The domination Ole Miss exhibited over bowl-bound Mississippi State in Starkville for roughly three and a half quarters was as thorough as it gets.
The Rebel defense stoned the MSU offense repeatedly. Like an old man with a swollen prostate, the Bullies couldn't produce a drop.
Their offensive futility was as obvious as my differences with Brad Pitt, and believe me, nobody is going to confuse me with that dude.
The Ole Miss offense was not blazing a path of offensive brilliance, but they were possessing the ball much longer than the Bullies, maintaining field position and holding a seemingly comfortable 14-0 lead on the scoreboard.
How decisive was it? With 12 minutes to go in the game, as famed Bulldogs Voice Jack Cristal would say, "there was action in the aisles." Bulldog fans were leaving in droves.
The game, for all intents and purposes, was about as close to over as it could be and the Bulldogs were literally ready to pack it in. You could see it, sense it, even feel it.
Then, with the Rebels holding the ball near midfield, Rebel Coach Ed Orgeron decided to "go for the throat" on a fourth-and-1. Make it and the game is completely over. No doubt about that.
But what was not considered was the off chance the Rebs didn't move the chains, and what would happen if their bid for a first down failed.
Punt and the Bulldogs would most likely have to travel about 80-85 yards. Not get the first and a dying dog is given new life, which is precisely what happened.
A BenJarvus Green-Ellis dive over the right side of the line was surprsingly stuffed by the Bulldog defense and a team gasping for air and needing life support was instantly revived and breathing again.
As suddenly as I have ever witnessed, the game, the momentum, the crowd and the Bulldogs did a complete 180. A team that looked small, slow and vulnerable for 50 minutes gathered a head of steam the Rebels could not contain.
From that point on, the newly-determined Bulldogs started showing their fangs and the Rebels started reeling.
MSU scored fairly quickly with the short field and was driving again before LB Ashlee Palmer picked off a pass that appeared to have sealed the game, but the Rebels were the gift that kept on giving, dropping passes, missing blocks, getting sacked, while the Bulldogs looked like they had gotten a shot of helium in their shoes and shoulder pads.
Palmer's pick was followed by a series of inexplicable offensive ineptness.
With the game inside the three-minute mark, the Rebs were forced to punt. Punter Justin Sparks was told to rugby punt the ball out of bounds, but he got turned around by a deep snap slightly off line. The kick bounced once into the waiting arms of Derek Pegues who burst straight up the middle of the field to the end zone virtually untouched by the once-again charred punt coverage team.
At 14-14, the stadium went berserk and the Bulldogs were smelling blood in the water, Rebel blood.
Rebel QB Brent Schaeffer had time to move the Rebs downfield into field goal range, but three passes were either dropped or jarred loose by the rejuvenated Bully secondary. Again, the Rebs were forced to kick away, but with less than a minute to play, it did not appear MSU would have time to get much going.
Never underestimate the power of momentum, both ways. The inflated Bulldogs found a new level of determination and energy while the deflated Rebel defense found a new level of vulnerability.
You guessed it. MSU got in range for a field goal and Adam Carlson drilled it from what seemed like downtown Starkville. Never a doubt. Right down the pipe like a Curt Schilling fastball.
The Bulldogs won and the dejected Rebels didn't know what hit them.
Many will point to Coach O's decision to go for it on 4th down with the game in hand. He would agree with that assessment. He said it was a "bad call and a big mistake" and that he wouldn't do it if he could make the choice again.
Obviously, not making the fourth-down conversion flipped the momentum of the game. Obviously, it was THE play of the game. But it wasn't the ONLY play of the game.
Even after the Bulldogs scored, the Rebs still held a touchdown lead with the clock winding down. Even after the Reb offense failed to move the ball again, the UM defense turned the ball over via Palmer's interception. Even after the offense didn't move the ball yet again, all they had to do was get Pegues, a dazzling South Panola product, on the ground during the punt return. Even after Pegues' return for a TD, all the Rebs had to do was complete one pass to get the game into overtime. . . . Even. . . Even. . . Even. . .
But, alas, what the Rebs did is what 3-9 teams do. Bless their hearts, and I do because they play so hard and the coaches work so hard, this Rebel team just didn't have "it" this year.
Whatever "it" is, they did not possess, throughout the entire season, from an early four-game losing streak to a win over a lesser opponent to a three-game skid to a close win over NW State to the season-ending losses to LSU and MSU.
Bottom line - they weren't good enough to win but three games coming into the annual Egg Bowl battle.
But that is why this one hurts as much as it does.
The Rebels were good enough to beat the Bulldogs, and beat them soundly. They proved that for 50 minutes in a no-contest, no mas showing.
Seriously, and this is not a knock on State - it is a compliment, the Bulldogs were the worst SEC team, physically, we played all year, easily. Not even close.
I tip my hat to that bunch of kids to have taken their talent and to have beaten the likes of Auburn, Alabama, Kentucky and now us. After seeing MSU up close and personal, I am amazed they won more than they lost. Flabbergasted might be a better word.
Meanwhile, the shocking ending for the Rebels should probably not be that shocking. What's the dif in 3-8 and 3-9? Normally, not that much. When the ninth is Mississippi State, it's a big difference, but the bottom line is the Rebels never learned to finish - this year's motto - and they never learned to win, as the record aptly indicates.
Prior to the season, Coach O said it was a must for him to at least break even and go to a minor bowl for recruiting purposes. He said it would get more and more difficult to sell the "dream" if his program didn't start showing results in the win column.
I hope he's wrong because all we did this year was play Santa Claus to the rest of the SEC. We made their dreams come true while ours went away in a puff of smoke.
One gift in particular will be hard to forget. At least say thanks, Bulldogs.
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