SEC: music bowl 2013

It wasn’t pretty, but Ole Miss did just enough to knock off Georgia Tech and win the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl 25-17. With the win, the Rebels have now won 10 of their past 11 bowl games.

Here’s how it went down:

It was over when: Mike Hilton sealed the victory with an interception in the final minute, but the key play came the drive before when Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace connected with Laquon Treadwell for 27 yards on third-and-13. It allowed the Rebels to run an extra two minutes off the clock and made a Georgia Tech comeback nearly impossible. The freshman wide receiver finished with five catches for 51 yards, but none bigger than that third-down grab.

Game ball goes to: Wallace. The Ole Miss signal-caller played maybe his worst game as a Rebel in an overtime loss to Mississippi State in the regular-season finale, but he redeemed himself with an impressive performance against Georgia Tech on Monday. The junior went 22-of-32 for 256 yards and a touchdown, and also rushed 13 times for 86 yards and two touchdowns. It was a successful homecoming for the Tennessee native, who finished the season on a high note.

Unsung hero: Ole Miss linebacker D.T. Shackelford. The senior, who missed the 2011 and 2012 seasons due to ACL tears, might not have gotten the credit he deserved this season, but he was all over the field for the Rebels on Monday. Down the stretch, he blew up the Yellow Jackets' reverse pass attempt that ultimately led to a safety, and he was the one to apply pressure on the quarterback which forced the game-clinching interception.

Stat of the game: Georgia Tech rushed for 92 yards in the first quarter, including 64 yards on the opening drive. Ole Miss held the Yellow Jackets to just 59 yards on 33 carries the rest of the way. The return of freshman star Robert Nkemdiche and safety Cody Prewitt in the second quarter was huge (both were suspended for the first quarter; Prewitt later left due to injury), but the whole defense stepped up, stopped the triple-option attack and carried the Rebels to victory.

What we learned: Ole Miss fell short of its goals this season, but with a victory in the bowl game, the Rebels can take some momentum with them into the offseason. This is clearly a team on the rise, and it’s not far from competing in the SEC West with the likes of Alabama and Auburn. As for Georgia Tech, it’s time to start wondering if the Yellow Jackets have reached their ceiling under coach Paul Johnson. They will lose 11 senior starters on both sides of the ball, and all they have to show for it is a 7-6 season with a loss in the bowl game.

To watch the trophy presentation of the Music City Bowl, click here.

Rebels look to rebound in Nashville

December, 30, 2013
OXFORD, Miss. -- The helpless image of Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace lying face down in the middle of Mississippi State's maroon and white end zone has been burned into the brains of his teammates.

It's gut-wrenching, nauseating. It makes Wallace and his teammates angry to think that they were inches away from extending their stay in Starkville on the last day of the regular season. Instead, Wallace, who had a dreadful three-interception game against the Bulldogs, was stripped in overtime just outside the goal line on a keeper that started from just inside the 12-yard line.

His fumble was recovered by Jamerson Love, sending the Bulldogs into a frenzy and bowl game while leaving Wallace buried in the turf and his team stunned after back-to-back losses.

For a season that showed promise of nine or even 10 wins, the Rebels (7-5, 3-5 SEC) humbly head into Monday's Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl motivated and hungry to beat Georgia Tech (7-5, 5-3 ACC), a team standing in their way of a positive jump into the offseason.

"Honestly, we're all just hungry to get back out there," said Wallace, who threw four interceptions and no touchdown passes in the Rebels' last two games. "We're frustrated that usually you have a bad game and then you have that next week to go out and get that bad taste out of your mouth, but we've had it for [four] weeks. With the way we've prepared, we're flying around and I don't think we were doing that at the end of the regular season. We're locked in and ready to go."

It's a good sign that the Rebels are mad. This was a program that won just six games in the two years before Hugh Freeze was hired in late 2011. In two seasons he's won 14 games despite having major depth issues and watching the injuries pile up in 2013.

Frustration comes from high expectations and heart, two things the Rebels lacked before Freeze stepped on campus.

So while the end to this season was a downer, Ole Miss has made big strides under Freeze in less than two years of real work. There's talent in Oxford, Miss., that could make the Rebels a real SEC contender next year and newfound excitement and discipline surging through a program that once fed from the bottom of the SEC.

A win against the Yellow Jackets wouldn't send shockwaves through the college football world, but it would go a long way to generating momentum for Freeze's biggest spring yet with the Rebels.

"We've come very far, but we still have a long ladder to climb," linebacker Serderius Bryant said. "We want to be able to compete for a championship -- an SEC championship, a national championship -- and I feel like where we are right now is a good way that we're working up the ladder, but I feel we have to jump up 10 steps instead of one step to get where we need to be."

Before the final two weeks of the season, the Rebels looked like they were marching to double-digit wins for the first time since Eli Manning was the Ole Miss quarterback in 2003. But the Rebels struggled in the red zone and were run over by Missouri at home 24-10 before falling to their instate rivals 17-10. In those games, Ole Miss scored just one offensive touchdown after averaging 42.8 points per game in its previous four games, all wins.

Bryant and Wallace each said they've noticed a change in attitude since that Egg Bowl loss. There's fire that wasn't there at the end of the season. Wallace even admitted that players bought into their own hype and didn't prepare hard enough during the last few weeks.

That's gone.

The confidence that pushed them to a thrilling 39-35 victory over Vanderbilt and a rout of Texas is back, Bryant said. This team understands how critical Monday's game in Nashville is for the future of the program, and Bryant only sees one possible outcome for the Rebels: a win.

"To tell you the truth, I'm not even looking at a loss," he said. "I know we're going to win. I feel like my boys are going to come together and win. A win like this going to help us a lot and help Rebel Nation because they're going to start believing in us a little more.

