A Game of Inches

If anyone ever doubts the old adage "football is a game of inches," just show him/her a tape of the Ole Miss-Texas A&M game from October 6, 2012. They will immediately believe that old saying holds water.

The Aggies defeated the Rebels, 30-27, in a heartbreaker, the type that gnaws at your guts and makes your stomach turn, and in a game chock full of great playmaking and excitement, one could be justified in saying the whole scrum, played all-out by both teams, came down to three plays that, combined, would not equal a foot, a measly 12 inches.

In the first half, PK Bryson Rose, who seems to have found his swing after a slow start this year, hit the right upright and instead of ricocheting inward like one of Alabama's kicks did last week, this one bounced right outside the uprights.

Nobody knew it at the time, but that would end up being a critical three points.

Late in the game, around the 6-7 minute mark, freshman stud Defensive Tackle Issac Gross sacked super slippery Aggie QB Johnny Manziel and most everyone in the stadium thought it was a safety. Everyone, that is except the refs on the spot and the replay official, who happened to be one Doyle Jackson, who has never done Ole Miss any favors, if my memory serves me correctly.

Ole Miss Coach Hugh Freeze was so convinced it was a safety that he risked giving up his last precious timeout to challenge the call, and who can blame him? The Rebs were sitting on a 10-point – 27-17 lead – and a safety there would have more than likely sealed the deal.

Jackson upheld the refs' ruling, placing the ball in the shadow of the goal line, the Aggies completed a prayer of a pass on third-and-19 and scored two plays later on a Manziel scramble.

While damaging, that was not the crusher in this game of inches.

The Rebels churned out a first down after the ensuing kickoff and appeared to be headed to a 27-23 victory while eating up the remainder of the clock.

They faced a fourth-and-whisker to move the chains and put the Aggies in a world of hurt.

Freeze opted to go for it, a decision he does not regret, stating he would "do it everytime. I did not want to punt back to Manziel with 3 minutes to go in the game."

Conventional wisdom might suggest to put the quarterback under center and sneak for the inch, but Freeze opted to go a play that had been faithful to the Rebels all night, a handoff to TB Jeff Scott over the left side of the line.

Stopped cold on the Rebel 41. Ball over to the Aggies.

At that point, it would not have taken a psychic to predict what was most likely going to happen. The tea leaves were floating in A&M's direction, for sure. Manziel threw a 20-yard scoring strike and the Aggies took a 30-27 lead with a minute and change remaining.

A game of inches.

There is plenty for Rebel fans to bemoan. Anytime you lose a 10-point lead at home late in the game, a game which saw your defense create six turnovers, a game where the Rebels held the time of possession edge by roughly six minutes, a game where you produce 464 yards of total offense and a game where you convert 9-19 third downs, there has to be some teeth gnashing.

But why pile on? The Rebels gave everyone who braved the chilly, wet weather a better-than-expected showing. A&M is a fine football team, one that recently dismantled Arkansas and has plenty of speed to hang with a majority of teams in the country.

In fact, I have to eat some crow after this one. All week long, I just did not like the matchup with the Aggies. I thought they were us, style-wise, with better players. That's not really how it played out, is it?

The Rebels matched up quite well with the Aggies and put themselves in position to win. One could even say they should have won, which is one step beyond could have won, which is about all most expected at this juncture of this program and its journey to turn things around.

Disappointed? Man, I feel like I have been run over by a truck and dragged for a quarter of a mile, but I also refuse not to acknowledge the good things the Rebs accomplished in this one.

Ole Miss gave up 481 yards on defense, but they also made a good accounting of themselves against an offense that was averaging 48.2 points a game coming into Oxford. Don't forget the six turnovers. Don't forget a big fourth-down stop of their own as A&M approached the Red Zone in the third quarter. Don't forget that for over 3 ½ quarters the Rebels held the Aggies to just over 300 yards of offense.

On offense, QB Bo Wallace had a pretty stellar game, throwing for over 300 yards and completing 20-34 passes. He did have two picks, but one – right before the first half ended – was flukish at best and downright freakish at worst. The run game was decent and Wallace was only sacked twice by a defense that blitzes constantly. Nice job OL.

And don't discount this little ditty. The Rebs were leading 17-10 at the end of the first half when the ball slipped out of Bo's hands and fell neatly into the hands of an Aggie defender, who loped for an intermission-tying touchdown.

Talk about a momentum-shifting play. On the sidelines, you could feel the air rushing out of the Rebels and being sucked up by the Aggies. A team with less heart and desire to win may not have been able to overcome that type of drastic, sudden momentum shift. The Rebs not only overcame it, they took the momentum back for the next quarter and a half.

What's next for this team after this sickening setback?

The answer is simple.

They have learned how to put maximum effort into their preparations. They have learned how to compete every snap. They have learned how to get themselves into the thick of things coming down the stretch.

Now, the next step is learning how to win.

The game with Texas A&M was a golden opportunity that slipped brutally through their fingers.

Maybe next time they are in this position, which it says here will be very soon, the inches will go their way and they can close the deal.


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