The College Bowl Season is upon us, and Pylon University is bringing the breakdowns on offense, defense, and special teams, along with the sport’s traditions and great moments. In this edition, it’s the Peach Bowl preview.
WHAT: Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl
WHEN: Wednesday, December 31 – 12:30 p.m. EST (ESPN)
WHERE: Georgia Dome – Atlanta, GA
TCU had visions of the College Football Playoff dancing in its head while holding the No. 4 ranking on Championship Weekend as the Horned Frogs romped to a 55-3 win over Iowa State, securing their 11th win. Unfortunately, the Big 12’s lack of a conference championship game ‒ and TCU’s sole loss to conference rival Baylor ‒ proved sufficient for the committee to drop Gary Patterson’s squad to No. 6 in its final vote. With that, TCU settled for a New Year’s Eve bowl berth, a most disappointing outcome for Heisman candidate Trevone Boykin and the Horned Frogs.
Ole Miss also had championship aspirations this season after starting 7-0 and rising as high as No. 3 in the polls before back-to-back losses to LSU and Auburn dashed the Rebels’ hopes, with a 30-0 blowout loss at Arkansas finally eliminating them from SEC West contention. However, they rebounded in the Egg Bowl to scuttle the championship hopes of their in-state rivals, the Mississippi State Bulldogs, and secure their ninth win of the season. Third-year head coach Hugh Freeze has posted a third consecutive season with an improved record and a bowl game appearance for the Rebels; one more victory would register the school’s first 10-win season since 2003.
When Ole Miss Has the Football
Three-year starter Bo Wallace will be taking his final snaps under center for the Rebels, capping a distinguished career that has him leaving campus as the school’s all-time total offense leader (combined rushing and passing yardage). The senior is also chasing his third consecutive bowl game MVP award. On the season, Wallace completed 61.2% of his passes ‒ a decline from his previous years ‒ but notched a 22:11 touchdown-to-interception ratio as he improved his ball security from prior seasons. He also posted a career-high in yards per attempt (8.6), showing his improved ability to make big plays in the passing game.
On this play, Wallace is in the shotgun with 11 personnel on the field, trips to his left, one to his right, and the running back offset right. Tennessee has five defenders on the line and drops the left defensive end into coverage while blitzing the right outside linebacker. The pressure is good, but Wallace is better:
The play-action fake to the running back freezes the left outside linebacker and the quarterback delivers a frozen rope to the receiver on the slant route. A stiff arm later and the Rebels are out of the shadow of their own goal posts and driving.
Ole Miss features a passing attack that ranks 30th among FBS schools in yards per game (275.6) and Wallace spreads the ball around very effectively. Four receivers caught more than 35 passes, including Laquon Treadwell (48-632), Vince Sanders (39-696), Cody Core (38-530), and tight end Evan Engram (37-651).
The Rebels rushing attack actually featured Wallace (107 attempts, 2.0 yards per carry) more than any other back. When they did employ a real running back, Jaylen Walton got the call most often with 98 carries for 583 yards, a 5.9-yard average per carry.
The TCU defense has stifled the run all season (16th in FBS in fewest rushing yards per game allowed) and has been the 16th-stingiest defense when it comes to allowing points. Linebacker Paul Dawson led the way with 127 tackles (77 solo), four interceptions, five sacks, two forced fumbles and two returns for touchdowns. He is ably assisted by fellow LB Marcus Mallet, who tallied 89 tackles (49 solo), an interception, a forced fumble, and two sacks of his own.
Dawson shows patience and quick decision making on this coverage sack against Baylor. At the snap, the middle linebacker is six yards off the line and either spying quarterback Bryce Petty or in man coverage on the running back. Either way, when he sees the opportunity, he pounces:
When the defensive lineman clears a lane, Dawson is quick to exploit it, exploding through the hole to wrap up the quarterback for a sack. His discipline and ability to read and react make him a force to be reckoned with for the Frogs.
However, the Horned Frogs are ranked a lowly 88th against the pass and their one loss this season came against Baylor, which features a high-powered passing attack. Defensive back Chris Hackett led the team with six interceptions, but TCU’s proved vulnerable in yielding 242 yards per game to opposing pass offenses and allowing too many long third down conversions.
When TCU Has the Football
Boykin finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting, having completed 60.5% of his passes for 3,714 yards, 30 touchdowns, and only seven interceptions. He added 642 yards rushing (4.5 per carry average) and eight touchdowns, and even caught a 55-yard touchdown pass, completing his line at 4,411 yards from scrimmage and 39 touchdowns. That’s a season.
Beautiful. Receiver Kolby Listenbee runs a go route and Boykin effortlessly delivers a perfect parabola 50 yards in the air. You cannot throw the deep ball better than this.
Josh Doctson hauled in 59 catches for 959 yards and nine touchdowns, while Listenbee recorded 38 catches for 709 yards and three scores. Junior Deante’ Grey rushed eight times for 88 yards on reverses and recorded 34 receptions for 564 yards and eight touchdowns.
Junior Aaron Green led the Horned Frogs rushing attack, ripping off a 7.7 yards per carry average with 854 yards on 111 carries, and eight scores. Classmate B.J. Catalon posted 493 yards on 98 carries, a 5.0 average, but found the end zone a team-leading 10 times while grabbing 14 passes and an additional touchdown along the way.
Meanwhile, the Ole Miss defense finished #1 overall in FBS in points allowed, yielding just 13.8 per game – 2.2 better than the second-best defense (Stanford). The Rebels feature the 29th-ranked unit in rushing yards allowed per game (133.6) and the 16th ranked unit in passing yards allowed per game (187.6) – a combined 321 per game, good for 13th in the country.
Cornerback Senquez Golson leads the unit with his nine interceptions and eight pass breakups. Safety Mike Hilton led the team in tackles with 66 (44 solo) and notched seven pass breakups. The pass rush is delivered by freshman defensive end Marquis Haynes, who accrued 7.5 sacks and forced three fumbles, among others.
Generating a pass rush with only four defenders can be a challenge, but, in this highlight against Texas A&M, the entire Rebels defensive line wins their one-on-one matchups within three seconds and the quarterback has nowhere to go but eastbound and down:
“Meeting at the quarterback” accurately describes what happens here, as the Ole Miss defensive line makes the Aggies offensive line look like amateurs.
For Ole Miss, Wallace, Golson and safety Cody Prewitt headline a group that includes LB Serderius Bryant and defensive tackle Bryon Bennett. For TCU, Dawson and DT Chucky Hunter are highly-regarded prospects, along with safety Sam Carter.
TCU’s high-powered offense faces a shutdown defense with elite pass defenders. Give the committee credit: this should be a fun matchup to see play out. The Rebels lack of a running game ‒ and vulnerability to Green and Boykin’s play-action game ‒ may prove decisive. But Wallace’s record in big games cannot be ignored and the Ole Miss defense may frustrate Boykin and force the mistakes he was able to avoid all season.
Ole Miss 31, TCU 21
All video and images courtesy ESPN.com
Follow David on Twitter @SoSH_davemc.