Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace has thrown for 3,090 yards and 17 touchdowns and completed 64.4 percent of his passes this season. (Reuters)
Ole Miss’ date with Georgia Tech in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl can’t get here fast enough for the Rebels and their hurry-up offense.
The Rebels are going to the postseason for the second straight year of coach Hugh Freeze’s tenure, but after picking up seven victories in their first 10 games, the regular season ended on a sour note with back-to-back losses to then-No. 8 Missouri and Mississippi State, which possibly kept Ole Miss from playing on New Year’s Day.
Ole Miss is happy to be going bowling again, but the Rebels are itching to wash the bitter taste of the late-season swoon out of their mouth against the Yellow Jackets in an SEC-ACC matchup pitting 7-5 teams today in Nashville, Tenn.
“The way the season ended, certainly none of us were happy with, but if you step back and you look at the progress that was made, particularly with the injuries that we suffered this year in winning seven games and having huge wins, the highs of beating Texas at Texas and LSU at home,” Freeze said.
“Certainly there were some disappointing losses also, but when you look at the totality of the journey in two years, we’re real pleased.”
Perhaps the Rebel most eager to get back on the field is junior quarterback Bo Wallace, who is coming off one of his worst performances in an Ole Miss uniform.
Wallace, who mostly stayed away from the turnover issues that plagued him a year ago, accounted for all four of Ole Miss’ giveaways in the Egg Bowl, including a fumble near the goal line in overtime to seal the Rebels’ fate in the 17-10 loss to the Bulldogs.
Wallace, who is returning to his home state of Tennessee, has passed for 3,090 yards and 17 touchdowns. His three interceptions against Mississippi State pushed his season total to nine.
“He’s really anxious to get back on the field to have another opportunity to play the last game of this season, as all our kids are,” Freeze said of Wallace. “And I know that going back to what is really close to his home will only add to that feeling.”
While the offense, which has found the end zone only once in the last two games, looks to get back on track, the Rebels’ defense is preparing to go up against one of the nation’s best rushing attacks.
The Yellow Jackets are in their sixth year of running the triple option under coach Paul Johnson, and Georgia Tech’s 311 rushing yards per game ranks sixth in the country.
Georgia Tech, which has scored a whopping 45 touchdowns on the ground, has four players with at least 450 yards rushing, led by senior running back David Sims’ 846 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Quarterback Vad Lee is the Yellow Jackets’ third-leading rusher with 489 yards and eight scores.
“It’s not easy to prepare for,” Freeze said of Georgia Tech’s offense. “Luckily we have some extra time. I really haven’t studied them a whole lot defensively yet because we’ve been on the road recruiting, but I’ll get the film guys to send me some film on our computers and start watching some in the hotel while I’m on the road.”
Ole Miss’ hurry-up, no-huddle attack and Georgia Tech’s ground-and-pound style couldn’t be any more different, but with the zone read a staple of the Rebels’ offense, one similarity both offenses have is forcing defenses to read and react.
Freeze said his offense will do what it can to help simulate what Ole Miss’ defense might see from Georgia Tech once the Rebels return to practice on Friday.
“They probably read a bit more on the inside guys than we do,” Freeze said. “(Scout team quarterback) Anthony Alford’s going to be a great guy that can simulate that for us, and we’ll sit down with (defensive coordinator) Dave (Wommack) and find out how we can service him the best with what we do. Hopefully we’ll be able to give them an adequate look.”
With so many options in the backfield for Georgia Tech, RB Robert Godhigh could be a player to watch in this one. Godhigh is the Yellow Jackets’ second-leading rusher with 694 yards and six touchdowns, but he’s arguably Georgia Tech’s most explosive runner. He’s accumulated that yardage total on only 69 carries, which is good for an eye-popping 10.1 yards per carry. The Rebels’ defense has been exposed against the run this year (155 rush yards allowed per game), and Godhigh, who has the Jackets’ longest run of the season, has the ability to take it to the house if he gets free.
Georgia Tech DE Jeremiah Attaouchu has been a terror for opposing offenses this season. He was on the Bronco Nagurski Trophy preseason watch list and has been almost impossible to block on the edge, ending the regular season with 12 sacks and recording 15.5 tackles for losses. Ole Miss’ offensive line is decent, but it’s had its problems at times keeping defenders out of the backfield. The Rebels have allowed 25 sacks, tied for the fourth-most in the SEC, and Attaouchu will have his chances to disrupt Wallace and the Rebels’ passing game.