Georgia Tech takes its show on the road for the first time this season when it travels to Mississippi on Friday ahead of its tilt with No. 17 Ole Miss at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
In a game televised by SEC Network, the Yellow Jackets (1-1), 18-point underdogs, will have the tough task of slowing the Rebels’ explosive offense inside a hostile Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. Ole Miss is 2-0, with wins over Mercer and No. 22 Tulane, respectively, and is coming off an 8-5 season.
Here are five things to know before Saturday’s game:
1. New offensive era
With all the focus on how Tech’s defense will match up with the Ole Miss offense, Tech’s offense shouldn’t be overlooked. Coach Brent Key and offensive coordinator Buster Faulkner have to be pleased with the early results.
The Yellow Jackets have scored 82 points, their most through two games since the 2015 team started with 134. Tech also has seven passing touchdowns after totaling only 10 all of last season, has matched the total number of players (5) who caught a touchdown pass in 2022 and is nearly halfway to last season’s touchdown total (24) with 11.
Key said part of the reason for the early success is everyone being on the same page.
“I’ve been pleased with execution, I have,” he said. “We’ve got to continue to get better in every phase at every position all across the board. (Quarterback Haynes King is) managing the game well. I think he understands the game plan well. Something we talk about a lot is the players knowing the plan and not having gray in the plan.”
Tech will face an Ole Miss defense that shut out the Jackets last year and has shown thus far to be up to the task in its first two outings. The Rebels have allowed only 27 points, are holding teams to a respectable 3.8 yards per play and have five takeaways.
The Jackets likely will have to play their best offensive game yet to get out of Mississippi with a win.
“We’ve been able to, in two games, put a decent amount of stuff on the field,” Key said. “But there’s a still a lot of things out there that we’ve got to continue to get better at that we can go execute before we’re ready to execute in a game. That’s what offensive football is, is putting things on film that it’s hard to defend and creates complements and complementary plays and plays off of plays.
King spent three seasons in the SEC while playing for Texas A&M, and his offseason transfer to play for the Jackets has been well-documented. As fate would have it, the sophomore has an opportunity for a little redemption Saturday after not faring too well in previous SEC matchups.
King went 1-5 in games in which he played for the Aggies against SEC foes, the lone win coming Nov. 7, 2020, at South Carolina, when King threw a 42-yard touchdown on his only attempt. In other games, losses to Mississippi State, Alabama (twice), South Carolina and Florida, King was 72-of-153 passing for 776 yards. He was intercepted five times in those defeats and totaled four TD throws.
Learning from those rough outings will be key for King and the Tech offense Saturday.
“He has big-game experience, big-game road experience,” Key said. “He’s not going to be rattled by any means.”
3. Tackles for loss lost
Tech has not found itself in the opposing backfield so far this season. That could spell doom against the fast and furious Ole Miss offense.
To get the Rebels off schedule, off rhythm and behind the chains, the Jackets need to figure out a way to get some stops behind the line of scrimmage. But through two games, coordinator Andrew Thacker’s bunch has only four tackles for loss, all of which came against South Carolina State.
The four tackles for loss by the Tech defense are its fewest through two games since at least 2000.
4. Significant series history
Tech and Ole Miss were members of the SEC together from 1933-63, yet the programs have met only five times previously – and only three of those meetings came during the regular season. Tech has never been to Oxford, Mississippi, or Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
That doesn’t mean there haven’t been some significant results within the five games.
On New Year’s Day 1953, the Jackets capped an undefeated season with a 24-7 victory over the Rebels in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans in front of a reported 80,187 fans. Ole Miss had taken a 7-0 lead in the first quarter before Tech scored 24 consecutive points and got touchdown runs from Bill Brigman and Leon Hardeman and a TD catch from Jeff Knox.
Eighteen years later the Rebels would get some revenge in a 41-18 triumph in the 1971 Peach Bowl. Ole Miss also won the 2013 Music City Bowl 25-17 before last year’s 42-0 win at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
Nearly 80 years ago, Ole Miss traveled to Tech and lost 24-7. The Rebels managed only 62 yards of offense against a Tech team that would go on to finish 9-2 and win the Oil Bowl over St. Mary’s.
5. Rebels from Georgia
Tech will see some familiar faces on the opposing sideline Saturday.
Not only are current Rebels Zamari Walton, Jared Ivey, Akelo Stone and Jam Griffin all former Jackets, 17 other Ole Miss players have Georgia roots.
Thirteen of those 17 players are from the Atlanta area in linebackers Jack Damron (Buford), Mark Trigg (Roswell) and Monty Montgomery (Norcross), cornerback Nyseer Fullwood-Theodore (Atlanta/IMG Academy), offensive linemen Jeremy James (North Forsyth) and Reece McIntyre (Buford), safeties Demarko Williams (Westlake) and Zach Johanson (North Gwinnett), wide receivers Dayton Wade (Lovejoy) and Cayden Lee (Kennesaw Mountain), punter Charlie Pollock (Walton), running back Ali Scott (McEachern) and tight end Wyatt Smalley (Milton).