By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – In a bit of role reversal, Charles Sawyer saw from Mississippi State players what the Bulldogs must have seen in Sawyer and his Ole Miss teammates a year ago.
Sawyer saw the Bulldogs pack it in.
That was the way Ole Miss players performed, admittedly, in a 31-3 loss at MSU in 2011.
That was the third game after the firing for former coach Houston Nutt had been announced, and the Rebels were outscored 110-13 in that span.
“Our mindset toward the end of the year was that we really didn’t have much to play for,” offensive tackle Emmanuel McCray said. “Once we got down, we didn’t have anybody to pull us up.”
Fast forward to 2012, and it was the Bulldogs that had fallen and couldn’t get up.
Not to the same level, of course. There’s no impending coaching search in Starkville, and the Bulldogs, like the Rebels, are anxiously awaiting bowl announcements.
But as the deficit widened for MSU at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium Saturday night, Sawyer saw less intensity from the Bulldogs.
“I felt them giving up, kind of. It wasn’t going their way. You could tell by their demeanor, how they ran their routes, how they blocked you. You could just tell, and as our offense kept scoring, it got easier and easier,” said Sawyer.
The junior cornerback led Ole Miss with nine tackles and broke up three passes. This after his status was questionable during the week after sustaining a shoulder injury in a 41-35 loss at No. 8 LSU the week before.
One of Sawyer’s pass break-ups came with State facing fourth-and-1 from the Ole Miss 18. Dak Prescott attempted a jump pass looking for Chad Bumphis on a slant, but Sawyer knocked it away to help Ole Miss keep at 17-14 lead at the time.
On the Bulldogs’ next possession, a blown coverage resulted in a 68-yard gain for Bumphis. It would have been a touchdown had Sawyer not caught Bumphis and brought him down at the 7. The Ole Miss defense stiffened, and State settled for a field goal.
“We played a lot of guys this year, a lot banged up left and right. I’m just proud of those guys as a team, even through those three losses,” defensive coordinator Dave Wommack said. “Somehow in my heart I feel like the Good Lord thought we were supposed to lose those three so we could win this sixth one. I really believe that.”
The Bulldogs finished with 333 yards, but had netted only 258 by the time Ole Miss had built a 41-17 lead with 3 minutes, 27 seconds to play.
That’s when the Rebels kept the ball in front of them, and the Bulldogs marched methodically down the field, finally scoring with 7 seconds left on Prescott’s 8-yard pass to Bumphis.
The Rebels wanted to pressure starting quarterback Tyler Russell and wanted to stop the MSU run game. They were successful on both fronts, sacking Russell three times and hitting him many others, and holding the Bulldogs to 30 rushing yards on 25 carries.
For Sawyer, the victory was one to savor.
“You work so hard, and you know you deserve it, but you’ve got to be thankful for it. It’s a great feeling,” he said. “Three years in a row (Ole Miss had lost), it’s not just us, it’s the fans. It’s great for them to experience what we’re experiencing.
“I’m glad they stayed by our side.”