OPPONENT PERSPECTIVE: Ole Miss played to win

Saturday's 23-20 loss by Ole Miss at ninth-ranked LSU could be considered a "moral victory" by some fans looking to hang hope on a disappointing Rebel season that has produced just three wins and a mere 1-6 record in the Southeastern Conference.

After all, the Rebels were a 28-point underdog heading into the contest but stretched the game all the way into overtime before finally succumbing to the talented Tigers. And, Ole Miss was the only one of eight visiting teams in Tiger Stadium this season that wasn't overwhelmed in the first half by LSU's relentless passing attack. Instead, it was the Rebels pushing the Tigers on their heels by scoring twice in the second quarter and taking a 14-7 halftime lead in front of a sold out and stunned senior day crowd.


But, Ole Miss Coach Ed Orgeron doesn't put much stock in "victories" that still show up in the loss column.


"We came down here to win the football game," Orgeron, a native of Galliano, said. "I felt that our game planning and our attitude was to win the football game, take some shots, to beat a team that was very talented."


The Rebels took plenty of shots, especially on special teams. Ole Miss tried two fake punts in the first quarter. The first was a successful 3-yard run from its 40 on the Rebels opening possession that allowed them to advance all the way to the LSU 40-yard line. The second was a failed pass late in the first quarter at the Ole Miss 42 that put LSU in position to score the game's first touchdown.


Orgeron turned to special teams' tomfoolery again in the second quarter by dribbling an onsides kick on the ensuing kickoff after Ole Miss' first touchdown. An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against LSU on the point after try moved the spot of the kickoff to midfield. Rebel place kicker Will Moseley dribbled the ball to the LSU 39-yard line where it was recovered by the Rebels.


Six plays later, tailback BenJarvus Green-Ellis dove over the LSU defensive line from one yard out giving the Rebels a 14-7 lead and sucking the life out of Tiger Stadium.


Green-Ellis finished the game leading all rushers with 96 yards on 28 carries. The rest of his team managed just 99 yards combined.


Another special teams feat sent the game into overtime. LSU's Colt David lined up to kick the game-winning extra point with 14 seconds remaining and just moments after the tying touchdown pass had been reeled in by Dwayne Bowe only to have the kick blocked by towering 6'5" freshman offensive lineman John Jerry. Jerry was part of a package of three, tall offensive and defensive lineman brought into the game in that situation to give Ole Miss it best chance to block a point after try or field goal.


Orgeron said none of the three players were part of the Rebels regular point after defense. 


In the end, though, Orgeron's notion that LSU is "very talented" played true as the Rebels could not stop LSU's three, highly skilled receivers, Bowe, Early Doucet and Craig Davis, and the powerful arm of JaMarcus Russell from taking away what could have been the biggest win for Ole Miss in the last three seasons.


"I wish we could have got him down one more time," Orgeron said of Russell.


The Rebel defense applied pressure to Russell all game, forcing his usual precise accuracy into missed wide open receivers and backwards retreats from oncoming blitzers. But, that blitz was just impotent enough to allow Russell to lead two touchdown drives in the last quarter. He finished with 19 completions in 35 attempts for 217 yards and three touchdowns.


"We got to find a way; I got to find a way to win that football game," Orgeron said. "I feel bad for my young men. They played their hearts out for our fans."


Orgeron alluded to the fact that his team has shown great progress from where it stood  after LSU knocked down and kicked Ole Miss 40-7 last season in Oxford. He also took a brief pause to reflect on how close the Rebels had come to pulling off several upsets this season.


Georgia barely escaped a loss at Oxford by playing just well enough on defense to save a 14-9 win over the Rebels Sept. 30. Two weeks later, Ole Miss pushed Alabama into overtime in Tuscaloosa only to come up a field goal short in a 26-23 overtime loss. Then, the Rebels punched at Auburn for three quarters in Oxford but surrendered two fourth quarter field goals to the Tigers and were on the losing end of a 23-17 score.


But all of those close games against tough SEC opponents haven't stopped the critics from pointing out that Orgeron still lacks a win over a "quality" opponent since his arrival in Oxford at the beginning of last season. For Orgeron and his players, it's a testament to the fact that they haven't stopped playing hard despite heartbreaking losses.


Perhaps the Rebels can unleash some of their pent up frustration when Mississippi State comes to Oxford to end the season Friday and turn heartbreak into solace for Rebel fans looking for a glimpse of the team that tied for the top of the SEC West at the end of the 2003 season.


"Everyone saw a good SEC team here in Ole Miss," Rebel quarterback Seth Adams said. "We played hard. We battled hard. We just came up a little short. It's a great group of guys, we just came out short. But we played our butts off."

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