By: Scott Crumbly
SEC Digital Network
Turning the page back just one calendar year, it would be tough to imagine Ole Miss going into Death Valley and giving LSU everything that it could handle for four quarters. After all, Ole Miss finished the 2011 season with a 2-10 record (winless in conference play) and suffered difficult losses at Kentucky (30-13), against Louisiana Tech (27-7), and at Mississippi State (31-3).
Fast forward to November of 2012, however, and the Rebels gave us one of the most entertaining battles of the season at Tiger Stadium. Ole Miss fell just 15 seconds and six points shy of a victory. Hugh Freeze has begun to put his stamp on the program in a relatively short period of time, and it showed on the field Saturday evening in Baton Rouge.
The Rebels went into a hostile environment – LSU is now 38-2 at home under Les Miles – and went toe-to-toe with No. 7 LSU, outgaining the Tigers by a final tally of 463 yards to 427. Facing the SEC’s No. 2 rushing defense, Ole Miss outrushed a Tigers offense that had been averaging 192 yards per game on the ground. Bo Wallace put up impressive two-way numbers, finishing the game with 364 yards of total offense and four touchdowns.
Through their first 10 games of the year, LSU had allowed 25 plays of 20 yards or more, or 2.5 per game. Ole Miss managed to hit nine such plays against the Tigers, two of which were touchdowns of 56-plus yards. Freeze’s offense converted four plays of 30 yards or more, constantly pushing the edges of the vaunted LSU defense.
Despite all those numbers, the Rebels’ mistakes were just enough to seal their fate and keep them on the fringe of bowl eligibility for another week. Although they hit on plenty of big plays, they allowed LSU to hit on six such plays of their own, five on offense and one more on a game-changing 89-yard punt return by Tiger Odell Beckham in the fourth quarter.
The young Ole Miss defense allowed some big gains, but it also delivered by forcing three LSU turnovers. But Wallace, just a sophomore himself, was picked off three times and the Rebels turned it over four times as a team, giving LSU short fields that led to critical points for the Tigers offense.
Even still, there are plenty of positives to take from Ole Miss’ performance in Death Valley. Their 5-6 record is not stellar, but playing in the ultra-tough SEC under new leadership is a very tall task, and the Rebs have come very close this season to several victories. Ole Miss came within a field goal of No. 8 Texas A&M, within a single point of a seven win Vanderbilt squad, and it took a score in the final 15 seconds for LSU to win.
Although these losses have an element of heartbreak to them, the positives outweigh the negatives. This young squad has shown grit and determination, with no reason to believe they aren’t close to righting the ship.
As previously mentioned, Wallace is only a sophomore, as is receiver Donte Moncrief (who grabbed six catches for 161 yards and 2 TDs on Saturday), and Denzel Nkemdiche has become a standout on the defense as a freshman.
In life, sometimes you have to learn the hard way, and that is exactly what Ole Miss is going through. Contrary to popular belief before the season, the Rebels have an opportunity to obtain bowl eligibility for the first time since 2009. The Egg Bowl beckons, as the Rebels will take on in-state rival Mississippi State in Oxford. Whether or not the Rebels capture victory, year one under Freeze should be deemed a success.