Then Mississippi essentially shut down their triple-option offense and handed Georgia Tech yet another bowl loss Monday, 25-17.
“We never got in sync on offense at all,” Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said. “Never really got into any kind of rhythm. It was just kind of haphazard. We hit some plays here and there, but nothing to gain any consistency.”
Robert Godhigh ran for an 8-yard touchdown and Vad Lee connected with Darren Waller on a 72-yard TD pass as the Yellow Jackets tried to rally late. But the nation’s fourth-best rushing offense that came in averaging 311.7 yards a game managed just 151 yards and was outgained 477-298 in total offense.
Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace outrushed Lee 86-24 by himself.
“They played about every kind of defense known to man,” Johnson said of how the Rebels stopped Lee. “They were just popping gaps and lining up, and we were really just tossing the ball.”
Georgia Tech (7-6) now has lost eight of its last nine bowls.
Ole Miss (8-5) has won six consecutive bowls and 10 of the last 11. The Rebels came in tied with Auburn and Florida State, who play Jan. 6 for the BCS national championship, for the nation’s longest bowl winning streak.
“I didn’t want to screw that up today,” Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said. “So I’m glad to win two bowl games in our first two years. With what we inherited, I think says we’re heading in the right direction for sure.”
The Yellow Jackets had other issues in the game.
Johnson said he shouldn’t have given punter Sean Poole the option to run on a fake punt that ended with him tripping up 2 yards shy of the line of scrimmage at midfield.
They also had a chance to finish off a 10-point rally in the fourth quarter after Adam Gotsis blocked a 32-yard field goal attempt, giving Georgia Tech the ball with 4:36 left. But an attempted reverse play with receiver Corey Dennis trying to throw turned into a safety when he fumbled, and Ray Beno covered the ball in the end zone.
“We’d been waiting for a series-and-a-half to get the ball in the middle of the field because I knew it was going to work,” Johnson said. “They made a play, and we didn’t. If it worked, you’d be calling me a genius.”
Ole Miss punted back to Georgia Tech with 37 seconds left. Senquez Golson intercepted Lee on the next play to seal the victory for the Rebels.
“We were playing in spurts and really couldn’t finish,” Lee said. “That’s been the thing the whole year. I feel like we were moving the ball and were doing some good things, but we just didn’t finish.”
Wallace finished running for two touchdowns and throwing for another and finished with 256 yards passing. The native of Pulaski, Tenn., was named the bowl’s MVP.
With a month to prepare, Ole Miss came up with some new defensive looks for Georgia Tech.
“That’s why it’s so difficult to play them probably in a short amount of time,” Freeze said. “You’re going to be forced to play some of your base stuff. We were able to get some different stuff in.”
Harrison Butker capped a 64-yard drive with a 38-yard field goal in the opening seconds of the fourth quarter, then D.J. White intercepted a Bo Wallace pass intended for Donte Moncrief. On the next play, Lee found Waller for a 72-yard catch-and-run for a TD with 13:25 left.
“That was big,” Lee said. “The game was slow to that point and it kind of got everybody out of their seats, got our fans into it, got the sideline going and it was huge. It was definitely a confidence builder. The next drive we wanted to score and we were moving the ball well, but something happened.”