Wreck-it Rebels: Defense puts squeeze on Tech running attack

Lauren Wood | Buy at photos.djournal.com Ole Miss defensive tackle Issac Gross tackles Georgia Tech running back Zach Laskey during the first half of Monday's Music City Bowl game in Nashville. In the background, Rebels' safety Cody Prewitt celebrates the play.

Lauren Wood | Buy at photos.djournal.com
Ole Miss defensive tackle Issac Gross tackles Georgia Tech running back Zach Laskey during the first half of Monday’s Music City Bowl game in Nashville. In the background, Rebels’ safety Cody Prewitt celebrates the play.

By Parrish Alford

Daily Journal

NASHVILLE – Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson thought he was seeing what he’d seen on video, but whether new or old the defensive schemes for Ole Miss were extremely effective.

Johnson’s old defensive coordinator, Dave Wommack, had his Ole Miss players in position and they responded by holding the Yellow Jackets to their second-lowest rushing total of the season in a 25-17 Rebels victory Monday before 52,125 Music City Bowl fans in LP Field.

Georgia Tech entered the game as the nation’s fourth-leading rushing team at 311.7 yards a game.

Only Virginia Tech, which held the Yellow Jackets to 129 yards, had more success against their triple option.

Ole Miss won for the 10th time in its last 11 bowl games, its second in two years under Hugh Freeze.

The Rebels finish at 8-5, one up in the win ledger over Freeze’s debut team a year ago.

Freeze had repeatedly said that winning or losing the Music City Bowl would not define the program’s progress. But, he was clearly glad to carry a win into the off-season.

“Ole Miss, I think, is tied for the longest bowl win streak in the nation. I didn’t want to screw that up today,” he said. “To win two bowl games in our first two years with what we inherited, I think, says that we’re headed in the right direction for sure. It’s a very positive step.”

Asked if he saw something unexpected, Johnson deferred to his running back, Robert Godhigh, who joined him at the podium afterward.

“Robbie, did they play anything we didn’t practice?” he asked.

“No, we practiced them all,” responded Godhigh.

Ole Miss not only stopped the run but ran the ball far more effectively than it has in recent games, totaling 221 yards on 48 carries. It was the first time the Rebels have surpassed 200 rushing yards against a BCS-level opponent since getting 272 against Texas in September.

Rebels quarterback Bo Wallace led the way with a career-high 86 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries.

He also completed 22-of-32 passes for 256 yards and a 28-yard touchdown to Donte Moncrief en route to game MVP honors.

Missed chances

The Rebels totaled 477 yards and left points on the table. Kicker Andrew Ritter had an extra point blocked, hit the crossbar with a line drive kick on a 29-yard attempt and had a critical 32-yarder blocked with 4 minutes, 36 seconds left when Ole Miss was trying to extend a 23-17 lead.

That extension came on Tech’s (7-6) next possession when a reverse pass blew up. Ole Miss linebacker Serderius Bryant forced a fumble from Tech wide receiver Corey Dennis 14 yards behind the line of scrimmage. The Yellow Jackets recovered for a safety.

Ole Miss was unable to run out the clock, but Wallace was able to take a knee after Senquez Golson intercepted a Vad Lee pass with 25 seconds left.

The Rebels seemed headed to the victory formation long before that, but Wallace threw too short for Moncrief on a downfield route, and the ball was intercepted.

Lee connected with Darren Waller for a 72-yard score on the next play. Waller was wide open after Ole Miss safety Tony Conner slipped.

Bryant and Issac Gross each had eight tackles and combined for five of the Rebels’ 10 tackles for loss, three by Gross.

It was fitting that Ole Miss would finally secure the win with a defensive play, its second turnover forced.

“It was almost a total adjustment of our scheme,” said Wommack, who served as Johnson’s defensive coordinator in 2008-09. “A whole new package went in for the option. Our kids took time on it and executed.

“You can’t stand in a conventional defense and hold against it. You’ve got to change.”

parrish.alford@journalInc.com