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Bulldogs run all over Rebs and there are no answers

It was announced prior to the Egg Bowl matchup that Rebel Defensive Coordinator Dave Wommack was retiring. It looked as if the defense "retired" on him as well as the Bulldogs ran at will on the Rebels all night long and took the Golden Egg back to Starkville after a 55-20 shelling of the Rebels at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.

It wasn't the first time this year that the Ole Miss defense turned in a performance that made an opposing back the SEC Back of the Week.

The only difference in this Egg Bowl is that nobody is sure who off of the Bulldog squad should be the SEC Back of the Week - sophomore TB Aeris Williams or sophomore QB Nick Fitzgerald, neither of which were stopped with any regularity by the Reb defense as Mississippi State ran at will on Ole Miss and took the Golden Egg back to Starkville in what looked like easy fashion.

(At one point late in the game, Fitzgerald was averaging 22 yards a carry. Yes, 22. And he ended with over 250 yards while Williams ended with nearly 200.)

In the meantime, this Ole Miss season, so full of promise to begin with, was mercifully put out of its misery and euthanized with a 5-7 overall record and last in the SEC West at 2-6 in league play.

From an early ruling of an academically ineligible player in Jordan Wilkins to injury after injury after injury to the constant shadow of an NCAA investigation to a defensive coaching staff that seemed disconnected from its players to an offense that rarely gained any full-game consistency to a football administrator being suspended for the final three games of the year while awaiting NCAA interrogation to the star QB going down with a season-ending injury and a true freshmen who intended to redshirt being called into emergency duty to an apparent lack of leadership to too much youth in key positions to you name it, this is not what anyone had in mind when the 2016 season began with a lot of potential following a banner season in 2015 that included a long-awaited trip back to the Sugar Bowl.

All year, nobody seemed to have any answers, especially on defense, and one has to believe that led to the retirement announcement of Defensive Coordinator Dave Wommack prior the kickoff of the Egg Bowl even though he said postgame this decision was made last year. While Dave was an important part of the staff that went to bowl games their first four years, beat Alabama twice, beat State three out of five times, won against every SEC West team at least once and became nationally relevant again for the first time in several years, he and the Ole Miss defense just seemed defeated, for lack of a better word, most of the year.

One has to believe Dave may be as relieved to be retired as Rebel Nation, who had definitely decided weeks ago it was time for a change on that side of the ball, is. The pitchforks were out for over a month and there really was no way for anyone to win in this deal without Dave moving on.

But just as troubling to some, yours truly included, was the inability of the offense to play a 60-minute game much of the year, especially with second half lapses being the norm rather than the exception.

All of this led Coach Hugh Freeze to say postgame that there will be a total reevaluation of everything in the program, from the entire staff to all personnel to every player and even a long look in the mirror.

In August, this writer has to confess to at least one bad misjudgment about this team, mostly about the staff. The affect the NCAA investigation had on this staff was minimized by me and, in retrospect, that was a terrible error on my part. It beat these coaches to a pulp, a slow death, a death of razor blades in the form of allegation after accusation after delay when the quick relief of the guillotine would have been preferred.

And it's still not over. . . . 

Some will call that an excuse. I'm beyond caring at this point what it's classified as, but believe this - the NCAA investigation took its toll on this staff. Whether that contributed to the 5-7 record, you be the judge, but they are worn out by it.

Moving forward, Freeze has a big task on his hands. He has never faced this type of adversity in his career and certainly not at this level under this type of scrutiny. He will have to make some hard decisions, some decisions that will determine the future of his program. The eyes of Rebel Nation will be watching with great anticipation.

In the meantime, we, as Rebels, will just have to suck it up and move on, because no second half scoring, no chance and no defense, no chance.


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