By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
Hugh Freeze is $100,000 richer today, and that sounds like a lot. The value gained by the football program with a 41-20 win over Auburn makes it seem like a bargain.
It had been more than two calendar years and two complete SEC regular seasons – 16 games – since Ole Miss had won against a conference opponent.
But wait, there’s more.
That opponent was Kentucky, and for a meaningful conference win you have to dig deeper, back to when the Rebels defeated No. 8 LSU 27-25 on Nov. 21, 2009. There aren’t a lot of similarities between the Auburn team the Rebels defeated and the LSU team from three years back.
The state of the Ole Miss program is vastly different, however, which makes Saturday’s win just as important.
The Rebels had to beat somebody – anybody – and Auburn was the next chance. It was also the last chance at home for the next month. The Rebels won’t be back at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium until Nov. 10 against Vanderbilt.
If they had reached that game 0-5 in the league – trips to Arkansas and Georgia follow this week’s open date – another possible 0-8 league season would be coming into view.
So hungry was the Ole Miss administration for SEC success that Freeze’s contract calls for a $100,000 bonus for every league victory.
His fingerprints were on the SEC losing streak for only two games, but …
“When you would hear about it you couldn’t help but feel like you were part of it. Then we didn’t finish the job last Saturday, and that kind of built some pressure for this week,” Freeze said.
The Rebels were painfully close last week only to blow a 10-point lead late in the kind of loss that has the potential to linger and distract.
Then came Monday’s news that Baylee Wallace, the sister of quarterback Bo Wallace, had suffered a spinal injury in a car wreck. News is good for her recovery, but there were tense moments.
Then came Friday’s news that defensive backs coach Wesley McGriff would have heart surgery to have stints inserted. He was released from the hospital and coached in the game.
There were plenty of chances for the old Rebels to reappear, especially when Auburn’s previously dormant offense responded with 17 unanswered points after a 14-0 deficit.
But the Rebels’ defense allowed just 60 yards and a field goal after halftime.
Ole Miss, led by the sterling play of Wallace and running back Jeff Scott, played its first turnover-free game and got the SEC win it had to have at the time it had to have it.
The monkey has left the building.
Now the Rebels can go about the business of working toward bowl eligibility and further exceeding the summer’s meager expectations.
Parrish Alford (parrish.alford@ journalinc.com) covers Ole Miss for the Daily Journal. He blogs daily at InsideOleMissSports.com.