RIVALRY REWIND: OLEMISS AT FLORIDA 2008

This is one of the great Ole Miss games I did not attend.  So I “home-gated this 11:30 am Raycom event.  The “players” at my house included 4 racks of baby back ribs that would be ready right around halftime.

(See video highlights courtesy of The Gainesville Sun)

Having suffered through the Ed Orgeron experiment, I didn’t have any expectations for 2008.  The 2007 Rebels finished 3-9, with close losses to Alabama (27-24), Florida (30-24) and Mississippi State (17-14).  Of course there were plenty of games that were not close and honestly my interest level was pretty low.

I was moderately happy to see Houston Nutt coach at Ole Miss because at least he had experience.  His teams always had stellar offensive lines and could run the ball.  He was not known for developing quarterbacks or recruiting wide receivers or quarterbacks, but at least I felt like I knew what I was getting (which was better than the previous staff).

So I was about an hour and a half into some good smoke on those ribs when the “Three Daves” (Dave Neal, Dave Baker and Dave Archer) came on the tube.

tebow hardy coverThe player’s on the field were even more impressive: Tim Tebow, Percy Harvin, Brandon Spikes, Riley Cooper, and Aaron Hernandez dressed in Blue and Orange.  Jevan Sneed, Dexter McCluster, Tony Fein, Jerrell Powe, Shay Hodge, and Brandon Bolden in White and Red

Tim Tebow was coming off a Heisman trophy in 2007 after scoring 55 touchdowns.  Tebow’s first year as the full time starter resulted in a nine win season and even the most reasonable fan could expect 2008 to be a possible National Championship year.

Ole Miss didn’t win many games under Orgeron but it was not because of a lack of talent and Houston Nutt inherited a golden opportunity.

Florida entered this early season game at 3-0 and ranked #4 in the nation, Ole Miss was still struggling prior to this September game at 2-2, including poorly played losses against Wake Forest and Vanderbilt.

Ole Miss had 6 turnovers in Oxford the week before against Vanderbilt, including 4 interceptions by Jevan Sneed.  Even with all the turnovers, Ole Miss was driving in the last minute to win the game before Dexter McCluster was stripped of the ball just before crossing the goal line.

Tebow for all his touchdowns in 2007 had not scored prior to this 2008 Ole Miss game.  But there were no worries for the Florida fans.  Urban Myer was concerned the week before in the victory at Tennessee that the offense settled for field goals rather than touchdowns but the final score was 30-6, so the 2008 Florida defense had not been tested

The first half was more of the same for both teams as neither looked sharp.  Perhaps the only person playing at a high level in the first half was Percy Harvin who finished with 82 yards rushing and 186 receiving yards.

Tebow who had 166 yards rushing at Ole Miss in 2007 finished with 7 yards rushing in 2008, even though he had 310 passing yards (his best passing day of the year.)

The Rebels struck first on its second possession.  Pulling out all the stops, Coach Nutt called a fake punt reverse to Lionel Breaux and plenty of the “Wild sneedRebel” (Wildcat type) offense featuring direct snaps to Dexter McCluster and Brandon Bolden.  Eventually, Shay Hodge found space between the safety’s for a 33 yard completion down to the 2 yard line.  This game plan of drawing the defensive secondary in to cover the run would be exploited by Jevan Sneed and Shay Hodge throughout the game.

But I really expected, like most anyone, that Ole Miss would put up a good fight early and eventually succumb to Florida’s superior talent.  Not to mention the momentum was on their side in “The Swamp.”

It did appear the Rebs were giving out.  A great read by Kendrick Lewis late in the second quarter allowed him to step in front of a pass intended for Percy Harvin that would have meant a long return for an Ole Miss touchdown, instead he tipped the ball right to Harvin who enjoyed his own long run to glory.  Such a swing in momentum that had to affect the team confidence.

On the ensuing kickoff, Mike Wallace gets a big kick return and is hit out of bounds setting the Rebs up at the Florida 40 yard line, giving Ole Miss a chance to finish the half on a good note.

Bolden took a direct handoff down inside the 20 yard line on a huge run for the freshman, but then an offensive pass interference call, an offsides call and a delay of game penalty puts the Rebels completely out of field goal range.

On fouth down, a hail-mary pass sails out of the back of the end zone.  This is the moment I was glad I had ribs to look forward to for the second half.

