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ATHENS, Ga. -- Ole Miss lost to No. 7 Georgia, 37-10, Saturday afternoon. Expected, of course. The Rebels were double-digit underdogs heading into the game.

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Thing is, Ole Miss had its chances. Really, it did. The Rebels led 10-0 early in the second quarter on a perfectly executed 13-yard pass play, Bo Wallace to Jamal Mosley.

They had all momentum. A packed Sanford Stadium was turning on the home team, boos raining down as Georgia continued to sputter on offense.

To beat a top-10 team, though, the underdog can't have busts; disaster plays that turn a game. Third-and-1. Georgia at its 34.

Quarterback Aaron Murray took the snap and faked a handoff. Ole Miss was fooled, its defensive backfield biting down, allowing senior wide receiver Marlon Brown free. Murray sold the fake beautifully.

Sixty-six yards later, Georgia was on the board. Murray found Brown all alone. He could have backpedaled into the end zone.

But the score was just 10-7. After Ole Miss stalled on the next possession, Georgia running back Keith Marshall fumbled, recovered by Cody Prewitt at the Georgia 31. Ole Miss wide receiver Vince Sanders returned the favor a play later, his would-be first-down reception resulting in a turnover.

The second quarter was a comedy of errors for both teams. Bacarri Rambo took the Sanders fumble to the Ole Miss 30. Todd Gurley fumbled on the following drive, recovered by Rebel defensive end Cameron Whigham.

Bo Wallace threw an interception on the next play. Cue the circus music. Murray was incomplete four plays later, giving the ball back to Ole Miss at its 43.

See, Ole Miss was in the game. A 10-7 lead at halftime seemed all but inevitable.

Busts. Disaster plays.

Murray orchestrated a masterful two-minute drive, moving Georgia to the Ole Miss 25 just before halftime. But Issac Gross came up with back-to-back sacks, forcing Georgia to call its final timeout with six seconds left.

Tavarres King
Bruce Newman

What could go wrong?

A 40-yard touchdown, Murray to Tavarres King, on a (you guessed it) busted coverage. Trae Elston and Charles Sawyer allowed King between them. A first half Ole Miss should have owned resulted in a four-point halftime deficit.

The Rebels never recovered.

Ole Miss isn't there yet. The Rebels are an improved football team, sure, and they were getting better every week until they hit a wall in Athens. They're 5-4 overall and 2-3 in Southeastern Conference games. They have to win one of their next three to reach a bowl.

"I think it has to do with how we respond," Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze said following the loss. "We get to play at home in front of our fans and expect our fans to show up. We have a lot to play for next Saturday. I think this is a great test for the leadership of our football team to see how we respond to it."

Freeze doesn't have the horses to compete with the SEC top-tier, where Georgia resides, but his team competed for two quarters with a team featuring almost -- ALMOST being the operative word -- as much NFL talent as Alabama.

Jarvis Jones is a first-round pick. Rambo will be an NFL safety. John Jenkins will make a roster somewhere. On and on and on. Georgia is good.

Robert Nkemdiche, who has as the No. 1 prospect in the country, was in attendance with his mother Saturday. He watched as his brother, Denzel, forced two fumbles. Denzel is a redshirt freshman. Ole Miss started six freshmen or sophomores on its defense.

In short: these Rebels are young.

Freeze has proven his offense can score, though Saturday was a step back. Ole Miss didn't cross the 50 in the second half. His defense, save for today, has done enough. Recruits have seen the improvement. They've said as much. Here's what Ole Miss commit Ryan Buchanan said in a text to me after the Arkansas win.

"Definitely a big step for Ole Miss," he said. "This was a huge win for the Rebels, as everybody knows, to be one win away from a bowl is huge this year. Hopefully it will help with recruiting, and our class and others can finish what these juniors and seniors are starting."

Vanderbilt is up next, and to say the game is huge for this program would be an understatement. Ole Miss needs a bowl. The Rebels are too close. Freeze has laid a foundation. Now it's about recruiting. Nkemdiche. Antonio Conner. You get the idea.

Because Ole Miss isn't there yet. Talent matters.

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