If you have ever seen Talladega Nights, there is a scene after Ricky Bobby has his first “successful” race and is being interviewed. The scene pretty much describes me trying to type any Ole Miss football post this season. “I just don’t know what to do with my hands…”
One of the phrases we always heard from the 2008 and 2009 fans, went something along the lines of: “This team could even be better than Eli’s year.”
It’s daunting to think that if this team finished with a similar fate of that talented 2003 squad – a team, I remind you, that lost only one SEC game, blew out State, was arguably seven points from a BCS Bowl (three to LSU and four to Texas Tech), and beat a ranked Oklahoma State in the Cotton Bowl… we would actually be disappointed.
It speaks volumes for how far Hugh Freeze has raised the bar in Oxford.
From my Maryland home, I’ve been able to sneak to several games this season; this weekend was not the case. So, I sat down in my apartment and nervously watched. In the back of my head I thought of the repercussions that would come after Arkansas played Alabama pretty tight (which may say more about Arkansas), Mississippi State systematically abused Auburn, and the nation turned their eyes to our beloved Rebels. What would happen if we couldn’t get the job done? I mean, on the road, Kyle Field, the 12th man, after an Aggie loss the previous week was a bit nerve-wrecking, right? The 110,000+ fans in attendance made it the largest crowd to ever watch a football game in the state of Texas; that’s saying something.
Though the Rebels may not have statistically dominated the game – they were out gained by about 120 yards – this one was never in jeopardy. First, it was offense. Dr. Bo Wallace led the team on two lengthy first quarter drives, one being a 99 yard thing of beauty, and both ending on a Wallace read-option touchdown. For an offense that has typically come on late this year, they made the first quarter look like a video game – and Freeze and Wallace were pushing all the right buttons.
The defense took it’s shots as the game wore on, scoring two touchdowns: A Cody Prewitt pick-six provided the only scoring of the 2nd quarter and a Keith Lewis scoop-and-score early in the 4th quarter jolted the Rebels to an insurmountable 35-7 lead. Conservative late-game play calling, and a lack of necessity, made for a pretty ordinary Bo Wallace stat line, but that may be when the Rebels are at their best. The rushing game was balanced, the passing game was controlled and effective, the defense played up to their standard, specials teams. . . it was all there.
I know what it feels like to be an Alabama – from the past few seasons – now. I actually left my TV after the third quarter (to make my way downtown to celebrate). Not even Seth Adams or Ethan Flatt could make me nervous on Saturday.
So what are we left with? Briefly:
Tennessee at home: It should be a win, logically, and I’ll leave it at that.
LSU on the road: If there’s any LSU team I LOVE our chances against on the road, it’s this one. Young QB against arguably the nation’s best defense? An LSU defense that made Jeff Driskel look like a solid signal caller? I like the Rebs.
Auburn at home: Time will tell how I feel about this one. But I LOVE that it’s at home. Nick Marshall can make plays, but I don’t know if he can beat us vertically well enough to win. And if anyone knows Gus Malzahn’s offense, it’s Hugh Freeze, who was his boss at Arkansas State (although I suppose that works both ways). It’s winnable.
Presbyterian: Moving on.
Arkansas on the road: We watched Bama do it, but it wasn’t easy. This one worries me, especially with little brother from Starkville looming the following week. The good guys should win.
Mississippi State at home: We will cross this bridge when it comes. No need to oversaturate this early with what I’m sure will be a tidal wave of articles surrounding this game.
Barring some major collapse, and maybe with the exception of the season finale against Mississippi State, Ole Miss will likely be favored in every game here on out. It’s an interesting feeling being the chased as apposed to the chaser, and it will be interesting to see how the team handles the attention.
I’m sure many of you have seen the picture of Robert Nkemdiche that has been floating around the last few days. I’m flattered that a Tennessee fan is threatened enough to save this until game week in some attempt to get him suspended. It’s flattering people make ridiculous accusations of “cheating” against Hugh Freeze. It’s flattering, in a sense, to watch people drag this team down – because that means they are pretty high up there to begin with.
#WAOM <– It’s cool how that’s a positive thing now, right?
*Section Photo credit to lockerdome.com; Featured Photo (above) credit to Troy Taormina, USA Today Sports