Yellow Jackets have toughest test yet in trip to No. 20 Ole Miss

Credit: Bob Andres

Credit: Bob Andres

The level of difficulty is about to go up. Significantly.

Georgia Tech has played two vastly different contests, a down-to-the-wire, hard-fought opener against conference foe Louisville and a blowout at home over an FCS opponent. Its third test of the season will be its greatest yet and be a barometer for exactly where the Yellow Jackets (1-1) stand.

Tech goes into that test, a trip to No. 20 Ole Miss, after a 48-13 victory over South Carolina State at Bobby Dodd Stadium on Saturday.

“Always pleased to come out with a win,” Tech coach Brent Key said after beating SCSU. “Excited for the kids to come out here and be able to spread the ball around on offense and spread the wealth around on the defensive side. We’ll be able to take a look at it tonight and (Sunday) morning and be ready to move on and play a quality opponent next week.”

Ole Miss (2-0) will be a confident bunch after going on the road Saturday and beating No. 24 Tulane 37-20. The Rebels outscored the Green Wave 27-3 in the second half.

That victory followed an eye-popping 73-7 win over Mercer on Sept. 2. Coach Lane Kiffin’s crew is no stranger to winning, winning big and winning at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford, Miss. None of that should be a surprise to the Yellow Jackets who took a 41-0 loss on the chin from the Rebels in Atlanta a year ago.

Kickoff is at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in what will be a volatile atmosphere on the road against an SEC enemy.

“One it’s gonna be loud. Two it’s gonna be physical. But that’s every day, that’s how we practice,” Tech quarterback Haynes King said. “We practice physical, we practice fast. I’m sure during the week coach is gonna have an answer for that. He might play some music, some noises that make it extra loud, practices that will help the communication during the game.

“But at the end of the day you just gotta play football. You gotta play physical, you gotta play fast and you gotta communicate.”

As a Texas A&M quarterback, King traveled to Oxford in 2021 – but didn’t play in a 29-19 loss there. In 2022, in College Station, Texas, King was on the sideline of a 31-28 loss to Ole Miss. He’ll finally get his first crack at the Rebels this week after an impressive start with the Jackets.

King, a sophomore, is 40-for-61 passing for 603 yards and seven touchdowns thus far. His lone interception came early against Louisville on a batted ball.

King completed 21 of 29 throws Saturday against South Carolina State (0-3) and connected on four touchdown passes, one TD pass shy of tying Tech’s single-game record. The Texan has already distributed touchdown passes to five different targets this season – Tech only had five different players catch a TD pass for the entirety of the 2022 season.

King’s play should give the Jackets confidence, and hope, it won’t relive a repeat of last season’s result.

“He’s continuing to improve,” Key said. “He’s a quarterback that can run but at the same time he’s looking to throw the ball then run, not looking to just run and throw if it’s there. He’s delivering the ball nice, he’s making some really good throws standing in the pocket, going through his progressions, directing the offense, taking information from the sideline which is a huge plus at that position to be able to come to the sideline and take the information from your coach and then be able to use that moving forward the rest of the game.”

Despite having played the Rebels five previous times, Tech has never been to Oxford. Its two wins came in 1946 at Bobby Dodd Stadium and in the 1953 Sugar Bowl to cap a national championship season. Its three losses have come in the 1971 Peach Bowl, the 2013 Music City Bowl and in last year’s regular-season matchup at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Breaking a three-game skid against the Rebels and making amends for last year’s loss won’t be anywhere near easy. Ole Miss is 13-2 in its past 15 home games and hasn’t lost a nonconference home game since Sept. 21, 2019.

Key’s club will undoubtedly have to play its best game of the young season. It showed in Saturday’s win it is making strides toward that endeavor.

“I thought we improved in a lot of areas,” Key said. “We really wanted to improve on execution, that was the big thing, to continue to carry over the things we did a good job of in the first game, improving in execution over four quarters. I thought offensively we were able to sustain some of those things. That was good to see.

“Excited that we made those improvements, excited that we carried over some things that we can build on. Got a new challenge coming up this next week.”