By Parrish Alford
NASHVILLE – The Music City Bowl coaches are proud of their teams but are also clear on the stakes involved in a non-BCS bowl game.
Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze and Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson want to win because it’s the next game up, because it’s a better feeling to carry into the off-season or any other variety of reasons. What they want most is improvement in 2014 that will help them rise in the postseason food chain.
Both teams are 7-5 and are 0-4 in their last four games against BCS-level competition.
The Rebels dropped their last two games, while the Yellow Jackets sandwiched a 66-7 win over Alabama A&M between losses to Clemson and Georgia.
“Do you want to win the game? Certainly. But nobody is going to crown us national champs if we win the game on Monday and probably not going to crown Hugh’s team either,” Johnson said.
The Rebels will welcome back a key performer in tight end Evan Engram but will have to establish a run game with very little offensive line depth.
Freshman tackle Laremy Tunsil is not expected to play. That puts senior Emmanuel McCray in the starting role at left tackle and subtracts a key reserve from the picture. Only senior Patrick Junen has seen quality playing time among the back-ups.
“We’ll rotate them to get through the game however we have to,” Freeze said. “We’ve practiced Junen out at tackle. That gives us a third guy to rotate there. Hopefully we can get through with those three.”
Underclassmen Ben Still, a guard, and Robert Conyers, a tackle, are the other available reserves.
Two of Still’s five appearances were in SEC games. Conyers played in four games, Arkansas his lone SEC appearance.
Ole Miss will try to crank up the run game against a Tech defense that begrudgingly allows 107 yards a game, ninth in the nation, and the Rebels must pass protect against All-America end Jeremiah Attaochu, who is one sack away from the school record. Attaochu had a career-high four sacks against Georgia in the Yellow Jackets’ 41-34 loss in the regular season finale.
Lack of depth could factor in for the Rebels at receiver also. Senior Ja-Mes Logan is an academic casualty, and junior Vince Sanders has been limited by an ankle injury.
A win would give the Rebels eight victories, one up on last year’s 7-6 mark in Freeze’s debut season.
“There’s no way you’ll get us to define ourselves by whether or not this game goes our way,” he said. “Winning is better than the alternative, but we’ll handle the result. We want to play with effort and have a well-played game.”