Rapid Reaction: Ole Miss stuns Alabama in classic SEC West thriller
The Ole Miss Rebels trailed for most of Saturday’s contest with Alabama, but a thrilling fourth quarter comeback fueled by two Bo Wallace touchdown tosses and a Senquez Golson interception in the end zone led a furious rally, as the Rebels escaped with a 23-17 victory.
As we catch our collective breath following a thrilling Rebels victory, here’s a couple of quick thoughts on one of the biggest wins in Ole Miss history:
What it means: The win means more to the Ole Miss program than most fans know. First and foremost, it represents perhaps the greatest victory in the history of the Ole Miss program. The Rebels’ struggles with Alabama throughout history are well-documented, and to come-from-behind to stun the Crimson Tide the way Ole Miss did in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s game was the stuff of legends. The win is a statement win for Hugh Freeze as a head coach, and a marking point in his complete rebuilding of the Ole Miss program. The win legitimizes Bo Wallace as one of the premier quarterbacks in the SEC, despite his previous reputation as a turnover-prone detriment to the team. The win proves Ole Miss can win the SEC West and can contend for a spot in the inaugural College Football Playoff. And lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the win showed this Ole Miss team has resolve no other Ole Miss team has had in history. Previous editions of the Rebels could never have beaten a top 5 team on a national stage when trailing in the fourth quarter, but this team is better than any of those previous teams. To summarize: this is the biggest win in the history of the Ole Miss program.
What I liked: The resolve of the Rebels, especially Wallace. Ole Miss has a history of blowing healthy leads and of coming up short in big moments, but Saturday it did just the opposite. Wallace avoided turnovers all afternoon, and marched Ole Miss down the field on two straight drives to rally from a 7-point deficit to a 6-point lead. Even after Ole Miss failed to convert on an extra point to extend its lead to an even 7 (it had two chances surrounding a roughing the kicker penalty and missed both times), its confidence never wavered. The defense came up with one more huge play on Golson’s interception, and the city of Oxford began a party on the field at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium that may carry over into next week. I loved the way Ole Miss kept itself in this game, believing the entire time it would be the team to come out on top. It is typically teams with that type of mental fortitude that contend for conference and national championships.
Who’s the man: Hugh Freeze is the man. There are plenty of Ole Miss players who played their hearts out and deserve a nod here, but Freeze is the one most deserving of a shoutout following this wacky game. When Freeze took over the Rebels prior to the 2012 season, the program was in shambles. Now, midway through his third season in Oxford, he can claim a top 10 program and a win over top 5-ranked Alabama on one of the biggest national stages of the year. He has recruited a higher class of player to fill his roster, and he has changed the culture in Oxford from the lovable losers of the SEC West to a team to be reckoned with for years to come. This win was three years in the making, and it all begins and ends with Freeze’s work as the commander of the program.
Key Play: Golson’s interception to clinch an Ole Miss victory was one of the best plays of the season by a defender in the SEC. Golson entered the game as the conference’s leader in interceptions and passes defended, but he looked more like a top-flight wideout on his clinching interception. Golson out-leaped an athletic O.J. Howard to snatch the ball out of the air, and showed excellent body control to get a foot in bounds before soaring out the back of the end zone. Alabama was inside the Ole Miss 40 yard line at the time with plenty of time left, and a touchdown would have given the Tide a victory Ole Miss fans would never have lived down. Instead, Golson made the play of the year for the Rebels, and he’ll be remember as a legend in Oxford for the rest of time.
What’s next: Ole Miss does not get a break following the huge victory, as it must turn the page from all the excitement and prepare for a trip to College Station to take on highly ranked Texas A&M in a tough road environment. The Rebels will celebrate hard tonight, as they should following such a meaningful victory, but they’ll need to regroup and refocus tomorrow to avoid a letdown against the Aggies next week. It is hard enough to earn a victory like Ole Miss did today, but it’s even harder to follow a win like that with another strong performance one week later, especially against an opponent the caliber of A&M. Rebels fans: enjoy tonight, but be on hangover watch next week in the heart of Texas.