All three Rebel touchdowns came from the passing arm of quarterback Bo Wallace. But the run game played a significant role despite not having great numbers to show for it.
One particularly bad play, that could have been a back-breaker, was a simple handoff to I’Tavius Mathers deep in the Rebels’ own territory to run out the clock and trail 7-3 at intermission.
But Mathers, with a hand that appeared to be on his face mask by a Tide player that went uncalled, lost the handle. Cyrus Jones took it in for a touchdown for Alabama.
Mathers also knew the pain of that moment couldn’t linger.
“Coach (Hugh) Freeze always tells us to forget those plays and play the next play. There’s nothing I can do about it after that,” he said.
Certainly the goal of halftime was to get rid of that ill feeling the entire team had at that point. Freeze said he felt awful heading into the locker room, his team down 14-3 instead of the more workable four points.
“I felt like my heart got ripped out right before the half,” Freeze said.
But the Rebels pressed on. And the running game was good enough.
“We were able to run the ball pretty well,” Mathers said. “The offensive line was able to give us good push and we were able to hit our holes and gain what we could get.”
Jaylen Walton was actually the team’s leading rusher with 39 yards on 11 carries.
But it was a touchdown catch of 10 yards from Bo Wallace that was most certainly the highlight of his day.
“It felt like it took forever. It felt like time just stopped,” Walton said of the Rebels' last score of the game. “I was like ‘Thank you.’ It was a great team effort.”
After the game was tied at 17-17, Walton hauled in the pass from Wallace with 2:54 left in the contest. That put Ole Miss up 23-17. The extra point was no good. In the end, that didn’t matter.
Walton said the scoring play worked just like they drew it up.
“We looked to the sideline and Coach Freeze gave us a call that’s perfectly made for that play,” he said. “We executed and made it happen.”
Walton said Bo Wallace was at his best on Saturday. The Rebels' senior quarterback was 18 for 31 for 251 yards and three touchdowns.
On those last two scoring drives in the fourth quarter, with Ole Miss down 17-10 and time slipping away, Walton said Wallace was the leader they needed, as usual.
“He told us to keep our composure,” he said. “Bo’s a great quarterback. I believe in him and will protect my butt off for him. Bo played an excellent game. He was pretty much flawless tonight.”
Freeze said putting this one behind them won’t be easy, but they will. They’ve done it before since he became head coach prior to the 2012 season.
“We’ve had some brutal losses in our time here that have been gut-wrenching,” he said. “We bounced back and beat No. 6 LSU last year here. That’s kind of the way we go about it. I’ve always done that with our staff.”
What does he do? This is the way things will go the day after a game.
“I will walk in here Sunday and the team will be sitting here and I will say “Sunday is about...’ and they will say ‘The Truth.’ And I will share with them the good, the bad, and the ugly. We’ll talk about this week’s phenomenal win, we’ll congratulate them.
But if you want to go from better than good to being relevant, you’d better forget this one. We’re going to play an angry team in a difficult environment.”
Mathers said that’s exactly what will happen when they gather in the Manning Center the next time.
“We’re going to have a team meeting, and he’s going to tell us the truth,” Mathers said. “We’re going to put it in the box and forget about it.”
Tough as it is, that’s what they must do. A road trip to Texas A&M is up next.
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