It has been nearly two weeks since TCU was ‘oh so close’ to smelling the roses and being included in the inaugural College Football Playoff. As great of a season as TCU has had, getting left out of the playoffs and dropping from number 3 to number 6 in the final rankings was a nightmare. However, the reflection on what could have been has come and gone. This is how the chips fell and this is how they were laid, no Big12 team was getting in. So, here we are now looking ahead to the Peach Bowl in Atlanta. In one of the inaugural “New Year’s Six” bowl games, a matchup between the Big12 vs. the almighty SEC awaits. This game will feature the Ole Miss Landshark defense vs. the flying frogs’ offense of Fort Worth. If TCU was going to be excluded from the playoffs, this is definitely one of the toughest opponents they could compete with.
In looking at this matchup, what Ole Miss’ success this season must be respected. The Rebels were the only team to defeat the current top ranked team, Alabama. Ole Miss also beat the Mississippi State Bulldogs in the Egg bowl, which ironically made TCU’s short-lived playoff dream a reality. The Rebels were once ranked in the top four and likely thinking about their chances to make the playoffs. However, in heart breaking fashion, they lost to Auburn 35-31, on a fumble in which their best wide receiver, Laquon Treadwell, broke his leg. The loss, more or less, eliminated Ole Miss from the college football playoff chase. Even so, they are a battle tested and admirable football program, that even through the daunting SEC West, only suffered three losses on the season. The success that Ole Miss has had this season can be credited to their amazing defense. A defense so great it was given the moniker, the Landsharks.
Fins up and tenacious in the way they get after the ball carrier, the Ole Miss defense formed an exceptional identity. The identity on defense, as Head Coach Hugh Freeze puts it, is one where defenders are relentless and the pursuit to the ball is similar to how a shark would attack his food. In watching clips and highlights of Ole Miss, it is no wonder that they are one of the best defenses in the nation. There is not just one defender looking to make a play, but a whole swarm of them; ball carriers get routinely devoured. Quarterbacks don’t stand much of a chance either, and offenses are usually eaten alive. The stats back up the name too, as Ole Miss leads the nation in scoring defense at 13.8 points per game. Ole Miss has given up twenty points or more just twice the entire season and they are sixth nationally for interceptions with a total of 19. Together, this defense creates a lot of havoc for opposing offenses.
Going into this game, something has to give. Whether that is TCU’s offense struggling, or the Ole Miss defense getting burned, this game will come down to TCU being able to score more than 20 points. In two of the three losses for Ole Miss, they gave up 30 plus points. If TCU can get anywhere near their season average of 46.8 points per game, and force this game into the hands of the Ole Miss offense, they will walk away victors. However, that is easier said then done with the talent that Ole Miss has on defense. From defensive back Senquez Golson, finalist for the Nagurski Trophy, given to the best defender in college football, to all American defensive back Cody Prewitt, TCU QB Trevone Boykin is going to need to have his best game. Now, for whatever reason, outside of the Lone Star State, Boykin has had his lowest quarterback rating against Kansas and West Virginia. Although TCU was a bit banged up going into Lawrence, Kansas, these games were not TCU’s best performances. Luckily TCU still won those two games, but luck will not be enough against the Rebels.
In order for TCU to win and to reach the 20-point mark, they will need to exploit the gaps in the Ole Miss defense. Operating out of a similar base defense that TCU operates, with two linebackers and five defensive backs, the Horned Frogs need to be able to run the ball. Only through running the ball with Aaron Green, scrambling with Trevone Boykin, and hopefully B.J. Catalon’s return, will TCU be able to set up the pass. Running against the Rebels will not be an easy task though, especially with the likes of former number one recruit, defensive end Robert Nkemdiche plugging the lanes. Still, the keys to TCU winning will be to run the ball, set up the pass, and get past the 20-point mark.
In the end, just like in the movie JAWS, I do believe that the TCU Horned Frogs have the firepower to blow up the Landsharks. This should be a close game, with both defenses living up to their billing. However, TCU should be able to force the inconsistent quarterback for Ole Miss, Bo Wallace, into mistakes. If TCU can get Wallace to throw his 12th interception of the season, then that could be the difference in the game. Still, it should be sweet Georgia peaches to finish off what has been a sweet season for Horned Frog fans. Also, this victory should be a reminder to the CFB Playoff committee that TCU should have been playing in the Final 4.