The TCU and Ole Miss football teams have been in Atlanta since Christmas Day, and the two sides are eager to compete in a marquee New Year’s Eve matchup.
The Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl is two days away now, and it’s easy to see why this is one of the most anticipated bowl games of the 2014 season.
TCU boasts the nation’s second-highest scoring offense, averaging 46.8 points per game. Quarterback Trevone Boykin broke school records for passing yards and passing touchdowns in 2014.
But the high-flying TCU offense will face the best scoring defense in the country in Atlanta.
The Rebels allowed only 13.8 points per game in 2014, and cornerback Senquez Golson is a consensus All-American who intercepted nine passes this season.
Both teams play a 4-2-5 defensive scheme, a rarity in college football. The two sides were each ranked as high as No. 3 in the country at different points in the season.
The fans are also excited for this Top 10 matchup, as evidenced by the ticket prices for the Peach Bowl. The average ticket price of $238 is 326 percent more expensive than last season’s Peach Bowl average of $56.
Here are the key matchups for Wednesday’s game between the No. 6 Horned Frogs and the No. 9 Rebels.
TCU QB Trevone Boykin vs. Ole Miss secondary –
Boykin and the dynamic TCU offense will face a vaunted Ole Miss defense on New Year’s Eve. Will defense reign supreme in Atlanta, or will the Frogs continue to run their Air Raid offense to perfection? It boils down to Boykin’s success against a Rebels’ secondary that led the SEC in interceptions this season. Boykin loves to spread the ball around to a variety of targets, which could help diffuse the matchup advantages for the Rebels.
TCU wide receiver Josh Doctson against the All-American Golson is one of these tantalizing matchups. Although Golson has the elite pedigree, Doctson is seven inches taller than the 5’9 Ole Miss cornerback. And as always, if Ole Miss decides to sit back in coverage against the Frogs, Boykin has the ability to beat a team with his scrambling ability.
TCU LB Paul Dawson vs. Ole Miss TE Evan Engram –
Ole Miss is missing its top two receivers in Laquon Treadwell and Vince Sanders, which is a big relief for a Horned Frog secondary that struggled at times during the season. However, Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace still has tight end Evan Engram, an All-SEC selection, at his disposal.
Although the Frogs typically use their five defensive backs to cover receiving threats, don’t be surprised if All-American linebacker Paul Dawson is tasked with taking Engram out of the game. If Dawson lines up opposite Engram, watch this battle closely. The Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year will try to shut down the sophomore tight end who averaged nearly 120 yards per game in the final three contests of the Rebels’ season.
TCU offensive line vs. Ole Miss DE Robert Nkemdiche –
TCU’s offensive line performed much better this season than in last year’s 4-8 campaign, but the Frogs have yet to face a threat like the Rebels’ Robert Nkemdiche. The consensus No. 1 player in the country out of high school in 2012, the sophomore plays an important role in the Ole Miss defense. Ole Miss moves Nkemdiche around to different positions on the line, so TCU’s o-line will be charged with making sure he’s covered at all times. Boykin has had a relatively comfortable season in the pocket, but if he’s pressured in the Peach Bowl, the Rebels’ secondary could take advantage of errant throws.
Aside from the matchup battles, here are three things to watch for Wednesday.
Aaron Green’s emergence
B.J. Catalon will not return to play in the Peach Bowl, and his future as a Horned Frog is in doubt after a brutal concussion in the West Virginia game and the ensuing head trauma. However, the Frogs have found a more-than-capable backup in junior Aaron Green. Green rushed for more than 100 yards in three of his four games after becoming the starter, and averaged 7.7 yards per carry on the season. The Frogs will need Green to be at his best for the Peach Bowl. TCU fans will also see how Green performs on the biggest of stages, and determine whether he can be the main running back next year in his final season as a Horned Frog.
The value of Jaden Oberkrom
The Peach Bowl has a history of close games, such as last year’s 52-48 thriller between Texas A&M and Duke. When the games get close, efficiency on special teams becomes crucial. Ole Miss has used three different kickers on the year, including two freshman, that have combined to be just 8 of 14 on field goals.
Meanwhile, TCU has Jaden Oberkrom and his trustworthy right foot. Oberkrom is 22 of 26 on the season, and was named to the All-Big 12 first team. He’s already shown his ability to hit a game-winner in the 31-30 victory over West Virginia. If the game comes down to a final kick, or overtime, the Frogs should have a special teams advantage.
Bo Wallace’s turnover troubles
TCU lead the Big 12 in interceptions and boasted one of the best turnover margins in the country in 2014. Wallace has been turnover-prone at times this season. He threw three interceptions in the season opener against Boise State, and his Ole Miss offense committed six turnovers in a 30-0 loss to Arkansas on Nov. 22.
Although much of the praise is given to Ole Miss’ nation-leading scoring defense, TCU boasts a defense that has only allowed 20.3 points per game. The Horned Frogs held five teams to 10 points or less, and posted at least one sack and one interception in every regular season game. Wallace needs to perform well and avoid costly turnovers if the Rebels hope to win the 2014 Peach Bowl.