This is part seven 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 secondary.
It’s obvious that Ole Miss and Georgia Tech will be looking to do different things on defense because of the offensive looks they’ll get when the two teams clash in the Music City Bowl Dec. 30. The defensive lines and linebackers will be relatively similar in their game plan, but when it comes to the secondary, the two will be very different.
Going against the Yellow Jacket’s triple-option look, the Rebels will play at least one safety near the line of scrimmage to help with the running game. Their corners will be left on islands a lot of times, but it’s a risk worth taking against the triple option.
For Georgia Tech, they will play a more traditional style of defense. Early on they may try to take away either the run or the pass. But ultimately, they’ll have to deal with both, as Ole Miss has a balanced offensive attack.
The Yellow Jackets’ secondary are led by their safeties, senior Jemea Thomas and sophomore Demond Smith.
Thomas has a team-high 73 tackles to go a long with 3.5 tackles for loss and two sacks. He also has two interceptions, two forced fumbles and eight pass breakups. Smith has 43 total tackles, three tackles for loss, .5 sacks and four pass breakups.
Senior Louis Young and sophomore D.J. White are Georgia Tech’s starting cornerbacks. Young has 38 tackles, a tackle for loss, two interceptions and five pass breakups, while White has tallied 37 tackles, a tackle for loss and two pass breakups.
Sophomores Chris Milton and Domonique Noble will also get a lot of playing time at corner.
For Ole Miss, junior free safety Cody Prewitt is the leader of the defense. Prewitt was named a first team All-America selection by the Associated Press after a great 2013 season. He has six interceptions on the year, which leads the Southeastern Conference and is fourth nationally. Prewitt also has a team-high 70 tackles and 13 passes defended as well as four tackles for loss and two forced fumbles.
At strong safety for the Rebels is sophomore Trae Elston, who has 59 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, six pass breakups and a forced fumble.
Sophomore Chief Brown will backup both safety spots and had somewhat of a breakout year. Brown ended the regular season with 35 tackles and an interception.
Freshman Tony Conner mans the important huskie position, which is a hybrid linebacker/safety spot in the Rebels’ 4-2-5 defense. Conner overtook the starting job at huskie in just his second game of his career and has racked up 59 tackles, four tackles for loss, a sack, an interception, five pass breakups and four quarterback hurries.
Ole Miss will start junior Senquez Golson at field cornerback, while senior Charles Sawyer will also get some playing time. Sawyer missed most of the season with various injuries, but he appears on track to get back for the bowl game.
Golson has 36 tackles this year with two tackles for loss, an interception and two pass breakups. Sawyer has 10 tackles and an interception in five games.
At boundary corner, the Rebels will use sophomore Mike Hilton or freshman Derrick Jones. Hilton began the year at huskie but made the move to corner after early injuries made it a major need for contributors. Jones was signed out of high school as a wide receiver and moved to safety in fall camp. He eventually found a home at corner and gives the Rebels a big body to help with taller receivers, as he stands 6-foot-3.
Hilton has 48 tackles, five tackles for loss, an interception and four pass breakups on the season, while Jones has totaled 27 tackles, a tackle for loss and two pass breakups.
It will be interesting to see what Georgia Tech’s game plan is to start the game. With the way Ole Miss has run the ball lately, the Yellow Jackets will likely look to stop the run and force the Rebels into throwing situations.
Look for Georgia Tech to mix up coverages and blitz some with their safeties to give the Rebels different looks. If Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace can take advantage, the Yellow Jackets will more than likely drop back into coverage more and hope their front seven will be enough to slow down the rushing attack.
Ole Miss will likely play Prewitt near the line of scrimmage to help against the run. The Rebels have done that several times this season, and it appears Georgia Tech’s triple option would be the perfect offense to do that against.
That will leave the corners on islands with just Elston over the top at safety. The cornerbacks will have to be sure not get drawn in on play-action passes that could result into big chunks of yardage.
If they can play good assignment football and not allow the Yellow Jackets to get easy yardage, Ole Miss should have success in the secondary.
Tomorrow, Matt Sigler will break down the special teams for Ole Miss and Georgia Tech.
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— By David Collier