Print and Go Back ESPN.com: SEC [Print without images]

Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Ole Miss season review

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

Hotty Toddy, Gosh almighty, Ole Miss is back in a bowl game for the first time in five years.

That's not all, either. Houston Nutt, in his first season in Oxford, has the Rebels (8-4, 5-3 SEC) playing some of the SEC's best football entering the postseason.

Ole Miss charges into the AT&T Cotton Bowl on a five-game winning streak, culminating with convincing wins over its two biggest rivals. The Rebels mashed LSU 31-13 in Tiger Stadium and then came back six days later and routed Mississippi State 45-0 in the Egg Bowl.

The only negative about the season is that it could have been even better.

The Rebels gave away a home game to Vanderbilt by fumbling six times. They also fumbled near the goal line in a 31-24 home loss to South Carolina. Their four losses were all by a touchdown or less, and all four were decided in the final minutes.

Ole Miss also owns the distinction of being the only team in the country to beat Florida this season. The Rebels won 31-30 on Sept. 27 in the Swamp.

The key was getting healthy in the defensive line. The Rebels started the season with several starters either coming off surgery or not 100 percent. But as they got everybody back healthy, they took off defensively and led the SEC with a staggering 105 tackles for loss, including a league-leading 35 sacks.

Offensive MVP: Senior offensive tackle Michael Oher was an All-American and the anchor of the Rebels' line, but sophomore quarterback Jevan Snead was the one who took this offense to another level. The transfer from Texas was third in the SEC in passing efficiency, and his 23 passing touchdowns were second only to Tim Tebow's 28.

Defensive MVP: Ask the coaches around the league who had to prepare for senior defensive tackle Peria Jerry the last half of the season, and they'll tell you he was virtually unblockable. Jerry led the SEC with 17 tackles for loss, including six sacks. There wasn't a better interior defensive lineman in the league.

Turning point: The upset at Florida was huge, but Ole Miss proceeded to lose the next two games. Then came Nutt's much anticipated return to Arkansas. The Rebels, in an unbelievably hostile environment, squeaked out a 23-21 win to trigger their five-game winning streak.

What's next: The Rebels drew a tough assignment in the Jan. 2 Cotton Bowl against No. 7 Texas Tech. The Red Raiders' passing game will put a lot of pressure on the Ole Miss cornerbacks. Whatever happens in Dallas, it's been a successful first season for Nutt. He's proved yet again that he's one of best coaches in this league.