Tuesday, September 17, 2013
Victory at Texas shows Rebels' growth
By Edward Aschoff
Hours after running Bevo out of the Lone Star State, the Ole Miss football team received an early-morning surprise.
As the team bus pulled up to the football complex around 4 a.m., the Rebels were welcomed home from their 44-23 win over Texas by a few fans reveling in their arrival. For players who have seen some truly dark days in Ole Miss' program, Sunday's reception was an odd, yet comforting sight.
"It was pretty cool. It felt good," senior running back Jeff Scott said.
"They showed how dedicated they are to this program."
Ole Miss has come a long way since Jeff Scott arrived on campus.
During Scott's four years with the program, that dedication has been on and off. Ole Miss won a combined six games in his first two years, with just one of those games an SEC victory. The Rebels lost 16 SEC games in a row from 2010-2012.
Scott watched Houston Nutt get fired and was there when the school brought Hugh Freeze back. The former Ole Miss assistant arrived with more questions than excitement. But after a return to the postseason, seven victories and a monster recruiting class in his first season, Freeze brought some hope.
That hope turned into inflated expectations entering the 2013 season, but after a 3-0 start and a Texas-sized victory heading into a bye week, the Rebels have gone from forgotten to formidable.
"It's huge," quarterback Bo Wallace said of the win at Texas. "You have to look at how far we've come. Last year at this time, we were really soul-searching this weekend after the Texas game, trying to find ourselves.
"Anytime you can win a game that people say you aren't supposed to win, you can turn some heads. That's what we have to do: Turn some heads and get people excited about our program and keep climbing in the polls and keep winning games."
Considering the depth issues the Rebels had last year, a victory like this didn't seem possible. On Saturday, Ole Miss was down key players such Aaron Morris, Denzel Nkemdiche and Vince Sanders, yet blew out the Longhorns on the road. Thanks to a stacked freshman class, the Rebels' depth has promise.
"The sky is the limit for this team when we have all hands on deck," Scott said. "It's crazy what this team can do because the potential is there."
Last year, the Rebels were hurting after a 66-31 thumping served up by the Longhorns inside Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. The same place they were greeted by a devoted group of fans early Sunday morning was the same place Texas nearly laid them to rest a year earlier.
It's a different time at Ole Miss. The Rebels are ranked No. 21 in The Associated Press poll. They own the SEC's No. 4 offense (490 yards per game) and defense (332.7). Next weekend, this team will travel to Tuscaloosa to play No. 1 Alabama in a game that will bring major attention and could have major SEC West implications.
All these positive vibes have the Rebels beaming, but they also understand that they have to move on from Saturday's win. As Freeze says, they have to "throw it in the trash" and prepare for what's next. This team is far from perfect and feeling too good about this victory could cause the Rebels to lose sight of a season that is still very long.
"We definitely have some confidence, but at the same time we can't let ourselves be too overconfident," Wallace said. "But we have a mature team, and I don't think we'll have any problems with that."
For Freeze, Saturday's victory was special because of where he saw the program upon his arrival. Academic and discipline issues rocked a team full of potential. Now, the distractions have dissipated, the discipline has increased and players are producing.
"It' definitely a big step in the right direction," Freeze said. "If you were to tell me on my first day on the job that we would have gone to a place like Texas and pull off a win at their place, it probably would have been difficult for me to believe at that point. So I do think that it is a sign that we're moving in the right direction."