with the Dawgs last two games being on the road. Bowers is expected to enter the draft at the end of this season. If Bowers plays Saturday then it will be only 26 days since he had surgery. Weather will also play its part with rain predicted for game time, making a wet field a different proposition for someone returning from injury.
But it’s no surprise that Bowers is giving everything to take the field on Saturday. Everyone should be rooting for him.
Run the dang ball!
This Ole Miss football team enters Saturday’s fixture with an impressive 8-1 record so far, with the only defeat coming at the hands of Alabama. With other results across the SEC West, Lane Kiffin finds himself with the same record as Alabama who – if things were to remain the same – would pip the Rebels in a head-to-head should there be a tie.
But this has been an interesting, crazy season and should Ole Miss pull off the unthinkable – defeating Georgia in Athens – this throws the SEC into chaos. Why? Because an Ole Miss defeat of two time National Champions Georgia would almost certainly cancel out that defeat to the Crimson Tide.
If the Rebels are to defeat the Bulldogs then the Ole Miss run game will have to outplay and out-muscle a stingy Georgia defence. And as we know at the heart of the Ole Miss run game is Sophomore superstar, Quinshon Judkins. Judkins spoke to the media this week about the confidence that he and his teammates have drawn from their performances this season
“It’s an amazing feeling. Just being 8-1, especially in this conference it’s very hard, with the schedule that we have as well. It makes it even harder, but I’m just grateful to have this team and coaches and everyone surrounding me,” Judkins told the media midweek.
“We know we have a big game this week, so we’ll all just celebrate this game and then get ready for next week.”
Confidence is sky high in Oxford this season with the Rebels still smarting from the defeat to Alabama – a game they feel they should have won. Judkins continued to labour the point around the confidence this Rebels team has.
“I think as far as the confidence it comes from preparation. It comes from Monday when we first come in after a win until Friday during walkthroughs right before the game. Everything that we do is on time and on tempo. We practice doing it the best that we can. I think the confidence (that) comes in game, is like ‘okay we know we’re going to go score, we’re going to go out there and execute’.”
After a sizzling freshman year, Judkins’ sophomore season got off to a slow start. However, the Ole Miss back is coming good at exactly the right time for Lane Kiffin and the Landsharks. Kiffin relies hugely on Judkins who accounts for 50% of all rushing touchdowns scored by the Rebels this season. So an in-form Judkins is exactly what Ole Miss needs on Saturday.
Can’t wait to see how this game plays out.
All sec schedule Saturday
across sec nation
As much as the focus of this week’s column has been about Ole Miss v Georgia, there is also a full SEC head-to-head schedule this week. Which makes this one of the most exciting weeks on the SEC football schedule.
Alabama (8-1, 6-0 SEC) at Kentucky (6-3, 3-3 SEC)
Series: ALA leads, 38-2-1
Noon ET ESPN
Last: ALA, 63-3 (2020 at Tuscaloosa)
Lexington, Ky. • Kroger Field (61,000)
Vanderbilt (2-8, 0-6 SEC) at South Carolina (3-6, 1-5 SEC)
Series: SC leads, 28-4
Noon ET • SEC Network
Last: SC, 38-27 (2022 at Nashville)
Columbia, S.C. • Williams-Brice Stadium (77,559)
Tennessee (7-2, 3-2 SEC) at Missouri (7-2, 3-2 SEC)
Series: UT leads, 6-5
2:30 p.m. CT • CBS
Last: UT, 66-24 (2022 at Knoxville)
Columbia, Mo. • Faurot Field (62,621)
Auburn (5-4, 2-4 SEC) at Arkansas (3-6, 1-5 SEC)
Series: AU leads, 19-12-1
3 p.m. CT • SEC Network
Last: ARK, 41-27 (2022 at Auburn)
Fayetteville, Ark. • Reynolds Razorback Stadium (76,000)
Ole Miss (8-1, 5-1 SEC) at Georgia (9-0, 6-0 SEC)
Series: UGA leads, 32-12-1
7 p.m. ET • ESPN
Last: OM, 45-14 (2016 at Oxford)
Athens, Ga. • Dooley Field at Sanford Stadium (92,746)
Florida (5-4, 3-3 SEC) at LSU (6-3, 4-2 SEC)
Series: Tied, 33-33-3
6:30 p.m. CT • SEC Network
Last:LSU, 45-35 (2022 at Gainesville)
Baton Rouge, La. • Tiger Stadium (102,321)
Mississippi State (4-5, 1-5 SEC) at Texas A&M (5-4, 3-3 SEC)
Series: MSU leads, 9-7
6:30 p.m. CT • ESPN2
Last: MSU, 42-24 (2022 at Starkville)
Bryant-College Station, Texas • Kyle Field (102,733)
A GLASWEGIAN LIVING IN LONDON, GEORGE IS A COLLEGE FOOTBALL FAN WHO FOLLOWS THE ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE. HE PROVIDES CFB CONTENT FOR THE TOUCHDOWN AND IS ONE THIRD OF THE COLLEGE CHAPS PODCAST.