NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Ole Miss defeated Georgia Tech 25-17 in the Music City Bowl Monday in Nashville. While nobody would admit it, the victory was an important one for many reasons.

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All week long, Ole Miss Coach Hugh Freeze made the same point over and over.

He was not going to base the 2013 football season on one game. A win over Georgia Tech in the Music City Bowl was important, but not a deal breaker on whether or not the season was a success.

Rarely do I disagree with Freeze.

After all, it's his program and his team and he knows 1,000 times more about both than I do.

But I have to admit, I thought he was wrong about the importance of the Ole Miss-Georgia Tech match here Monday afternoon.

One, the Rebs had lost their last two regular season games, including the discouraging overtime loss to Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl.

Three losses in a row to end the season would have taken a lot of luster off an otherwise good year.

Two, there is a lot of difference in 8-5 and 7-6. Technically, only one game, but a loss to the Yellow Jackets would have "only" matched last year's 7-6 worksheet.

The idea, goal and dream of Freeze's journey is to show improvement each season. To do that, a win over Tech was imperative.

Three, it's always better, much better, to cap off recruiting and start the long, grueling offseason with a good taste in your mouth.

The 25-17 victory over Georgia Tech gave the season some more shine, it showed improvement from last year and it starts another year off on the right foot.

I'Tavius Mathers
Bruce Newman

While I get where Freeze was coming from with his pregame comments, this was a huge game for all involved, including the psyche of Rebel Nation.

Nobody would have jumped ship had the Rebels lost, there are too many positive things happening, but a win simply bolsters everyone's faith in what's happening with the program.

A fan base can never have too much faith while programs are being built. A fan base can always use another shot in the arm versus a kick in the groin.

The Rebs got the win over the Rambling Wreck by getting back to what got them to a bowl in the first place - sound defense and an offense that had sputtered for two games coming to life.

First, the defense.

It's hard for a layman, including this hack, to grasp how difficult this challenge was for DC Dave Wommack, his staff and the defensive players.

It's an offense that went out of vogue in the 1990s, this triple option concept, and I can safely guess no player on the Rebel defense has ever faced anything even remotely similar from Pop Warner football on.

For the Rebel coaches to come up with a plan that showed multiple looks to keep Tech off balance and for the players to be able to execute it as well as they did is a feather in everyone's cap.

Georgia Tech was held to just 298 yards of total offense and 72 of those came on one pass play when a Rebel defender slipped in coverage.

Tech, who is averaging over 30 points a game on offense, put together one sustained drive that led to a touchdown and it was in the first quarter. After that, the Rebs adjusted to the speed of the game and basically dominated.

"They ran every defensive set known to man," said GT Coach Paul Johnson postgame. "They never let us get in a rhythm and never let us hone in on anything we could stay with.

"Every time we would think we found something that would work, they would move a lineman or put another player in the box or slant a different way. Credit to them."

And the Rebels did that without All-American Safety Cody Prewitt, who was suspended for the first quarter for breaking team rules and knocked cold on the opening kickoff of the second half, out for the rest of the game.

DT Issac Gross, healthy for perhaps the first time all year, played like a man possessed, tying OLB Serderius Bryant for the most tackles on the team with eight - three for loss. Freshman Husky Tony Conner and DE D.T. Shackelford were also all over the field with seven stops each.

D.T. Shackelford
Alex Edwards

"Those guys played their best games of the year," said Freeze postgame, still wet from the Gatorade dousing at the final horn. "I thought Issac was incredible."

Kudos also to the edge players. After the opening drive when Tech TB Robert Godhigh gashed the Rebs on the outside a couple of times, the second and third-line defenders strung out everything Tech tried on the outside and essentially shut it down.

Overall, it was the kind of defensive effort Freze and Wommack knew the Rebels were capable of, but they still had to see it executed.

Mission accomplished.

Offensively, there was a lot of redemption to be had.

Not to beat a dead horse, but this was the same group that had scored just one offensive TD in the last eight quarters of play.

This offense looked more like what the Rebels did earlier in the year.

They rushed for 221 yards, led by MCB MVP Bo Wallace with 99 and Wallace also threw, bum wing and all, for 256 yards while completing 22-32 (68.7%) passes.

Bo also rushed for two scores and threw for another as he tried to erase the nightmare that was Starkville.

"I just tried not to force things," he said after the game. "I let the game come to me and just gave my teammates the opportunity to make plays, which they did."

The unsung heroes of the day had to be the makeshift offensive line.

No Laremey Tunsil. No Austin Golson. No Aaron Moris. RG Jared Duke learned this morning his Grandfather had passed away, but he played anyway.

Co-Captain Emmanuel McCray started in Tunsil's place and had, by Freeze's account, the game of this career.

"That kid is a leader. Here's a senior who got beaten out by a freshman and yet he continued to lead and work hard," Freeze noted. "If any of you need a great associate in your company, hire this young man. He will go to the mat for you."

The Rebs were extremely concerned about Tech DE Jeremiah Attaochu heading into the game. He had five tackles and a half a sack. Neutralized effectively by the Rebel forward wall.

The only major snafus of the day were that two short field goals got blocked and the Rebs gave up one bomb early in the fourth quarter.

Stuff happens.

In the end, the Rebels prevailed.

And despite Freeze's pregame objections, it was a big win, a huge win, for his program.

I think deep down, after all is said and done, he'd probably agree.

8-5 in year two. Program on the rise. Recruiting going well. Good taste to go into the offseason.

You betcha.

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