My fellow Rebels, we are in the midst of a long, arduous journey. It’s a desolate three-month wasteland filled with transfer rumors, scout team legend building, and useless lists from bloggers. That’s right: the offseason.
In an attempt to make the offseason a little more bearable, I am going to introduce a few new features to bring you all the Ole Miss-centric news and fodder I can in the summer months. One such series of note will be the “Tuesday Top Ten.” The Tuesday Top Ten will be a list of 10 things in an Ole Miss-related topic. Pretty complex, right? Now, sometimes I won’t be able to get to it until late at night. Afterall, I have another job to maintain that pays for the AT&T bill that allows me to blog about my LandBearSharks that I adore.
Please, forgive my late post tonight as I am new to the saddle. Typically they will not be this late in the day. Now, let’s get right down to it. The first edition of the Tuesday Top Ten will be ranking the most significant victories in the head football coach Hugh Freeze’s tenure.
10. Georgia Tech, December 30, 2013
The 2013 season was a rocky road for the boys from Lafayette County. They started off with a 3-0 record, a national ranking, and a quarterback confident enough to speak ill of the Crimson Tide defense. Then came the first dive of the year, a 25-0 shellacking at the hands of No. 1 Alabama proceeded by a teeth-gritting-frustrating loss to eventual national runner-up Auburn down on the Plains and a last-second field goal loss to No. 9 Texas A&M.
After falling to 3-3, the Rebels hit the on-switch , reeling off four consecutive wins, including one over No. 6 LSU, but more on that later. Ole Miss was rolling at 7-3 when the No. 8 Missouri Tigers came to town. After averaging close to 38 points per game since the shutout in Tuscaloosa, the offense was stymied at home by a vaunted Tiger defense, falling 24-10. A heartbreaking loss in the Egg Bowl followed and the season was at a 7-5 crossroads. Ole Miss was pitted against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in the Music City Bowl and needed a win for the sake of offseason morale.
The team came out inspired, led by quarterback Bo Wallace who passed for 256 yards and a touchdown, adding 86 more yards on the ground, including a couple of scores. Defensive coordinator Dave Wommack’s defense would not be denied, holding Tech’s triple-option in check all night, allowing them to rush for just 151 yards on 49 carries en route to a 25-17 win. It may not be the team’s most memorable win, but 8-5 sure looks a lot better than 7-6 and the team carried that momentum into a high preseason ranking the following fall.
9. Vanderbilt, August 29, 2013
The Commodores may not carry the luster of an Alabama or a Florida, but they were a thorn in the Rebel side under Houston Nutt and Freeze’s first year in Oxford. Vandy used a lethal fourth quarter to down Ole Miss 27-26 in Oxford and it was payback time for he red and blue.
Jeff Scott scampered down the field 75 yards with under two minutes to play, giving Ole Miss the final score in a 39-35 shootout. Opening the season is always critical, especially when you know your schedule features a litany of tough games, but this one had even bigger stakes.
Ole Miss took the world by storm on National Signing Day the previous February, inking five five-star recruits, four of whom were incoming freshmen. It was the team’s time to shine with their shiny new toys and Tony Conner, Laquon Treadwell, Laremy Tunsil and Robert Nkemdiche did not disappoint. That game showed the world the Rebels brought in some real talent, and showed upcoming recruits that star players can and will shine under Freeze.
It was the opening night of the college football season and the entire football nation had their eyes glued to ESPN. In this world of social media, whomever won would be trending on Twitter and a hot topic on the late evening Sportscenter. That may not seem like a big deal, but when you are trying to change the culture of a program, you do not want to be on the losing end of that game. Luckily for the Rebs, they weren’t.
8. Pittsburgh, January 5, 2013
Sure, Pittsburgh may not have been the power they were with Tony Dorsett, Mike Ditka or Dan Marino, but this was an important game for the Rebels. It gave Ole Miss their first bowl win in three years and let seniors, who endured a 6-18 record the previous two years, a chance to go out with their heads held high.
The 2012 season was marked with some forgettable outcomes like the home loss to Vanderbilt and the manhandling in Athens at the hands of Georgia, but also showed promise. Ole Miss hung with Alabama physically and showed heart. They almost took down LSU in Baton Rouge and Texas A&M in Oxford, both teams with significantly more talent at the time. Freeze came to Oxford with a team lacking talent, but full of grade issues and unsavory attitudes. He left his first year with a winning record and the respect of the SEC.
7. No. 14 Texas A&M, October 11, 2014
Ole Miss and A&M faced off two straight years in Oxford before this game. The Aggies took both on late fourth quarter field goals, led by Heisman-winner Johnny Manziel. “Johnny Football” was in Cleveland and the game in College Station was ripe for the taking.
The Rebels came into Texas and hit Kevin Sumlin’s team in the mouth. Robert Nkemidche nearly split wide receiver Speedy Noil in half on a wide receiver screen and All-American safety Cody Prewitt took a Kenny Hill pass to the house. In a 35-20 score that was not as close as it appears, Ole Miss not only avenged the two losses the years before, but beat a ranked team on the road, and handily.
6. Boise State, August 28, 2014
A game that by the grace of God was pushed back a couple years so Georgia could play the Broncos instead of the Nutt-led hapless Rebs, the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Classic was crucial for Ole Miss. They came into the game ranked in the top 20 and were cased as another “SEC media bias” pick. Hype was there, the spotlight was there, all the Rebels had to do was show up and show out.
