Rebels continue bowl streak, down Jackets in Music City
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — There is apparently something about college football bowl games that agrees with Ole Miss.
With a 25-17 win over Georgia Tech in the 16th annual Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl, the Rebels (9-4) won a bowl game for a sixth-straight time — the nation’s longest bowl winning streak — and 10th time in 11 tries.
The victory continued the ascent of the Ole Miss program under second-year coach Hugh Freeze, who guided the Rebels in his debut season to a win last year over Pittsburgh in the BBVA Compass Bowl.
"I didn’t want to screw that up today," Freeze said of the six-game winning streak in bowl games. Auburn and Florida State, who play Monday for the national championship, have each won five straight bowl games.
"So, I’m glad to win two bowl games in our first two years," he added. "With what we inherited, I think that says we’re heading in the right direction for sure. It is a very positive step."
Ole Miss junior quarterback Bo Wallace was named the game’s most valuable player after accounting for 342 yards of total offense. The native of Pulaski, Tenn., completed 22-of-31 passes for 256 yards and a touchdown. He also rushed for a career-high 86 yards with two more scores.
"All day I was thinking try not to make too many plays, but just make the plays that were there," said Wallace, who ranked third in the SEC and 26th nationally this season in total offense and passing yardage
"That’s what I did today," he added, "getting the ball to the receivers, and they can run after they catch it."
Eight different Rebels caught passes, led by junior wide receiver Donte Moncrief with six catches for 113 yards and a touchdown.
"I knew that if I had a good game, we would probably win the game," said Wallace, whose season total of 3,701 yards of total offense topped former Rebels quarterback Eli Manning’s school record of 3,572 yards set in 2003.
The Ole Miss defense, meanwhile, stymied the vaunted Georgia Tech (7-6) triple-option rushing attack to only 151 yards — its second-lowest output of the season — and held leading rusher Davis Sims to only 50 yards. The Yellow Jackets entered the game ranked tops in the Atlantic Coast Conference and fifth in the nation in rushing offense, averaging 311.7 yards per game.
Ole Miss got eight tackles each from junior linebacker Serderius Bryant and sophomore defensive tackle Isaac Gross, while freshman cornerback Tony Conner and senior defensive end D.T. Shackleford had seven stops each.
"I said all week long to anyone who would listen," Freeze said of defending the Georgia Tech offense, "that there would be an adjustment period of the speed at which they operate. Their triple-option setup, as many days as we had to work on it, there is still no way you can actually ask your scout team to do it at the pace they do it at.
" â¦ We had time to prepare. If you get two-and-a-half days (during the regular season to prepare), that’s why it’s so difficult to play them probably on a short amount of time."
While Wallace completed 22 passes, his biggest of the night came on a third down-and-8 play from the Ole Miss 42 with less than 2 minutes to play. Georgia Tech had rallied to pull within 25-17 and could have secured the ball with all three time outs remaining and plenty of time to possibly tie the score and force overtime.
But Wallace threaded the needle on a 27-yard pass over the middle to freshman receiver Laquon Treadwell. From there, Georgia Tech was forced to use its time outs before finally getting the ball at its own 20-yard line with only 37 seconds remaining.
And when Ole Miss junior cornerback Senquez Golden intercepted Georgia Tech sophomore quarterback Vad Lee on the first play of the ensuing possession, the Rebels had secured their 23rd bowl victory, ironically tying Georgia Tech for 10th-most among FBS schools.
"We didn’t play well enough in any facet to win the game," Yellow Jackets coach Georgia Tech Paul Johnson said. "We were fortunate that we had a chance at the end to come back and win."
But the Rebels’ victory didn’t come without some work. After trailing 23-7 heading into the fourth quarter, Georgia Tech scored 10 points in less than one-and-a-half minutes to pull within six points. The big play was a 72-yard scoring pass from Lee to wide open junior wide receiver Darren Waller down the middle to pull Georgia Tech within 23-17 with 13:25 to play.
It appeared Ole Miss would put the game away with a 32-yard field goal attempt by senior kicker Andrew Ritter with 4:36 remaining. But the kick was blocked by sophomore nose tackle Adam Gotsis, giving the Yellow Jackets the ball at their own 20-yard line trailing by only six points.
But on Georgia Tech’s first play from scrimmage, Lee lateraled on a reverse to junior wide receiver Corey Dennis, who fumbled the ball into the end zone. When Georgia Tech right tackle Ray Beno fell on the ball, Ole Miss was rewarded two points for a safety and possession of the ball with a 25-17 lead.
After leading 13-7 at halftime, Ole Miss made Georgia Tech pay for the game’s first turnover on its second possession of the second half. Lee fumbled the ball at the team’s 44-yard line. Five plays, Wallace put Ole Miss up 20-7 on a 10-yard draw play up the middle.
The Rebels pushed the lead to 23-7 lead on their next possession with a 29-yard field goal Ritter. The big play of the drive was Wallace connecting Moncrief on a 55-yard reception down the right sideline to the Georgia Tech 17-yard line.
Georgia Tech drove to the Ole Miss 21-yard line early in the fourth quarter, trying to make it a one-possession game on the scoreboard, but had to settle for a 38-yard field goal by freshman kicker Harrison Butker to pull within 23-10.
But on the third play of the ensuing possession, Wallace was intercepted by sophomore cornerback D.J. White at the Georgia Tech 28-yard line. On the first play after the Rebels’ first turnover, Lee connected with Waller on the 72-yard scoring pass to get Georgia Tech within 23-17 with plenty of time remaining.
Using a no-huddle, fast-paced offensive approach from the outset, Ole Miss took the opening possession and drove 75 yards in 15 plays for an early 7-0 lead. Wallace connected on 6-of-8 passes on the drive, including a key fourth-down conversion, and capped it with a 17-yard run on a draw play up the middle.
Just as quickly, though, Georgia Tech marched its opening drive in nearly identical fashion, taking 14 plays to go 74 yards to tie the score at 7-7. Senior running back Robert Godhigh scored on an 8-yard toss sweep around the left side.
On consecutive possessions, Ole Miss was the victim of faulty special teams play that caused poor field position. Following Georgia Tech’s first touchdown, the kickoff was mishandled near the goal line on the return by Jaylen Walton, leaving the Rebels to start the drive at their 3-yard line
And after a Georgia Tech drive was stalled in Ole Miss territory, Rebels punt returner Jordan Holder fielded a punt at his own 3-yard line and returned it only one yard. But after Ole Miss drove the ball from the shadow of its own goal line to its 29-yard line, Rebels punter Tyler Campbell flipped the field with a booming 68-yard punt, leaving the Yellow Jackets to start from their own 3-yard line.
After holding Yellow Jackets on downs, Ole Miss took possession at the Georgia Tech 38-yard line. Four plays later, Wallace connected on a 28-yard scoring pass to junior wide receiver Donte Moncrief. But the extra-point kick was blocked by Georgia Tech’s Adam Gotsis, leaving the Rebels with a 13-7 lead midway through the second quarter.
Continuing the trend of special teams follies in the first half, Georgia Tech attempted a fake punt on a 4th-and-11 from the Ole Miss 49, but senior punter Sean Poole fell untouched for a 2-yard loss before he was soon to be tackled anyway by several Rebels defenders.
But after driving to the Georgia Tech 8-yard line, Ole Miss couldn’t make the Yellow Jackets pay for the mistake after Rebels senior kicker Andrew Ritter shanked a 29-yard field goal attempt that hit the goal post crossbar on a line drive.