There comes a time in every season when the top of your goals and wishes for a season have to be abandoned and you focus on what you can accomplish. For Hugh Freeze and Ole Miss every goal, even a national title was still in play for 12 weeks of the season. Certainly the best season Ole Miss has had since at least Eli’s senior season in 2003.
The 2003 season got off to such a shaky start, losing two non-conference games, you could argue this season with a 7-0 start is the best since the early 1960’s.
All of that is of little comfort the day after six turnovers and losing to Arkansas 30-0 with an injury to your starting QB heading into the Egg Bowl against a top 5 ranked Mississippi State.
Senior linebacker Deterrian Shackelford said in post game, “If you can’t get up for State, you probably don’t need to be playing. I will let it be known, the magnitude of the game, the rivalry; that we need to be prepared, and going on all cylinders.
Heading into the Arkansas game, Ole Miss had not played a SEC game since the November 1st Auburn game. In some cases, having a late season bye week can be helpful but it can obviously take you off your focus. Arkansas played their best football of the season, shutting out LSU last week 17-0.
Ole Miss just could not match the intensity of Arkansas who was playing at home for a chance to go to a bowl on senior night. The emotional edge was firmly in their corner and when Bo Wallace got injured it sealed the game for Bret Bielema.
Even with the poor play in the first half, Ole Miss and a banged up Wallace drove down the field in a two minute offense situation just before halftime. Had they gotten a score it puts Ole Miss back in the game at 17-7 heading into the locker room. Instead, defensive back Tevin Mitchell cut under Ole Miss WR Markell Pack to intercept the ball and Arkansas cruises to the victory. It was obvious, Wallace could not get enough strength on the ball with his right ankle injury.
Wallace had his ankle rolled up on a sack by Arkansas’ Darius Philon. It was a scary moment for Rebel fans that reminded us of the Treadwell injury. Like LT, Wallace went limp and fumbled the ball for the second of his four turnovers in the game.
Coach Freeze took the blame for the slow start for Ole Miss. “They put it to us pretty good. All week I felt like we were not totally locked in, which is my fault. I just felt like it was a weird week overall.”
Defensively, the Rebels did an admirable job compared to the hole they were forced to dig out of. Ole Miss held Arkansas to 159 yards rushing which is almost 100 yards below their average. Arkansas only had 311 yards total offense but with six turnovers by Ole Miss, the Hogs had a short field in too many possessions.
Freeze tipped his hat to Bielema and the Arkansas team for becoming bowl eligible for the first time since 2011. “Congrats to them, I know how it feels to be playing for a bowl game at a school that hasn’t been to one in a while.”
Ole Miss returns to Oxford this week for its own senior day but this is not the mood you expected. Ole Miss could be playing for chance at the SEC west division, and a spot in the college football playoff. Instead, Ole Miss will be playing for bowl position and the spoiler role to knock off Mississippi State.
Will Bo Wallace be healthy enough to win? Can Ole Miss run the ball enough to take back the Egg Bowl (they only had 63 yards rushing in Arkansas). Can Ole Miss get their emotional edge back?
The answers to those questions will be answered soon and it is really up to the players. Freeze said, “Out mettle will be tested coming up this week and we have to be prepared. I saw some things this week on tape and in preparation that you can’t do and be an elite team.”