Down, Not Out

Ole Miss wasn't supposed to beat Texas. The Longhorns, ranked No. 12 in the country, were favored by double digits, and the line moved even more in Texas' favor hours before kickoff.


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Still, after back-to-back wins over Central Arkansas and UTEP to open its season, Ole Miss was expected to compete. The Rebels did in spurts, but the difference in Texas and Ole Miss was obvious, as the final score indicated.

66-31. Oy.

Here's the deal: Ole Miss is 2-1 on the year. The Rebels did exactly what they had to do to give them any chance at a bowl bid: Win at least two of their first three games.

They hit the road for the first time in 2012 next week, when they trip to New Orleans, La., for a meeting with Tulane in the SuperDome.

They'll be 3-1 this time next week. That's not a jinx. Tulane isn't a good football team, and while Ole Miss isn't in the same class as Texas, it's certainly better than the Green Wave.

Anyone who's read my columns before knows I'm not an always-positive, constant-sunshine kind of guy. But as I sat in my press box perch looking down Saturday night, I saw some positives. Really, I did. And before you dismiss this column amidst your anger and disappointment, allow me to explain myself.

This team is better than the teams that took this very same field the last two seasons. Even in a loss where they were beaten handily by a much better team in Texas, even the most cynical of cynics could see the improvements made from last season to this one.

Ole Miss has a capable quarterback, Bo Wallace, for the first time since Jevan Snead, who was in attendance for the game. He made some bad throws, without question, with all three of his interceptions leading to Texas touchdowns, including an interception returned for a touchdown in the first quarter that set the tone for the game. He finished 13 of 24 for 178 yards and the three picks.


Bo Wallace
Bruce Newman

But his offensive line didn't help him against Texas. Yes, the Longhorns have a formidable defensive line, led by senior defensive end Alex Okafor and junior defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat, two accomplished pass rushers. Okafor and Jeffcoat, among others, terrorized Wallace. Five sacks.

Yet, Ole Miss was still able to move the ball with some effectiveness. Wallace, despite his interceptions, had a touchdown pass to sophomore wide receiver Donte Moncrief of 75 yards. It was the third straight game Wallace found Moncrief for a touchdown pass of at least 50 yards.

Jeff Scott had a productive game on the ground, as well, finishing with 95 yards and one touchdown. Did I mention how good Moncrief is? Yeah, he's good. Seven catches, 144 yards and one touchdown.

The black eye for Ole Miss in this game was its defense. Speed kills, and Texas killed Ole Miss. K-I-L-L-E-D.

The Rebels were shredded, with Texas victimizing Ole Miss both on the ground and through the air. The final numbers are ugly. Texas had 676 yards of total offense. The Longhorns' 69 points were the most allowed by Ole Miss since 1917. Quarterback David Ash was 19 of 23 for 326 yards and four touchdowns.

The Ole Miss secondary struggled. And by struggled, I mean the group was taken to the woodshed by Ash and his wealth of receivers. An example: Ash, with Ole Miss down, 45-24, and time fading in the third quarter, floated a pass to Mike Davis. Dehendret Collins was in position for what appeared an easy interception, but jumped too early.

The result? A 46-yard touchdown. Again, Oy.

It didn't stop, either. At one point, Texas had scored on seven straight possessions, including six touchdowns. The streak was snapped when Texas missed a field goal with 47 seconds left in the third quarter.

Bad, bad, bad. Back to the drawing board, Ole Miss secondary.

The challenge for head coach Hugh Freeze and his coaching staff is to keep this team from spiraling. Give Ole Miss credit; despite the score, the team continued to play. Texas was better. A helluva lot better, as the ugliness of the final score showed.

There are winnable games left on the schedule. Tulane. Auburn -- a team that needed overtime to squeak out a win over Louisiana-Monroe on Saturday. Vanderbilt.

Ole Miss will need one more for bowl eligibility, obviously. Arkansas? Mississippi State? The schedule is daunting. The Rebels, if this game was any indication, isn't going to upset Alabama or LSU or Georgia. They just aren't.

But they can compete in those winnable games. I really believe that, even as most of the 61,791 fans that filled the stands filtered out as the score got out of hand. Freeze inherited a complete rebuild. Saturday was dreadful, and that's putting it nicely.

However, in the end, it was just one loss. And even for this undeterred realist, I still think they can be OK. Good? Depends on your definition of good. Competitive? Sure.


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