This is part six of an eight-part series where the Daily Mississippian’s David Collier and Matt Sigler give a position-by-position breakdown of the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl featuring Ole Miss and Georgia Tech. Today, we will take a look at the linebackers.
Yesterday in our defensive line breakdown, we said it would be important for the defensive lines of both Ole Miss and Georgia Tech to wreck havoc in the middle to disrupt their opposing offenses in the Music City Bowl. Well, the same can be said about the linebackers for both squads.
The defensive line can only do so much against the run, so it will be critical for each team’s linebacker unit to be active in filling holes, shooting gaps and making big stops. The more the linebackers can get in the backfield and make plays, the more the defense will be looking at defending third-and-longs, which should result in success for their team.
Going into the Dec. 30 matchup, Ole Miss — as they are with every other position — will be looking to stop the run on just about every down. However, Georgia Tech will have to play both the run and the pass, so winning some mismatches in the passing game could prove to be big for the Yellow Jackets.
It has been an interesting year to say the least for Ole Miss at the linebacker position. Junior stinger Serderius Bryant broke out with his best season as a Rebel, sophomore stinger Denzel Nkemdiche battled injuries week to week, and senior middle linebacker Mike Marry continued to be the anchor of a defense that gave up just over 150 yards per game on the ground, which ranked ninth in the Southeastern Conference.
Bryant, who filled in for Nkemdiche early in the season and whose play earned him even more time, finished the season with a team-high 70 tackles and 10.5 tackles for loss. Bryant was also second on the team with three sacks.
Nkemdiche, who played in nine games and started just six, finished with 34 tackles, but appears to be back at 100 percent heading into the bowl game for the first time since the season opener. Marry once again recorded a solid season with 49 tackles and four for loss.
You’ll also see a lot of junior middle linebacker Keith Lewis on the field. Lewis has 23 tackles, three tackles for loss and an interception on the year. With the physical running
The linebacking core of Ole Miss will have a tough challenge with the Yellow Jackets of Georgia Tech and their deadly triple-option attack come game time. This is a look no one is used to facing, but it should be beneficial that they’ll have over a month to prepare for the difficult scheme.
With the physical running game of the Yellow Jackets, expect Ole Miss to play Marry and Lewis a lot. At times this season, the Rebels have put Bryant and Nkemdiche on the field at the same time, but that is unlikely because of the run stopping ability of Marry and Lewis.
Georgia Tech will bring in a solid set of linebackers led by senior strong-side linebacker Brandon Watts. He finished second on the team with 59 tackles and also recorded 3.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks and an interception.
Alongside him will be junior weak-side linebacker Quayshawn Neely who finished with 57 tackles, 3.5 for loss and two interceptions. Rounding out the group is sophomore inside linebacker Jabari Hunt-Days who enters the game with 44 tackles, seven tackles for loss and an interception.
Freshman weak-side linebacker Paul Davis has also been a big contributor for Georgia Tech. He has racked up 39 total tackles, including five tackles for loss and a sack.
The play of the linebackers in this game is much more critical for Ole Miss. The Rebels will be continually tested on the ground against this option offense from Georgia Tech, and the Ole Miss linebackers will be forced to plug holes and play assignment football all night. One slip up and they could easily be watching the back of a Georgia Tech player running away.
It is obviously going to be a show in the trenches against the Yellow Jacket offense, and the key for the Rebel linebackers is going to be able to step into gaps and make plays at the line of scrimmage and not let Georgia Tech kill them on three to five yard gains over and over.
Georgia Tech, on the other hand, does have the ability to have a big impact with the play of their linebackers. If they are able to shut down a struggling Ole Miss rushing attack early, look for the Yellow Jacket linebackers to slide into a coverage scheme and force Rebel quarterback Bo Wallace to beat them in the air.
The Yellow Jackets may not rely on their linebackers as much as Ole Miss will in this game, but both groups certainly have the ability to impact the outcome of the game.
Tomorrow, David Collier will break down the secondary for Ole Miss and Georgia Tech.
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— Matt Sigler