"I'm telling you, anybody we played against in any bowl game, we were going to beat them. That's how we're feeling."

Music City Bowl preview

December, 30, 2013
Georgia Tech and Ole Miss were founding members of the SEC. Despite being in the same conference for nearly 30 years, the two will meet for only the fourth time ever Monday when they face off in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl (3:15 p.m. ET, ESPN).

Here’s a quick preview of the game:

Who to watch: Ole Miss is a team on the rise with all of its star freshmen making noise this season, but Monday’s game will center around junior quarterback Bo Wallace. He has had his share of ups and downs this season, but he’ll look to finish his season on a high note after committing four turnovers in a loss to Mississippi State to close out the regular season. Wallace, who hails from Pulaski, Tenn., will be returning to the state he grew up in. For Georgia Tech, it’s all about the triple option and a pair of senior running backs, David Sims and Robert Godhigh. Sims leads the team with 846 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns, while Godhigh is averaging 10.1 yards per carry. The Yellow Jackets’ defense features defensive end Jeremiah Attaochu, one of the nation’s top pass rushers. He recorded a career-high four sacks against Georgia his last time out, and he’s just one sack away from setting the school’s all-time record (32).

What to watch: Each team finished the regular season on a sour note. Ole Miss couldn’t overcome a number of costly turnovers against Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl, and Georgia Tech blew a 20-0 lead to rival Georgia at home. Monday’s bowl game will serve as a shot at redemption for both teams. The key matchup will be how the Rebels match up against Georgia Tech’s triple-option offense. The Yellow Jackets average 36.6 points per game and are among the nation’s leaders with 311.7 yards per game on the ground but will face a young, athletic defense in Ole Miss. The Rebels will have had an extra month to prepare for the option attack, but they still have to stay disciplined and play sound football.

Why to watch: Ole Miss kicked off the season in Nashville with a thrilling victory over Vanderbilt. Now that the Rebels are headed back to the Music City, what do they have in store for an encore? If it’s anything like the season opener, it will be worth tuning in. The game could also provide a little insight in the VIZIO BCS National Championship game. It’s one of the few ACC-SEC matchups of the bowl season and could serve as a preview of next Monday’s Auburn-Florida State showdown. Will the SEC notch a win in its first bowl game, or will Georgia Tech spoil the party and make it back-to-back bowl victories?

Prediction: Ole Miss 31, Georgia Tech 24

Music City Bowl

December, 8, 2013

Ole Miss Rebels (7-5) vs. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (7-5)

Dec. 30, 3:15 p.m. ET, Nashville, Tenn. (ESPN)

It was a very interesting year for the Rebels, but even after dropping their last two games of the season, they are heading to a bowl game for the second straight year. Coach Hugh Freeze has orchestrated an impressive turnaround in Oxford, even with depth issues all around and nagging injuries that piled up as the season went on.

[+] EnlargeA'Shawn Robinson
AP Photo/Butch DillQuarterback Bo Wallace and the Rebels went 7-5 this season with big wins over Texas and LSU.
The season began with three impressive wins, including a thriller in Nashville against Vanderbilt and a 44-23 blowout of Texas in Austin. The Rebels, however, then dropped three straight games to Alabama, Auburn and Texas A&M before winning four straight to become bowl eligible.

Ole Miss owned one of the SEC's best offensive attacks this season. The Rebels ranked fifth in the SEC with 473 yards per game. They ran for 187.4 yards per game while throwing for 285.6 per contest. Even though many in Oxford got frustrated with quarterback Bo Wallace's up-and-down play in the final two games of the season, he still threw for 3,090 yards and 17 touchdowns to nine interceptions.

Freeze knew he was going to have to get a lot out of his outstanding freshman class and certainly did from receiver Laquon Treadwell, who led the Rebels with 67 receptions and added 557 yards and five touchdowns, and offensive lineman Laremy Tunsil, who started nine games at left tackle.

The end of the season wasn't ideal for an Ole Miss team that was in line for a nine-win regular season, but for a program that totaled just six combined wins during the two years prior to Freeze's arrival, back-to-back bowl berths is a major accomplishment. -- Edward Aschoff


The season was to be both a year of rebuilding and a year of progress for Georgia Tech. The offensive backfield received a massive makeover after last year’s surprising ACC Coastal Division title, but there was ample room for optimism that Vad Lee could inject a downfield threat into Paul Johnson’s option offense.

[+] EnlargeRobert Godhigh, K'Waun Williams
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesRobert Godhigh was Georgia Tech's leading receiver and second-leading rusher in 2013.
At times this year, that’s exactly what Lee did. The sophomore quarterback threw for four TD passes in a win over Duke, and after three weeks, Tech was 3-0 and Lee had accounted for 10 touchdowns and just one interception. The future indeed looked bright.

What followed for Georgia Tech was a roller coaster. The Yellow Jackets lost three straight, and Lee nearly lost his job. Then Tech rebounded by winning three in a row, rekindling hopes of a repeat as Coastal champs. But the season ended with bitter disappointment, including a loss to Clemson and an utterly demoralizing 41-34 overtime defeat to in-state rival Georgia in a game when Tech once led 20-0. In the season’s final nine games, Lee threw for just three touchdowns.

There were highlights in 2013, including strong seasons by running backs Robert Godhigh and David Sims. Only Auburn, which will play for the national title, rushed for more touchdowns than Tech’s 45. There was a marked improvement for a defense that struggled badly a year ago, too, led by Jeremiah Attaochu’s ACC-leading 12 sacks. But the end result was a 7-5 campaign, and Johnson’s Jackets continue to hover near .500, having not won more than eight games since 2009. -- David M. Hale



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