Georgia Tech knew that Ole Miss was dangerous throwing the ball. The Yellow Jackets didn’t quite expect the Rebels to run it the way they did on Monday, though.
Ole Miss ran 48 times for 221 yards, pounding the Jackets defense with running backs I’Tavius Mathers and Jaylen Walton and quarterbacks Bo Wallace and Barry Brunetti.
“I think the thing that surprised me was how well they ran the ball,” coach Paul Johnson said. “They had struggled to run the ball coming into this game.”
Tech had come into the Music City Bowl with the No. 10 rushing defense, holding opponents to 107 yards per game. The Rebels had a 51/49 run/pass ratio coming into the game, but stuck with the run with 48 rushes to 36 pass attempts.
“I think they blocked some and I think we missed a lot of tackles,” Johnson said.
Tech rotated defensive linemen more than usual to keep legs fresher against Ole Miss’ high-tempo offense. The dual quarterbacks gave the Jackets trouble, defensive Adam Gotsis said, as it made it harder to get a feel for the offense.
“That was a tough thing, but as a defense, we just have to be more gap-sound, make plays when we have to,” Gotsis said.
Explanations: Johnson took responsibility for the failed fake punt by punter Sean Poole in the second quarter. Facing a 4th-and-11, Poole rolled to the right, either to kick a rugby punt or run if he saw a crease. Poole chose to run, but stumbled as he tried to accelerate and fell for a two-yard loss. It proved of minor consequence, as Ole Miss missed a field goal that hit the crossbar on the next possession, but it cost Tech a chance to pin the Rebels in their own end.
Poole had converted a first down on a similar play against Pittsburgh.
Said Johnson, “We shouldn’t have given him the option to do that.”
Regarding his decision to give quarterback Justin Thomas his only series of the game when Tech started at its 3-yard line in the second quarter, Johnson said that he had told Thomas before the series began that he would go in on the next possession. At that point, Ole Miss was starting a drive from its 4-yard line.
“I had no idea it was going to be on our 2, but you’ve got to go in and play,” he said. “I didn’t have a problem putting him in there.”
After Tech went three-and-out, Ole Miss got the ball back on the Jackets’ 38 and scored a touchdown to go ahead 13-7.
Lee struggles: Quarterback Vad Lee had a rough afternoon, as pass protection often failed to hold up. It appeared the backs, in particular, had trouble holding off Ole Miss’ edge rushers. Lee completed 5 of 17 passes for 147 yards. He gained 72 of those on his touchdown pass to wide receiver Darren Waller. Several times, Lee threw the ball away under pressure.
He ran 16 times for 24 yards. He also fumbled once, giving Ole Miss the ball on the Tech 44-yard line in the third quarter and setting up a touchdown for a 20-7 lead.
“We were playing in spurts and we really couldn’t finish,” he said. “That’s been the theme the whole year.”
Record breaker: Defensive end Jeremiah Attaochu became Tech’s all-time sack leader with half-sack in his final collegiate game. It gave him 31.5 for his career, passing Greg Gathers.
“I don’t really care,” Attaochu said. “It would have been nice to win, but I just keep everything in perspective.”
Etc.: The attendance, largely Ole Miss fans, was 52,125. It was the smallest Music City Bowl crowd since the game went to an ACC-SEC format in 2006. … The temperature at kickoff was 39 degrees. Players huddled around heaters on the sidelines. … Safety Jemea Watts played a standout game with 15 tackles, three for loss. Cornerback D.J. White had 13 tackles, two forced fumbles, three pass breakups and an interception. “Coaches put us in position to make plays,” White said. “We came out with the attitude that we’re just going to compete and challenge every throw.”