Football 2006, Part II

The record, 4-8, was not what anyone wanted, but after a rocky start, the Rebels played tooth-and-nail down the stretch against some quality opponents and ended on a high note by knocking off MSU in the Egg Bowl. Read about the season inside in Part II of our 2006 football recap.

Editor's Note: This is Part II of a three-part set on Ole Miss football - 2006. Yesterday, the eight months leading up to the season. Today, the season. Tomorrow, the future.

Game 1: The unveiling of the 2006 Rebels took place in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on a Sunday - yes, Sunday - afternoon against the Memphis Tigers.

With so many uncertainties and youth questions going into the game, most Rebel fans did not know what to expect.

The Tigers were coming off one of their best years in history and Memphis Coach Tommy West was tooting his horn that his 2006 squad might even be better.

BJGE rushed for 127 yards, Dexter McCluster exploded on the scene with 268 all-purpose yards and QB Brent Schaeffer was effective in running the offense with no turnovers and no offensive penalties. Three very good debuts that left Rebel fans hopeful, if not excited about the season.

Ole Miss won by a narrow margin, 28-25, but the "clean" effort, coupled with a late score by the Tigers to make it look closer than it was, made the outcome a very satisfying start. There were kinks to work out for sure, but most were "happy" with the outcome, all things considered.

Game 2: A bit of reality slapped the Rebels in the face when they journeyed into Columbia, MO, for a rare faceoff with Missouri.

This set of Tigers, unlike Memphis, had teeth, as that day and the season would prove, and the Rebels were never really in the game.

The Ole Miss offense netted only 162 yards and Schaeffer, under constant pressure, showed a vulnerable side to his game that was not exhibited against Memphis.

Just as disturbing was the ease with which the Tigers moved the ball on the Rebels using their spread offense. Three of their first four drives resulted in TDs and essentially salted the game away.

While the Rebel players did not feel they were physically manhandled, they were certainly outplayed. The final score was a hopefully-forgettable 34-7.

Game 3: Strange game in Lexington, KY, against a team also trying to get established in the 2006 season.

What was expected to be a low-scoring affair turned into an offensive showcase with both teams moving the ball up and down the field, it seemed, at will. The difference? The Rebs had several turnovers, two deep in Kentucky territory, that finally told the tale of the game in a 31-14 K-Cat victory.

Game 4: The reeling Rebels thought they might find some salve for their wounds by playing at home when Wake Forest rolled into Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.

Like the Missouri game, little did most understand just how good the Demon Deacons would prove to be.

And nobody predicted how little resistance the Rebels would provide.

In a flat showing against a very good team, the Rebels fell 27-3 before a stunned home crowd.

After the game, Rebel Coach Ed Orgeron vowed that type of effort would not happen again and changes would be made in the methods the Rebels were using.

The next practice week, the players were talking about "the old O" surfacing, with tougher, more demanding practices and they felt the "change" was needed.

Game 5: When number 10 Georgia came to town, many felt the Rebels could be in for a skull-dragging.

The Rebels lost, 14-9, but proved the naysayers wrong, playing toe-to-toe with the Bulldogs all day. They showed a spark and the attitude Coach O was looking for and, for some, it was a moral victory. After the previous three games, it looked as if the Rebels were in this thing for the long haul.

Win, lose or draw from that point on, it was apparent the Rebels were going to try to give every opponent their best shot, and that's all that was expected by most Ole Miss followers.

Game 6: If the Rebels were going to maintain their enthusiasm for the season after going 1-4 in the first five games, the Vandy contest was - in its own way - pivotal.

The Rebs were giving too much effort not to taste some success without giving in sooner or later.

Ole Miss got the spark they needed with a 102-yard rushing effort from BenJarvus Green-Ellis, the game-changing coming-out party of LB Rory Johnson and a late interception by FS Charles Clark.

Vanderbilt won the statistics battle, but lost the war, 17-10, as the Rebels bowed their necks and refused to lose, even though they had the opportunity to do just that.

Johnson had 16 tackles, forced three fumbles - one inside the Rebel 5 - and broke up a pass in his first start.

Even though the Rebs were only 2-4, the taste of victory was sweet and propelled them to some excellent efforts down the stretch.

Game 7: Heartbreak number one.

