“We hear about the SEC a lot,” Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said.
Knowing about the SEC is one thing. Beating an SEC team is another. The Yellow Jackets blew a 20-7 halftime lead before losing their last game 41-34 to Georgia in double overtime, and they go into the Music City Bowl on Monday having lost six straight bowls to current SEC teams in a skid that goes back to 1960. The last time Georgia Tech played Ole Miss, the Rebels won the 1971 Peach Bowl.
So Johnson said the key for Georgia Tech is focusing on how good the Rebels are no matter what league they play in.
“If they were from a conference from Mars, you look at the tape they’re pretty good ...,” Johnson said. “You’d like to think they’re going to play hard because they watched the tape, looked at it and realize the other team is pretty good and know if we’re not going to play hard and play well we’ll get pounded.”
The Yellow Jackets (7-5) have lost two of their last three games. Ole Miss (7-5) lost its last two, including a 17-10 overtime loss to Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl to drop the Rebels out of the Top 25. Rebels coach Hugh Freeze can cap his second season with a second straight bowl victory. Freeze also is very impressed by Georgia Tech playing in its 17th straight bowl, the second-longest such streak in the nation.
“You want to be in those games,” Freeze said.
This is the first time Georgia Tech has played in the bowl sponsored by Franklin American Mortgage Company. Ole Miss has sold more than 13,000 tickets and counting in a town where the Rebels won the SEC men’s basketball tournament back in March.
Here are five things to know about the Music City Bowl:
RUN TECH RUN: Georgia Tech with Johnson’s spread-option offense is sixth in the nation averaging 311.7 yards per game. The Yellow Jackets have run for more yards than any FBS team since 2008, and senior Robert Godhigh is averaging 10.1 yards per carry. David Sims has a team-high 11 touchdowns rushing, and sophomore quarterback Vad Lee has run for eight TDs. Freeze said there’s no way the Rebels can simulate the speed Georgia Tech runs Johnson’s offense, and it only takes one player looking in the wrong spot to give up a big play.
“If we can’t run the ball, we’re going to struggle,” Johnson said. “That’s what we do, so if we can’t run it’s going to be a long day for us.”
BO WALLACE: The Ole Miss quarterback is playing a short drive from his home in Giles County, and he also gets a chance for redemption after four turnovers in the Egg Bowl that included a fumble in overtime. Freeze said players take a pounding in social media when they don’t do well. “I’m not a huge fan of how college kids are treated and certainly in the last few games he got his share of criticism,” Freeze said.
SACK RECORD: Senior defensive end Jeremiah Attaochu needs only a half sack Monday to become Georgia Tech’s career sacks leader. He currently is tied with Greg Gathers with 31, the most among active players and fifth on the Atlantic Coast Conference’s all-time list. Attaochu had a career-high four sacks in the loss to Georgia.
LOCAL TIES: I’Tavius Mathers, Ole Miss’ top rusher, is from nearby Murfreesboro, Tenn. Georgia Tech has two starters from Tennessee in right guard Shaquille Mason and left tackle Will Jackson. Mason’s home in Columbia is such a short drive he had to rustle up 115 tickets for family and friends.
BOWLING: This is Georgia Tech’s 42nd bowl overall, though the Yellow Jackets needed a 21-7 win over Southern California in last year’s Sun Bowl to snap a seven-game bowl skid. The Yellow Jackets’ 23 wins rank ninth-best among programs with at least 25 bowl berths, while Ole Miss has the nation’s second-best winning percentage at 22-12. The Rebels have won nine of their last 10 bowls with the lone loss at the 2000 Music City Bowl with Eli Manning coming off the bench in a 49-38 setback to West Virginia.