As a team, Georgia has had no problem winning the turnover battle in 2016. What has been an issue instead is making the most of that advantage.
The Georgia defense has forced eight turnovers through three games, which puts it sixth nationally in that category. The Bulldogs on the other side of the ball have had their hiccups, but still holds a plus-three mark in turnover margin. The real concern is the team’s ability to score points off turnovers, or the lack thereof.
With eight forced turnovers to their credit, the Bulldogs have managed only seven points off those plays. Those points came in Georgia’s victory over Nicholls State in the form of Lorenzo Carter’s fumble recovery for a touchdown, which ultimately allowed the Bulldogs to escape with a 26-24 victory.
“We always stress (points off turnovers),” Georgia head coach Kirby Smart said. “We want to score every time we get a possession, but especially after a turnover. If we get it in their territory, we want to get down there and get points out of it.”
The team’s 28-27 win over Missouri gave numerous examples of the defense forcing the opposition to make mistakes. Georgia recovered a pair of fumbles and picked off Tigers quarterback Drew Lock three times in the highly contested road matchup. After these turnovers, Georgia’s average starting position was the Missouri 47-yard line
“Our goal is to get three every week, and we got five (against Missouri),” linebacker Reggie Carter said. “That was amazing. We kept it contagious. We hope that will carry over to the next week.”
What that SEC East matchup also featured was the offense not picking up where the defense left off. Despite the five turnovers and the great field position, all that resulted were two punts and two missed field-goal attempts from William Ham.
Scoring after an opponent’s miscues is important every week, but perhaps no more so than against Ole Miss. The Rebels have had six turnovers in their losses to Florida State and Alabama this year. The Seminoles and Crimson Tide combined for 28 points off those Ole Miss mistakes in two games that the Rebels lost by 16 points.
The 48-43 loss to Alabama in Oxford was the second time the Rebels have blown a three-touchdown lead this season, and their two turnovers ultimately made the difference. The first was a fumble that was returned 44 yards for the Crimson Tide’s first touchdown of the afternoon. The second was a 75-yard pick-six that was the last scoring play the Rebels allowed.
Despite the mistakes, Ole Miss senior quarterback Chad Kelly has been prolific so far in 2016, throwing for 953 yards and 10 touchdowns through three games. Kelly was a player that Smart said he recruited while he was at Alabama, and Smart understands how dangerous he can be.
“Their quarterback is as talented as I've seen at throwing the ball,” Smart said. “He doesn't make many mistakes.”
Kelly hasn’t hesitated to throw deep in his time at Ole Miss, which means Georgia’s defenders will have a chance to come down with a ball or two. If that happens, the Bulldogs must find a way to get points out of those plays. Otherwise, it may be a miserable morning in Mississippi.
The team could just follow the lead of guard Lamont Gaillard, who had a simple solution to making the most of any interceptions or fumbles recovered on Saturday.
“We have to score every time we get the ball,” Gaillard said.