The underdog Rebels marched into Tuscaloosa with a renewed sense of self-confidence and almost pulled off a signature win for the season in a game every single person associated with the squad felt they should have found a way to win.

The 26-23 overtime loss to Alabama was a dagger to the heart of the gallant Rebels, who had laid everything on the line and had tied the Crimson Tide 20-20 after 60 hard-hitting minutes.

Could they come back? There were still five games to play and the high-riding Hogs - in Fayetteville - were next.

Game 8: Felix Jones returned the opening kickoff 100 yards and the 15th-ranked Arkansas Razorbacks never looked back, defeating the visiting Rebs 38-3.

Somewhat suprisingly, the Rebel coaching staff and players were not as shaken as one might expect with the outcome.

Even though the score was lopsided, they collectively felt there were a lot of plays that could have been made but weren't and they all, to a man, wished for another shot at the Hogs for some redemption.

Game 9: Number 7 Auburn came to Oxford riding pretty high and their confidence was bordering on cockiness during pregame warmups.

The Rebels quickly let them know they were in for an all-day affair by scoring on a beautifully conceived and engineered opening drive of 81 yards capped by a Mico McSwain 21-yard TD run on a reverse.

The rest of the day was a see-saw battle with both teams gaining and losing momentum. With 12 minutes to go in the fourth quarter, Brent Schaeffer hit TE Lawrence Lilly to tie the score at 17-all, but Auburn put together a pair of drives that resulted in field goals to seal the 23-17 win.

This time around, nobody on the Ole Miss sidelines considered the close-and-almost contest a moral victory. It was a game they could have won against a powerful opponent - period.

Game 10: Ole Miss rolled over overmatched Northwestern State 27-7 by gaining 401 yards of total offense and holding Ed Orgeron's alma mater to just 72 yards in the second half. Expected, but needed win.

Game 11: Heartbreak number two.

For all but the last four seconds of regulation, Ole Miss owned the LSU Tigers in Death Valley.

Despite coming into the game a 27-point underdog to a team many consider the most physically talented in the country, the Rebels led 20-7 late in the third quarter.

LSU tied the score 20-20 on fourth-and-goal with time ticking out when QB LaMarcus Russell found Dwayne Bowe in the end zone with a strike.

The Rebs blocked the ensuing point after to force overtime, but the LSU defense held and the Tiger offense was effective enough for a field goal to end the game in OT with a 23-20 score in LSU's undeserving favor.

There was no joy in Rebelville. Even though fans who attended were elated and appreciative of the unbelievable effort by Ole Miss, players and coaches alike were physically ill after the contest.

Game 12: How do you salvage, to a certain extent, a losing season? You beat your year-ending rival.

That's exactly what the Rebels did when they defeated Mississippi State 20-17 to regain possession of the Egg Bowl trophy.

In a defensive game, the Rebels jumped on top when DE Greg Hardy was inserted into the affair as a wide receiver and Schaeffer threw a pass up for grabs in the MSU end zone. Hardy outjumped the defender for the Rebs' first score.

With the score tied 10-10 at half, Joshua Shene gave the Rebs a 13-10 lead with a short field goal in the third quarter and Marshay Green returned a punt 47 yards for a fourth-quarter score to make it 20-17.

The Rebels had to stop a late rally by the Bulldogs, but were successful in doing so and in gaining control of the Golden Egg when time expired after a 51-yard field goal attempt by MSU flew wide left.

The Rebels ended up 4-8, but had several legitimate shots at winning more games.

The consensus was that the team had improved from 2005 and with everything that took place during the year, that was a good start to the future.

During the campaign, the Rebs faced some turmoil in the form of key injuries to players like Peria Jerry, Chris Bowers, Jeremy Garrett, Darryl Harris, Robert Lane, Dexter McCluster and Jason Cook. And then there was the dismissal of LB Garry Pack, the quitting of LB Quentin Taylor and the suspension of four other players who were logging some PT.

The Rebels played 17 true freshmen during the year, the second most in the country, and they ended the season dressing out less than 60 scholarship players.

Individually, BJGE - after some research - gained 1,000 yards on the season and earned All-SEC status and Patrick Willis was named the winner of the Butkus Award and was picked as a First-Team All-American.

Nobody will claim the 4-8 year was a success, but in many ways it was not a failure either.

The future looks much brighter than the past.

Tomorrow a look at the future.

OM Spirit Top Stories