Notes and thoughts from the Rebels 41-24 win over rival Mississippi State …
More scenes from the field after the game
Ole Miss DC Dave Wommack
Ole Miss WR Donte Moncrief
You hear a lot of talk in rivalry games, not just with the Egg Bowl but any rivalry. I have never heard a coach stand in his postgame and talk about love, though, as Hugh Freeze did last night.
Love from one Ole Miss player to another was the emotion that caused the Rebels to play hard, Freeze said, not hate for the opponent.
“Regardless of how you motivate your team, and every coach has to decide what is best for him and his program, I do think we went about it a little different than some. We didn’t play out of hatred for anyone. It was more of playing out of love for one another and this university.”
Maybe hate isn’t the emotion that Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen used to motivate the Bulldogs, but those who follow the rivalry could see his focus on this game, the effort to instill in his players a belief that they were not only as good as Ole Miss but were better.
When he came onto to the scene after MSU had lost 45-0 in 2008, that may have been a necessary tactic. It served the Bulldogs well for three years, and they clearly had developed a swagger in the series, a swagger that stirred other emotions within Ole Miss players and fans. While Freeze talked about love as a motivating factor, he also mentioned the words and comments that his seniors had to hear, the words about the MSU secondary that Donte Moncrief heard. Those helped motivate the Rebels too.
One thing to remember about this series, though, is that success is cyclical. I’ve been in Mississippi since 1989, and no team has sprinted so far out in front that the other couldn’t catch up and get in some licks.
Ole Miss won the game in dominating fashion last night and is now the leader in the series. I suspect Freeze will lead with a different tone, but that doesn’t mean an Ole Miss player won’t heat things up with his own comments somewhere along that way. That happens in rivalries, and it may have happened last night on the video board at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. Freeze didn’t grab the mike and address Ole Miss fans in an impromptu pep rally the way Mullen did when he won in 2009, but Ole Miss video board operators took Mullen’s “We will never lose to them again” comments and played them over and over.
There have been Ole Miss fans through the years that I’ve covered who have said LSU was their biggest rival, not Mississippi State. That may have been the case through the years, but there was no mistaking last night how much Ole Miss fans savored beating Mississippi State. It mattered.
And the Rebels dominated. Consider this. Until 7 seconds were left on the clock it was a 41-17 game. State had scored two touchdowns, one on a 100-yard kick return, another on a coverage bust when an Ole Miss freshman left Chad Bumphis wide open on a 42-yard play. The Rebels, prior to the Bumphis catch that put MSU ahead 14-7, had committed a turnover in the end zone with a Bo Wallace interception. It could have been 48-3 when State scored its final touchdown, and even that one lacked real meaning. The game had long been decided at that point. When the game was on the line the Rebels made the biggest plays. With the leads that have been lost by this team this season, a 17-point edge to begin the fourth was comforting but didn’t give many that feeling that the game was over. That came with 11:44 left when Wallace passed 16 yards to Vince Sanders.
Clearly adrenaline and motivation helped push the depth-challenged Rebels past the finish line last night.
I and others were expecting a close game, and that’s what it was early, but as Freeze pointed out, it was close in part because of mistakes by Ole Miss.
The Rebels were the motivated team. They ran the ball with the efficiency they lacked in a three-game stretch against Arkansas, Georgia and Vanderbilt.
Wallace had the turnovers that have plagued him all year, but he also had the fight he’s shown all year too. He’s going to have correct the turnover problem as a seasoned junior in 2013, but last night he overcome two interceptions and a fumble with accuracy (15-for-22) and intensity.
Defensively, the Rebels’ dominated the MSU offensive line, allowing just 1.2 yards per rush. They got the pressure on Tyler Russell they had to have to help a beleaguered secondary, and that secondary picked off Russell twice. Russell had thrown 21 touchdowns to just four interceptions going into the game but had his first multi-pick game of the season last night.
So the Rebels get to 6-6 in Freeze’s first season. Because of the incredible success of Kevin Sumlin in his first year at Texas A&M, it will be hard for Freeze to win SEC Coach of the Year, but he’s in the conversation.
He was able to reward his seniors and get them to a bowl game, destination still TBA.
But nothing Freeze has accomplished in his first year will be remembered as fondly by his players and fans as what the Rebels accomplished last night.