With everything still in reach, Ole Miss must move forward
Monday night’s 45-34 loss to Florida State would have been much less disappointing for Ole Miss had it not come on the heels of the Rebels building a 28-6 lead in the first half. Giving up 33 unanswered points, losing Ken Webster and Eric Swinney for the season due to injury, and Chad Kelly turning the ball over four times are areas of concern. However, a win would have mitigated those turnovers and the points given up.
Instead, the Rebels looked like potentially the best team in the land in the first half–and too hapless to hold the football in the second half. It is a hole in the sail of Rebel Nation, so you can only imagine how it must have felt in that locker room for the players and coaches.
Perhaps Wofford’s name on the schedule by Saturday’s date has paved the way for a slight hangover in the middle of the week for Rebels’ fans. Inside the doors of the program, though, there has to be focus, not only because ‘Bama looms on September 17th, but also because of the offensive scheme the Rebels will face on Saturday.
The Terriers run an option offense and have finished among the top 10 rushing teams in the FCS for 18 consecutive seasons under head coach Mike Ayers.
Besides getting the season’s first win – Ole Miss hasn’t had to wait until week two for win number one since 2011 – there is more to celebrate on Saturday. First and foremost, admire the newly-renovated Vaught-Hemingway stadium. While the capacity expands officially to 64,038, you can expect more than 65,000 on Saturday, and then another new record crowd when the Crimson Tide rolls into Oxford.
This is a major statement for Ole Miss, not just aesthetically as I explained here, but also to showcase the commitment to making the program the very best in the country.
Undefeated in the SEC
Another reason to celebrate and stay focused is the Rebels are, for a second straight week, undefeated in the SEC.
When the first Saturday in December comes around, it is about how many losses you have against Southeastern Conference opponents. That first Saturday in December will be the SEC Championship game held in Atlanta, Georgia. Win on that day and Ole Miss would have a strong case to make the College Football Playoff, even with two losses.
That means the Rebels will need to do something they have done the past two seasons, beat Alabama. But it also means they need to do something they have failed to do in recent memory: they must navigate their schedule without falling into a trap set for them by a team who is not of their caliber. Sure, Alabama and Auburn were impressive in the opening weekend, and so was Texas A&M, but LSU, Arkansas and Mississippi State looked horrendous.
Ole Miss doesn’t have to be comfortable being the favorite, they just have to play like it when they are, because they are likely to be favored in most of the games left on the slate. Judging by their second-half performance from the other night, which was against a really good team who captured all existing momentum, they are still in need of a little more poise when things are in their favor.
The season moves on….
As easy as it would be to dwell on the fact that Ole Miss could have–and should have–turned up in the top five with a win over FSU, the Rebels can’t get bogged down by what might have been. They could make excuses about their hemorrhage of playmakers lost in the game, such as Swinney and Webster, but they can’t afford to do so. Why? Because the season moves on. The season moves on and that means Alabama, Georgia, LSU, Auburn and Texas A&M, remain. And somehow that daunting group doesn’t include Arkansas or Memphis, both of whom beat the Rebels in 2015, nor does it mention in-state rival Mississippi State.
We’ve watched Ole Miss respond very well in tough situations more times than not under Freeze, so it is highly likely the team and program will respond well here. After all, the team can still accomplish its goals of reaching Atlanta and playing in the College Football Playoff.
Now it’s time to wake up. That goes for fans–and especially the youngsters who will step into larger roles in Dave Wommack’s secondary.
(Feature image credit: John Bown, Rebels247)