COLUMN: Kudos

The Ole Miss Rebels overcame a lot of possible obstacles to rumble past Texas A&M and in doing so deserve the multitude of platitudes this column will now bestow on them. Richly deserved.

After coming off the stunning win over Alabama two Saturday's ago, there was some concern among the faithful how the Rebels would respond.

Would they have a Bama hangover?

Would they be able to put aside two heartbreaking losses, at home, the past two years to Texas A&M?

Would they be able to get to the emotional level that would be required two weeks in a row?

Would they be able to deal with a venue as loud as anywhere in college sports?

Had they really taken that step in Coach Hugh Freeze's journey called maturity?

Would they let success go to their heads and let off the pedal?

They answered all those questions, and more, with the 35-20 victory over the Aggies that was not as close as the score might indicate.

If you will allow me, now it's time to hand out some kudos from the game.

* The coaching staff. Not only did they get the Rebs in the right state of mind, putting the Tide win behind them and keeping them focused while every one of their peers were constantly patting them on the back for beating Bama, they gave the Rebs - once again - a winning gameplan.

While successful coach Jimmy Johnson believes it's not the X's and O's but the Jimmys and Joes, it says here you have to have both - players and a plan - in the high-stakes, highly-developed world of big time college football.

Give it to the Rebel coaches. After arguably out-coaching Nick Saban, most everyone's benchmark and "darling" for coaching excellence, they turned around and completely outsmarted Kevin Sumlin, no slouch himself, and his cohorts.

On offense, they stuck with what got them there, but added enough wrinkles to keep the Aggie defense off-balance long enough to quiet the crowd with two beautiful marches for a 14-0 lead. Then, once they gained a big lead, they didn't do anything dumb to give the Aggies any momentum. They were happy to eat clock and punt until Texas A&M scored to make it 21-7 and then they turned the jets back on to answer with some masterful playcalling.

On defense, Dave Wommack and his crew went a little against the grain versus a spread tempo team like the Aggies and didn't fall in the trap of trying to scheme against their passing game as much as they were determined to stop the run and make Texas A&M one-dimensional. They kept everything in front of them and waited on opportunities to pounce, forcing turnovers - of which they scored on two - or making a play to stop a drive or letting the Aggies stop themselves.

The end result was another coaching "win" over another proven, fine coach and his staff.

* The maturity factor. How easy would it have been for the Rebels to - for a brief moment - lose their hunger, their razor's edge after coming off such an emotional win over the Tide? The answer is "real easy" if they weren't a mature, driven-to-attain-more group of players.

The Rebels have a day-to-day focus that is only found in mature teams, something they lacked, and were justified in lacking, just a short year ago. They weren't supposed to be mature a year ago, but what is satisfying now is how quickly they have gained that seasoning.

These are grown men in the way they approach the task at hand and that, my friends, is how you attain long-term success.

Another sign of maturity is total unselfishness for the good of the team. Trust me, many times in the past these eyes have seen "sulkers" when they weren't getting enough reps or splitting time with a backup or weren't getting what they considered their due.

This team's makeup doesn't allow that. In countless interviews since last spring, Rebel players have said they would do whatever is best for the team, no matter how big or small their role might seem and they weren't giving lip service. It was heartfelt. Self-sacrifice in a team setting is the ultimate act of maturity.

* Individually, from the TAMU game, the list is long, and craves rehashing, but we won't beat the drum for the obvious this week - QB Bo Wallace, who played another clean game; FS Cody Prewitt, who broke the game open with a 75-yard pick six; Husky Tony Conner, who led the team in tackles just as he did against Bama; or the other "stars" from the contest.

No, our focus will be on MLB Keith Lewis, playing for a hobbled D.T. Shackelford. Keith, who would have played prominently anyway against the spread offense with his skill set, got a scoop and score that totally put A&M away and played solid against a pass-happy offense.

Or freshman CB Kendarius Webster, thrust into his first start as a collegian in the noisiest arena you can imagine guarding a variety of gazelle-like, explosive Aggie receivers. He held his own, with no glaring miscues and giving up no explosive plays that turn momentum.

Or WR Quincy Adeboyejo, who comes from Texas and had a boatload of family and friends at the game. He responded with a critical 33-yard TD reception in the third quarter when A&M had cut the lead to 21-7 and the crowd was trying their hardest to rattle the Rebs and get their team back in the game.

Or Mike Hilton, who was asked to play strong safety due to Trae Elston's suspension for a half and did it effectively without batting an eye. It's been said a hundred times before - that young man is a football player, the genuine article. The whole potato with butter, sour cream and chives.

Or the defensive line - again. Those cats are formidable. Anyone with two eyes can see that. OLBs Denzel Nkemdiche and Serderius Bryant - exciting players on their own merit - lick their lips playing behind that group because of how they free them up to make plays.

Or the offensive line - that continues to take baby steps forward each week and has now gained a measure of cohesiveness that is fun to watch develop.

A total team effort was needed to take the step this Rebel team took in College Station last night. A total team effort they gave.

Sure, the Rebs are only halfway into the season. Sure, there are big challenges ahead.

But if we can't praise them now, when? There is no apprehension in doing so.

Kudos, Rebs.


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