A Win Away

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - With one kick, a season turned.

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Bryson Rose settled in, his team locked in a tie game, 27-27, in Little Rock, Ark. War Memorial Stadium was dominated by the Red of Arkansas fans, all standing as to throw him off the task at hand.

Make this, a 31-yard field goal, and become the hero. He'd hit a 54-yard field goal earlier in the game.

"Honestly, it happened so fast, I didn't have time to think about it," Rose said.

Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace had engineered a masterful late-game drive. Ole Miss started at its 25 with 2:09 left. The Rebels had all of their timeouts.

Pass complete to Donte Moncrief for 12 yards. A third-and-9 conversion to Jeff Scott for 14. Another to Scott for nine. Wallace to Randall Mackey, who played wide receiver almost exclusively, for 12 more.

Wallace's final contribution, a 13-yard quarterback keeper, set the stage. On came Rose.

Up it went. There was no reaction from the Arkansas fans littering the end zone. They knew the outcome.


"I hit it, and everybody started jumping on me. I didn't even see it go through," Rose said. "It's awesome. That's my first game-winning kick."

His leg. His kick. His moment. Now, Ole Miss is where it wasn't supposed to be, on the cusp of bowl eligibility just a season removed from its worst finish in school history.

Hugh Freeze
Bruce Newman

The Rebels were supposed to be short on talent, remember? The depth issues were obvious. I mean, this is the same program that lost 10 of 12 games a year ago, including a winless mark in Southeastern Conference games.

This was the team picked to finish last in the SEC. This was the team with some 25 players in academic trouble in the spring. This was the team with a number of off-the-field problems last season. Suspensions after suspensions.

Even the most optimistic of fans were willing to give head coach Hugh Freeze a hall pass for 2012. Houston Nutt had wrecked the roster, attrition having depleted the roster of SEC-caliber players.

At least, so we thought.

"I won't talk about bowl eligibility," Freeze said. "The people that pick all that before the season, they can't judge the heart or the soul of a team, or the chemistry. I would've picked it there, too.

"Attitude for us is not what other people say about us, but what we choose to believe about us."

Freeze gained many a believer Saturday.

One more game. Just one more, with four to play. Georgia, Vanderbilt, LSU and Mississippi State remain. One more for a bowl. Remarkable.

Ole Miss is 5-3 overall and 2-2 in league games. Saturday was Ole Miss' first SEC road win since Oct. 3, 2009.

I said before the season if Freeze led Ole Miss to a bowl in his debut season, Ole Miss should go ahead and build a statue. OK, so maybe that was a little much, but there's no doubting the difference in where the program was to where it is now.

No, Ole Miss hasn't arrived. But it's in position to move up a tier from cellar-dweller the last two seasons to a competitive program year-in and year-out.

Arkansas isn't the top-10 team it was predicted to be before the season started. The firing of Bobby Petrino obviously set the Razorbacks back. But they entered the game off two league wins - over Auburn and Kentucky - and banking on this game to catapult them to a bowl.

Ole Miss beat a team with more talent. It beat a team with a seasoned quarterback, who very well could be taken in the top half of the NFL Draft in April. It beat at team in a difficult environment. It beat a team that had all the momentum towards the end of the game after tying the score with less than three minutes left.

Ole Miss has improved every week. Ever since it was taken apart by Texas, 66-31, in September, something clicked. Maybe it was the buy-in we've heard so much about. Maybe there's more to it. But this is a different team. A better team.

A believing team.

"I ripped them in our Sunday meeting," following Texas, Freeze said. "That's the first time they'd seen that side of me. It was time to, hey, expect more of yourself."

Ole Miss can expect more now.

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