Hugh Freeze/USA Today Images

Rebs start sluggishly, but finally outdistance Eagles

Nothing seems to come easy for the 2016 Ole Miss Rebel football team and the contest Saturday morning against Sun Belt Conference foe Georgia Southern was no different, but it was a win and as scarce as wins have been for this team, take it and live to fight another day.

Surreal.

That's the only way to describe the early going of the Ole Miss-Georgia Southern game.

Most everyone was expecting, demanding really, a one-sided victory over the Sun Belt Conference opponent and with 10:13 to go in the second quarter, the Eagles had a surprising 21-10 lead and an unexpected, by the fans anyway, dogfight was underway.

Let's face it, the game with Georgia Southern wasn't supposed to be about the Eagles.

This game was supposed to be about the Rebels getting back on the winning track after three straight conference losses with a bowl bid still possible if they finish strong.

It was supposed to be about getting some swagger back in their walk. It was supposed to be about gaining some confidence before they have to get back on the road to ranked Texas A&M at College Station and versus Vanderbilt in Nashville before returning home to wrap up the regular season in the Egg Bowl. Confidence before they rejoined the mine field known as the SEC.

This was supposed to be about a downtrodden defense gaining some kind of rhythm, hitting some kind of consistent stride, and a high-powered offense seeking to stay high-powered for four quarters instead of a half and then in spurts.

 And, even though they sat at 3-5 on the campaign coming into the game, it was about showing pride and motivation, despite a sparse crowd, to take care of a lesser opponent in decent fashion and allowing the coaches to empty the bench to give backups a chance to get some more playing time.

So, how did it go?

Well, not real good, not according to the fans' plans for sure, but not poorly either. The number one, and most important, objective was met - get the win, but. . . . 

The Reb defense gave up yet another explosive play for a TD that gave the Eagles the 21-10 margin, and although they kept Georgia Southern out of the end zone the rest of the way, and they played a lot better than they started the game,  it was still an effort that kept observers on the edge of their seats the whole game.

"They ran some stuff we had not seen on film early on. It was a good piece of coaching by them," said Coach Hugh Freeze. "We got that adjusted midway through the second quarter and at halftime and basically shut them down the rest of the way, but give them credit."

On offense, the Rebels started slowly but then seemed to hit their stride - scoring three TDs in the late going of the first half -  until QB Chad Kelly injured his knee early in the third quarter and all the Rebs could muster without their senior signal-caller and with Jason Pellerin at the helm was a field goal late in the third stanza and another in the fourth quarter.

With 9 minutes to go in the game, it was still a one-score game and there was still a lot of breath-holding going on in the stands among the Rebel faithful who bothered to attend.

The Rebels were basically relegated to running the ball, even though Pellerin did show a strong and accurate arm on the attempts he made, and the ground game did not betray them. Akeem Judd tallied 136 yards on 26 carries and scored a TD.

"Again, Georgia Southern had a good defensive plan that threw us off stride early in the game, but once we got that adjusted, we were scoring pretty frequently until Chad got hurt," Freeze continued. "I coached in the Sun Belt Conference for two years and I can tell you, those guys can coach with anyone in the country. They did a nice job and it was a chess match the whole game, basically."

So, there was some good and there was some bad, but having said that, it was a win - something this squad needed more than Donald Trump sometimes needs a muzzle and Hillary Clinton needs a conscience. 

Kelly is supposed to undergo an MRI tomorrow (Sunday). He has had that same knee repaired while at Clemson three years ago. OC Dan Werner said he is comfortable that if there is any way Chad can play against A&M, he will, but he also said he was pleased with Pellerin's showing.

Next up, College Station and the Aggies, who lost today to Mississippi State in Starkville with their QB Trevor Knight having to leave the game with a shoulder injury.

The Rebs' goal last week was to be 1-0. That was it. No style points, nothing but get the win.

They did that.

Their goal next week will be the same. 

For now, they have lived to fight another day as they cling to bowl hopes.


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