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Hugh Freeze couldn't hide his disappointment. How could he? This wasn't supposed to happen, a 27-26 loss to Vanderbilt.

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He walked into the team meeting room of the indoor practice facility, his face somber. His answers were short and to the point, for the most part. He described the hurt in a dejected Ole Miss locker room, how there's two games left and his team has been resilient all year.

They'll need every bit of that resiliency now. The road to bowl eligibility just became ominous at best.

"I know they're hurting and disappointed," Freeze said. "I would be lying if I said that wasn't a concern, because their hearts are hurting. They're crushed. They put in so much, and they were so close. We'll move forward."

Saturday night was important. Oh, so important. LSU and Mississippi State are the only games left on the schedule. Where the next win comes from, if there is one, is anyone's guess.

Ole Miss enters Baton Rouge, La., next week with an offense struggling to get any semblance of a ground game going. The Rebels managed just 55 rushing yards against Vanderbilt. Running back Jeff Scott was held to 47 yards on 24 carries, good for a 2.0 yards-per-carry average.

Its defense continues to give up big plays, a 26-yard touchdown pass, Jordan Rodgers to Chris Boyd with 52 seconds left, the dagger. Vanderbilt racked up 371 yards of offense. But the big plays, including a 52-yard touchdown pass, were back-breaking.

This was the game to gain bowl eligibility. A win would have taken the pressure off, would have allowed Ole Miss to play more freely in Death Valley, to lay it out there and let the chips fall where they may.

No more.

Chris Boyd
US Presswire

The Egg Bowl just took on added significance. Ole Miss could very well be fighting for its sixth win against its in-state rival that has won three straight in the series. That was the scenario Ole Miss was hoping to avoid. One game for a bowl in a series that has been one-sided for the last three seasons.

Freeze faces his toughest task as head coach. Ask any Ole Miss fan. Most out there would have taken 5-5 after 10 games after the disaster that was 2011.

Here's the rub: Ole Miss had two should-have-wons slip out of its hands. First, Texas A&M. Four weeks later, Vanderbilt, winners of six of its last eight meetings with Ole Miss.

This team should be better than 5-5. Instead, it's at a crossroads of sorts.

"We'll bounce back, I think. We'll put this one behind us," Freeze said. "Certainly, it stings. It's a team in (the locker room) that didn't even compete with these teams (a year ago). They're finding a way to compete and be in those games."

But isn't Ole Miss past the point of simply competing? Yes, Vanderbilt is a good football team, on its way to 8-4. These Commodores will beat Wake Forest and Tennessee. Still, Ole Miss was the better team. Trading touchdowns for field goals is never a good formula for winning.

Freeze is as candid a coach as one will find. The job he's done in his first year at the helm of a once-broken program deserves praise. However, improved play begets heightened expectations.

As Freeze would say, it's time Ole Miss expected more of itself. Well, Ole Miss does. That's why Saturday was so disappointing for Ole Miss fans.

Ole Miss responded after the loss to Texas A&M, beating Auburn and Arkansas for its only league wins. The Rebels, as expected, lost to Georgia. But Vanderbilt has to be tougher to swallow, only because Ole Miss was up 23-6 early in the third quarter. Good teams finish such a game off. Ole Miss couldn't.

The next two weeks are critical for the program. Ole Miss desperately needs one more win, if anything, to wash away the disappointment of Saturday. Because Vanderbilt was supposed to be the get-right win. The win that further endeared Freeze to his fan base. The win that secured Ole Miss' place in the postseason.

These next few days should have been filled with bowl debate, with how Ole Miss could possibly do better than the Music City or the Liberty Bowl.

In a one-point loss, everything changed.

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