OXFORD, Miss. — Georgia’s Mark Richt doesn’t have the best job security these days. Mississippi’s Houston Nutt knows exactly how he feels.
Ole Miss (1-2, 0-1 Southeastern Conference) hosts Georgia (1-2, 0-1) on Saturday at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in a game that both teams desperately need to win in order to climb back into the SEC race. Adding even more intrigue, both coaches may need a victory to stay employed much longer.
“I feel the pressure every day when I wake up,” Nutt said. “There hasn’t been much sleep lately. It is all about Ole Miss football and how we can get better.”
Georgia has won seven in a row in the series dating back to 1997. The Rebels have lost nine of their past 10 SEC games.
The Rebels are reeling after last week’s 30-7 loss to lowly Vanderbilt that featured poor execution and an alarming lack of firepower. Nutt says the team’s defense and special teams are playing decently, but the offense must catch up. Zack Stoudt threw five interceptions against Vanderbilt, though Nutt said some weren’t his fault. The quarterback will get another chance against the Bulldogs.
Nutt and offensive coordinator David Lee have talked about simplifying the playbook against Georgia. Stoudt isn’t worried about the Ole Miss offense becoming too predictable.
“I don’t think we’re going to cut it back too much out there so it’s like junior high ball,” Stoudt said. “We’re going to make some plays and just get good at them. If you’re good at what you do, then it doesn’t matter what the defense does, you should still be able to execute.”
The Rebels also need to improve their running game, which ranks 11th in the SEC with 109 yards per game. Starter Brandon Bolden has been playing on a sore ankle and the offensive line has struggled. But Stoudt says he thinks the Rebels understand things must change against the Bulldogs.
“It’s not ok to lose,” Stoudt said. “I couldn’t sleep at all (this week). I’m not ok with that.”
Georgia likely represents Ole Miss’ toughest challenge so far. The Bulldogs lost both their games to nationally ranked programs — Boise State and South Carolina.
Richt still feels he has a quality team and was encouraged by last weekend’s 59-0 victory over Coastal Carolina. The Bulldogs young offense continues to impress.
The top rusher, Isaiah Crowell, and top receiver, Malcolm Mitchell, are freshmen. Quarterback Aaron Murray is still just a sophomore. Another top receiver, Michael Bennett, is a redshirt freshman. The Bulldogs are beginning a stretch of five SEC games in a row.
“The thing I like is we’re a team that is getting better as we go,” Richt said. “We do have a lot of room to grow yet. We’re doing a lot of positive things. As we look at tape, it’s still pretty obvious we have a lot of youth and inexperience that needs to improve. I just think overall that we’re a team that’s on the rise.”
But just like Nutt, Richt needs to see results quickly. The high-pressure world of the SEC isn’t a patient place.
Nutt has been coaching in the SEC for 14 seasons — 10 at Arkansas before the past four at Ole Miss. Richt is in his 11th season at Georgia. Both have experienced success over the years, but that seems like a distant memory for two programs piling up losses at an alarming rate.
“The bottom line is always ‘Did you win the last game?’” Nutt said.
“We didn’t, so the water that we are in is going to be hot and we have to deal with it.”