The teams entered halftime with Florida up 17-7.

As bad as the end of the first half was for Ole Miss, the beginning of the second half was even worse for Florida as Percy Harvin was popped by Peria Jerry giving up one turnover and a botched hand off to Harvin by Tebow resulted in another short field for Ole Miss.  The Rebels quickly turned in 10 points and tied the game, 17-17, on a screen pass to Cordera Eason for his most impressive tip-toe, end-over-end score and could best be described as “flailing” himself into the endzone.

I asked Eason about this play and he had some great memories of this day.  “I wanted the touchdown so bad I was willing to risk my body and dive in the end zone for my teammates.  That play gave us hope and I felt good because that touchdown got us rolling and we knew from then on we had a great chance to take that game and we did just that.”

The Rebels ran much of the second half offense out of the “Wild Rebel” offense with Dexter McCluster or Brandon Bolden as quarterback which stopped Florida’s first half penetration of the Ole Miss offensive line.

A wait and see approach was not totally successful either as Dexter McCluster broke free for a 40 yard blast right up the middle two possessions later.hodge

After a long Florida drive that saw Tebow convert on 4th and 1 and a steady dose of Percy Harvin, Tebow punched in for a score, making it 24-24.

The Florida cornerbacks began to cheat toward the line of scrimmage (similar to the first quarter) leaving Shay Hodge open for an 86 yard touchdown in the  fourth quarter to put the Rebels up for good, making it 31-24.

But the drama in the last five minutes eclipsed the entire game.

Tebow moved his team right down the field using a series of short passes and quickly Harvin found his way into the endzone to allow the Gators to set up for the field goal to tie the score (Score is 31-30 before the extra point kick.)

With 3:28 left to play, I felt there was just too much time on the clock.  If Ole Miss didn’t score on the next possession, Tebow had such an easy trip down the field you felt like he could do it again.

As the Gators kick the obligatory extra point, somehow the ball was averted, skewed out of it sure trajectory.  Kentrell Lockett has somehow jumped through the line and blocked the kick almost flat footed, and he wasn’t the only player in the backfield for the Rebels.

This was a great play by Lockett but also just another mental lapse by this Gator team that Ole Miss just does not normally get from their opponents, especially on the road.

Look if you think this article is ending here, you are not familiar with this game.  This was the longest five minutes I’ve ever seen for a football game.  This game was similar to the last five minutes in a basketball game.  Both teams kept fouling and taking their shots.

Dexter McCluster and Florida linebacker Brandon Spikes tied up all game long and while Spikes didn’t win all of them he did finish with 13 tackles, including one here with two minutes left in the game to force an Ole Miss punt.

Exactly what we feared as Ole Miss fans.

tebowTebow takes the field again but for some reason instead of the short quick 10-15 yards passes on the previous possession, Tebow tries long shots down the field. (I think we should blame Dan Mullen for this as he was UF offensive coordinator at the time.)  On second down, Tebow overthrows a wide open Louis Murphy.  On third down Tebow overthrows a slightly better covered Percy Harvin, bringing up fourth and short.  An obvious keep by Tebow was coming.

Everyone knew Tebow would get the ball but no one expected him to be stopped, not with Florida’s offensive line, not for just one yard.

But with Peria Jerry and Jerrell Powe plugging the line and the original Land Shark Tony Fein sealing the end bringing Tebow down, it was party time in Mississippi!

This game will be a classic for Ole Miss fans forever but it should also be remembered by Florida fans for the ensuing motivation it provided for the Gators to run through the rest of their SEC schedule with an average winning score of 52 to 12, and prompted the famous post-game speech by Tebow.

“To the fans and everybody of Gator Nation, I’m sorry. Extremely sorry,  We wanted an undefeated season. That was my goal, something Florida has never done here. I promise you one thing, a lot of good will come out of this.  You will never see any player in the entire country play as hard as I will play the rest of the season. You will never see another player push his team as hard as I will push everybody the rest of the season. You will never see a team play harder than we will the rest of the season.”

Cordera Eason continued his thoughts on the game:

“It was by far the best game I’ve ever been a part of.  The whole time during halftime, no one had their head down, we all believed we could come back and rally for a win.  A couple of team leaders gave a speech and it gave us that added confidence.  The greatest feeling was doing the chomp on the sideline with my teammates as we watched 90,000 gator fans in complete silence.”

Tags: Olemiss Football

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