HOUSTON (AP) — Ole Miss looks to end a disappointing season on a positive note Wednesday night when the Rebels meet Texas Tech in the Texas Bowl.
Ole Miss (8-4) opened the season with seven straight wins and climbed to No. 7 in the AP Top 25 poll before dropping four of its last five games — including its final three.
“That last game (against Mississippi State) was disappointing, how we finished that and how we finished the season in general,” Rebels coach Lane Kiffin said. “The season was kind of like some games where we would start really well and didn’t finish strong. You can only worry about what you can control now. I do think that our players have done a good job of … trying to finish this thing right.”
Mississippi’s opponent had a season that unfolded quite differently in coach Joey McGuire’s first season. The Red Raiders (7-5) were in danger of not qualifying for a bowl after winning just four of their first nine games. But they finished the season strong, winning three in a row, capped by a 51-48 win over Oklahoma in overtime. A win in the Texas Bowl would give them eight wins in a season for the first time since 2013.
The Red Raiders will have to figure out how to stop the Rebels’ powerful rushing attack, which ranks third in the nation and is led by star freshman Quinshon Judkins and Zach Evans. Judkins leads the Southeastern Conference and ranks eighth in the nation with 1,476 yards rushing and his 16 rushing touchdowns are tied for ninth in the country.
Evans, a transfer from TCU, added 899 yards and six touchdowns for the Rebels. The junior hasn’t yet decided if he’ll stay at Ole Miss or declare for the NFL draft. No matter what, he’s looking forward to a big performance Wednesday.
“I still have a lot to prove to myself,” Evans said. “And not only to myself, to my teammates. I know I missed a couple games this year, and there’s no excuse for that, but I still have a lot to show out there.”
Judkins and Evans lead a rushing attack averaging 261.6 yards a game and will face a Texas Tech defense that ranks 89th in the nation by allowing 166.4 yards rushing.
But the Red Raiders of the Big 12 also have a talented running back duo: SaRodorick Thompson and Tahj Brooks. Thompson leads Texas Tech with 670 yards rushing, Boyd has 601 and the pair combined for 13 rushing scores.
“It’s really important for those guys to get going,” McGuire said. “They feel great. They’re as fresh and healthy as they’ve been all season long … they find ways to really affect the game.”
The Red Raiders have had a revolving door at quarterback this season, with three players who have thrown for at least 1,000 yards. They’ll go with Tyler Shough on Wednesday; he went 4-0 this season, including wins in the team’s last three games, throwing for 1,062 yards and six touchdowns with three interceptions.
Shough missed time with a broken collarbone in the team’s opener that kept him out until Nov. 12.
“You start seeing who he is as a football player,” McGuire said. “He’s an NFL-caliber quarterback. I’m really excited to see him play in NRG against a really good football team.”
DRAWING ALL EYES
Kiffin is looking forward to the recruiting boost playing in Houston could give his program.
“It’s exciting, obviously a huge market media-wise,” Kiffin said. “There’s a lot of great players in the state of Texas, specifically this area. We’re excited to be down here.”
The Red Raiders will be without star outside linebacker Tyree Wilson after he declared for the NFL draft following a November foot injury. Wilson is projected to be a top 10 pick in the 2023 draft after piling up 14 tackles for losses and seven sacks in just 10 games.
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