Heading south on the Trace now and getting some work done as I leave the driving to Kyle Alford.
A few notes and observations from the Rebels’ 25-17 Music City Bowl win over Georgia Tech.
I was surprised at the effectiveness of the Ole Miss run game. The Rebels hadn’t run it that way against a BCS-level defense since Texas, and Texas was a defensive team in transition at the time.
The Rebels were pretty good in the run game against LSU on Oct. 19. They were very good at Texas and very good yesterday against a Georgia Tech team that was giving up just 107 yards a game, No. 9 in the nation. It was the second-most rushing yards allowed by Tech this season. Miami had 227, Ole Miss 221.
Unless you’re going to change a lot extra prep time benefits defense more than offense. Ole Miss didn’t change a lot and executed in the run game. The Rebels ran at the Tech middle and stayed away from their All-America defensive end Jeremiah Attaochu. Offensive line depth didn’t become a problem.
It was the best run game of the season for Bo Wallace. He didn’t run the ball like that in the SEC. Why? Maybe because the SEC teams saw that and were ready for it. Maybe because of the speed in the league.
Anyway, the run game made the difference for Ole Miss on offense as it opened up other things.
The Rebels also protected Wallace in the passing game. He stood in that pocket and wasn’t touched on his touchdown pass to Donte Moncrief.
The run game was better really without the threat of Evan Engram. Engram returned at tight end but as you would think after more than two months away was a little rusty. He had one catch for 3 yards.
I’m guess we saw Moncrief’s last game at Ole Miss. He was good yesterday. I am interested to hear what his NFL evaluation said or will say. Physically he’ll be evaluated well. The question will be where he’ll land in the draft and whether a second or third-round pick, if that’s the word, will be enough for him to leave. Texas A&M receiver Mike Evans, a sophomore, announced Sunday that he will enter the draft.
Defensively yesterday you saw the benefit of Dave Wommack’s knowledge of that offense plus the extra prep time.
Tech ran for 151 yards, its second-lowest output of the season. Players were in position.
I watched Ole Miss work hard on that cut-block drill, and after Tech’s opening touchdown drive the Rebels seemed to get into more of a flow in shedding those blocks.
The best run of the game for Tech quarterback Vad Lee was about an 11-yard gain that ended with a fumble.
Afterward Tech coach Paul Johnson said the Rebels ran the stuff he’d seen on video and showed nothing new. Wommack said he changed everything, and that’s what you have to do against that offense. Conflicting analysis there.
Robert Nkemdiche, Denzel Nkemdiche and Cody Prewitt did not start the game – Denzel probably would not have started anyway – for team rules violations. Freeze said those violations were a misssed class and curfew but did not specify what players went with what violations.
Robert Nkemdiche’s absence showed up as Tech got off to a fast start in the run game. Things seem to settle down when he got in the game. Maybe just a coincidence there. Freeze said the Rebels got better then because they got used to the speed at which Tech ran its offense.
I don’t know the specifics of Cody Prewitt’s injury except to say that Freeze thinks he’s fine. He got a thumbs up from a trainer while he was at the podium in the postgame presser.
Freeze said repeatedly that losing the game would not define the program’s “journey.” It would have for some people. I don’t think Freeze and his staff got enough credit for last year’s 7-6 record given the train wreck status of things when they took over. Had they lost to Tech and gone 7-6 there would have been tangible proof of a program in neutral if you chose not to look below the surface.
Winning the bowl game and finishing 8-5 lets Freeze keep control of the progress aspect of the journey discussion.
Houston Nutt won two Cotton Bowls in his first two seasons, but after the second, there were questions around the program. Dexter McCluster was gone. Your quarterback was gone, and key defensive players were gone. The talent wasn’t being replaced.
Freeze has won two lesser bowls but returns most of his talent on both sides of the ball and appears to be adding to it.
Carrying a bowl win into the off-season conversation was an important step.