Perfect bookend: Ole Miss finishes with victory in Music City

The Ole Miss Rebels ended where they started in 2013, with a victory in Nashville. On August 29 it was a win at Vanderbilt, and on December 30 it was a gritty 25-17 win over the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in front of 52,125 at LP Field in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl.
The Rebels were led to victory by the MVP performance of Pulaski native, QB Bo Wallace who completed 22-of-32 for 256 yards and a score. But where Wallace really made the difference was with his legs, rushing for a game-high 86 yards and two more touchdowns.

While Georgia Tech admittedly failed to achieve much if any continuity on offense, Ole Miss started the day with much rhythm. The Rebels took the opening kickoff and drove 75 yards in 15 plays, capped by a 17-yard TD run from Wallace, to take a 7-0 lead. They were running plays at a rate of under 20 seconds in between; a tempo that has been up and down. If first down is a good one, everything else seems to fall into place. Late in the season first down was mostly not good, causing the offense to bog down. Starting like you want to finish is the cornerstone of Coach Hugh Freeze’s offense.

Tech answered on the ensuing possession, marching 74 yards on 14 plays, with a Robert Godhigh eight-yard run tying the score. They ran the ball on 11-of-14 plays, and overcame an unsportsmanlike conduct foul. But it was just not smooth for the Jackets. This sort of staccato offense was ultimately Tech’s undoing.

It often takes considerable time for Georgia Tech to score, failing the big play, so field position is of utmost importance. But every time Tech pinned Ole Miss, the Rebels found a way to flip the field. This change led to the Rebels gaining the ball at the GT 38. On the fourth play, Wallace hit Donte Moncrief who did a tightrope act along the near sideline to a 28-yard touchdown. Andrew Ritter, the Mississippi kicker who had three field goals blocked this season, had the extra point blocked to hold it at 13-7. Later in the half, Ritter chunked a 29-yard FG, hitting the crossbar.

In the third quarter, another irritant bothered the Jackets—the almighty fumble. Quarterback Vad Lee fumbled, recovered by the Rebels’ Trae Elston at the GT 44. Five plays later Wallace struck again, running into the end zone from 10 yards away to put Ole Miss up 20-7. After a Tech punt, Wallace hit Moncrief on a 52-yard catch and run setting up a successful Ritter FG for a seemingly insurmountable 23-7 advantage. But crazy turns can often occur in bowl games.

In 1:18 the Yellow Jackets struck for ten quick points, a 38-yard FG from Harrison Butker on the possession following Ritter’s kick, followed by a lightning bolt. Standard passing plays are often difficult but long strikes can occur from the Tech offense. And when Lee found a streaking Darren Waller on a post for a 72-yard touchdown, it was 23-17 Rebels with still 13:25 to play.

A three-and-out gave Tech an opportunity, but the lack of any consistency offensively stymied them. Isaac Gross, singled out along with D.T. Shackleford as the defensive stars of the game for Mississippi, made a key stop on Lee to halt a drive into Rebels territory. Tech had another chance when Ritter had yet another FG blocked, but a trick play resulted in a safety for the winning margin for Ole Miss.