After three first half interceptions by Wallace, Ole Miss started clicking on all cylinders offensively. Ole Miss put up 35 points and wide receiver Cody Core had his coming out party. Not only that but the Rebel defense delivered bigger hits than Usher in the early 2000s Billboard charts. Conner, Prewitt and Keith Lewis all laid bone-crushing hits on the Broncos, showcasing what “SEC speed” truly means. Ole Miss proved they were legit and a force which not to be trifled.
5. Texas, September 14, 2013
It was hyped up to be the greatest weekend in Oxford history. Texas and Ole Miss partying in Oxford together: bourbon, biscuits and bovine. The hype of the weekend lived up to the billing with the Library bull earning his keep, but the game did not as the Longhorns blew out the Rebels 66-31. This time, it was Ole Miss’s turn to do the favor.
The Rebels got the first marquee win under the Freeze regime, taking down national power Texas 44-23. Big brands proved to be of no consequence to a young team that didn’t know any better, and Bevo went home with his horns turned down. Texas was in its last year under Mack Brown and was a shell of itself, but that doesn’t change the fact that it was the mighty Longhorns that fell to the Rebels, not to mention Freeze’s second of four wins over coaches with a national championship ring.
4. No. 4 Mississippi State, November 29, 2014
Our fair state gained quite a few headlines in 2014 for its success on the Gridiron. Mississippi State started the season 9-0, rising to No. 1 for the first time in school history. After losing a tight game to Alabama, State rebounded with a blowout of Vanderbilt and clung to a No. 4 ranking heading into Oxford with a shot at the College Football Playoff on the line.
Ole Miss, on the other hand, was missing Treadwell, a plethora of pieces on defense, and Wallace could barely walk much less command the pocket. The team who rose to No. 3 in the nation was no more, as close losses to Auburn and LSU did the team in before a 30-0 loss to Arkansas put the team six feet under.
In a scene akin to the Thriller music video, the Rebels rose from the dirt and gave one last stand. Tight end Evan Engram was a monster and running back Jaylen Walton provided one of the best David Kellum calls of all-time. The team broke a lot of Bulldog hearts, crushed their hopes of a college football playoff berth, and brought the Golden Egg back to Oxford as Dan Mullen still lies awake at night.
Oh, and just because one Egg Bowl victory isn’t enough..
3. Mississippi State (again), November 24, 2012
Three years. Three long, long years. That’s how long the Golden Egg was away from her rightful place in off of Highway 6 down Manning Way. Following a 45-0 drumming of the Bulldogs in 2008 that sparked the forced departure of Sylvester Croom, Mullen was brought to Starkville. Nutt never regained the trophy again as the Bulldogs rolled off three wins over the Rebels, including one that featured Mullen telling his players in the locker room, “we are never losing to that team again!”
Well, sorry Dan. But you have, twice.
Fighting through frigid temperatures, wintery winds resembling an Arctic burst rather than a Mississippi fall, the Rebels got past State, 41-27 behind three touchdown catches from Donte Moncrief. If you listen closely enough on a quiet night, you can still hear “Feed Moncrief” echoing through the Vaught, joined by the sound of Mullen falling off his high horse. This game gave us Freeze’s best pregame speech, a bowl bid, and our dignity back at work. It can only be described by the chorus in the Four Seasons’ lone hit, “Oh, What A Night.”
2. No. 6 LSU, October 19, 2013
The last time these two bitter rivals played, Ole Miss came up just short in Baton Rouge after Odell Beckham, Jr. reminded Rebels fans of Billy Cannon over a half-century before. Even worse, the last time the teams played in Oxford, LSU took four consecutive kneels inside the red zone in the fourth quarter en route to a 52-3.
An early outlook on this game didn’t look much better as the Rebels had lost their last three games and were without a vast majority of their best players. The team rallied around each other, picked off Zach Mettenberger time and time again, and Andrew Ritter sealed it with a field goal to give Ole Miss the 27-24 win.
It is Freeze’s lone win against the Tigers but marked his first win over a ranked opponent and showed that neither he, nor his team, will back down from a fight.
1. No. 1 Alabama, October 4, 2014
Ole Miss has never fared well against the Crimson Tide, that is no secret. Time after time, the Rebels either get embarrassed (see: 2011), or get their hearts broken (Shay Hodge was pushed, throw a flag). This time felt different, though. College Gameday was finally in town and it all lived up to the hype as Katy Perry was dishing out corndogs and putting Lee Corso in his place. The Grove was shoulder-to-shoulder traffic and filled with anyone and everyone who wanted a good time. Both teams were ranked in the top 10 and an eery sense of confidence filled the Rebel faithful’s loins.
Oct 4, 2014; Oxford, MS, USA; Mississippi Rebels fans tear down the goal posts after a win against the Alabama Crimson Tide at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. The Rebels won 23-17. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
After a physical back-and-forth first half, Alabama took the momentum into the locker room after a scoop and score on an apparent face mask that went uncalled. It was the ultimate “oh, here we go again” Alabama-Ole Miss moment, with select fans seeing a familiar, inevitable fate with 30 minutes to go. The Rebels refused to go down easy, with Treadwell fighting in for a score, Vince Sanders catching a touchdown of his own, as did Jaylen Walton to put the team ahead late. After a botched extra point, that feeling came back. Only this time instead of living with it, the fans fought it with a fiery, determined vengeance. All-American corner Senquez Golson picked off Blake Sims in the endzone and the stadium erupted as the play was upheld.
The field was rushed, goal posts were torn down, and tears were shed from the Student Union to Union County. Those weren’t just goalposts coming down, they were the Berlin Wall.