Ole Miss (4-3, 2-3 SEC) had its back against the wall going into Saturday night’s game against LSU (6-2, 3-2 SEC) in Oxford. Riddled with injuries and on a three-game losing streak, the Rebels were facing one of the most potent offenses in the SEC. And to make matters worse, Ole Miss had not defeated a top-10 opponent since 2009.
No, things did not look good for head coach Hugh Freeze’s team. But someone forgot to tell the Rebels they were “supposed” to lose.
And along the way, while the announcers endlessly repeated how “under-manned” Ole Miss was, Rebel players did what they were trained to do; they made plays. Young players, veteran players, injured players, and even walk-on players, stepped up and did what they had to do to win the game.
They were rewarded with a 27-24 victory over the No. 6 LSU Tigers in front of a home crowd of 61,160.
After three straight losses, there had been whispers about Bo Wallace’s effectiveness as a Rebel quarterback and Hugh Freeze’s play-calling ability as a coach. But after tonight’s win over LSU, it is doubtful there will be either.
In his post-game press conference, Coach Freeze assessed the win and what it took to get it: “I couldn’t be more proud of that staff and those kids to go through what they’ve been through, with the injuries and the outside world having their opinion of things. In the back of your mind, you always wonder as a coach if you can get a team ready to do things like this when you’re shorthanded and coming off an extremely disappointing loss.”
Going into the game, with a defense that was battered and bruised, many felt Bo Wallace would have to play the game of his life tonight for the Rebels to have a chance at victory. He did just that, finishing 30-of-39 for 346 yards passing with no interceptions. Zach Mettenberger, on the other hand, finished 19-of-33 for 274 yards passing with 3 interceptions.
Ole Miss kicker Andrew Ritter got the Rebels on the board first with a 28-yard field goal with 1:23 left in the first quarter. The drive was 69 yards on 17 plays—and came about after sophomore safety Chief Brown intercepted Zach Mettenberger in the Rebels’ end zone.
The second quarter belonged to the Ole Miss defense as they picked off two more Mettenberger passes. Junior safety Cody Prewitt intercepted the LSU QB in the end zone and Charles Sawyer, a senior cornerback, picked off Mettenberger on the Rebels’ 11-yard line. Prior to his three interceptions in the first half of the game, Mettenberger had only thrown two INTs all season.
Ole Miss began the second half with a nine-play drive that culminated with a Jaylen Walton 2-yard touchdown. The Rebels then led 17-0.
No one in attendance, however, expected LSU to give up without a fight. The Tigers fought back and had two straight possessions that resulted in touchdown runs by Kenny Hilliard and Jeremy Hill. The Rebel lead was cut to three, 17-14, with 3:09 remaining in the third quarter.
Ole Miss continued to show a “Never Quit” attitude, and followed up LSU’s score with a touchdown of its own. Jaylen Walton took the ball in from 26 yards out, which finished off a seven-play, 76-yard drive and gave the Rebels a 24-14 lead with three seconds left in the third quarter.
After allowing LSU a couple of first downs, the Rebel defense stiffened and forced LSU to punt the ball with13:50 to go in the game. Unfortunately for the Rebels, they fumbled the ensuing punt and LSU took over on the Rebels’ 13-yard line. Again, though, the Rebel defense came up with a big stop when Issac Gross sacked Mettenberger for a 16-yard loss. LSU settled for a 41-yard field goal and then trailed 24-17.
Ole Miss took the ball and had an opportunity to move ahead by two scores; however, the Rebels’ 29-yard field goal attempt was blocked with 6:29 remaining in the game. Mettenberger and the Tigers promptly drove 80 yards in 11 plays and tied the game with a 4-yard pass from the LSU QB to Jarvis Landry.
Then, like it had last week against A&M, it all came down to a last-second field goal. Only this time, it was the Rebels who were kicking for the win. Ritter calmly kicked a 41-yard field goal with two seconds left on the clock to give Ole Miss the much-needed win, 27-24.
After the game, Ritter said: “I knew I had to make that second one. The first one was going to be the difference, but I was fortunate enough to have another opportunity. I had to for my team; I didn’t want to let them and these unbelievable fans down. I just put it in God’s hands and I was fortunate enough it went through.”
Bo Wallace and the Offense Top LSU in all Categories
In addition to the final score, Ole Miss finished the game with an advantage in all the statistical categories of any significance. The Rebels tallied 525 total yards of offense (176 rushing, 349 passing), compared to LSU’s 388 total yards (114 rushing, 274 passing). The Rebels ran 84 plays in the game, compared to LSU’s 68.
The Rebel ground game was alive and well, as Jaylen Walton finished the game with 105 yards on 18 carries and I’Tavius Mathers finished with 53 yards on 13 carries.
The Rebel receivers produced huge numbers, also. Donte Moncrief finished with 107 yards on five receptions; Ja-Mes Logan had seven catches for 65 yards; Laquon Treadwell caught seven passes for 43 yards; Vince Sanders caught two for 49; and Jordan Holder and Evan Engram each caught two for 28 yards a piece.
The Rebel defense began the game without many of its key starters. Defensive end CJ Johnson, Robert Nkemdiche, linebacker Serderius Bryant, defensive back Mike Hilton, and defensive end Carlos Thompson were all out due to injuries. Defensive back Senquez Golson was suspended before the game.
“Dave and his staff did a great job with preparing those kids, being so shorthanded. The plan he had was so good, and then we lost Charles (Sawyer) and (Cameron) Whigham and Keith (Lewis), and Denzel (Nkemdiche) was banged up. I am real pleased with the defensive plan and the turnovers they created. We knew it would be a handful. We played Derrick Jones and Bobby Hill and John Youngblood. These guys hadn’t played any and they had to go out and guard Odell Beckham Jr. It makes our joy that much greater.”
Getting it Done
Following the win, Coach Freeze was deservedly proud of his entire Rebel team for their perseverance and determination:
“I’m extremely proud and thankful that God chose to bless us tonight. Sometimes God wets the wood before he lights it. That’s a little story in Kings 1. We’ve gone through our share of being drenched a little. We’re thrilled to represent our university and Rebel Nation out there in a battle between two good football teams. I couldn’t be more proud of those young kids. We still didn’t make it pretty. We did some things that made it a bit difficult, but we found a way to get it done.”
Yes, indeed, Coach. You and your team got it done. Your backs were against the wall; your bodies were battered; and your egos were a little bruised after three straight losses. But, tonight, against the No. 6 team in the nation, you did not blink. You competed for sixty minutes and Won The Day.
Hotty Toddy, Rebel Nation!