By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – Back-to-back Cotton Bowls really weren’t that long ago for Ole Miss, but with the desolation that followed it’s sometimes easy to forget.
Ferbia Allen hasn’t.
“Hey, three out of five years? I’ll take that every day, and then ending with a bowl game in my senior year … I’m looking forward to it.”
There’s a particular spring in the step of seniors who were a part of the Cotton Bowl teams only to see just one SEC win and a 14-game conference losing streak the next two seasons, a streak that reached 16 games before the Rebels defeated Auburn 41-20 on Oct. 13.
Still, had Ole Miss not defeated Mississippi State to gain bowl eligibility, Allen’s career would have been finished. He sustained a torn medial collateral knee ligament against Vanderbilt and missed the final two regular-season games.
Like Allen, defensive end Jason Jones is a fifth-year senior.
They spent their redshirt seasons watching Houston Nutt’s first Ole Miss team overcome a shaky start to win its last five and reach the Cotton Bowl. That 2008 season also included a 31-30 win at then-No. 4 Florida, the eventual national champion.
The next year Allen started five games. Jones had hopes of a larger role too but tore the major knee ligament, the ACL, in the season opener at Memphis.
When the Rebels’ BBVA Compass Bowl preparations move to Birmingham next week, a lot of Ole Miss players will be experiencing a bowl game for the first time.
“You miss out on a lot of things, especially after going to two bowl games when you first start. Then you have two years off. That’s a long break, and you’re really not used to that. I appreciate every practice that we’re out here every day,” said Jones, who posted 6.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks this season in the most extensive playing time of his career.
Jones says the seniors’ support for new coach Hugh Freeze was important in helping the younger players’ down the right path.
However, the Rebels would not had finished 6-6 in the regular season without the help of key freshmen, he says.
He singled out safety Trae Elston, linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche and defensive tackle Issac Gross.
“I appreciate the younger guys who have given us some kick in the back end. They had to grow up very fast. Some of those guys had to start from Day1 and play big roles, some of the playing in front of seniors and guys who were experienced,” Jones said. “I just highlight those guys, and I appreciate them a lot.”
Whether the Compass Bowl or the Cotton Bowl doesn’t really matter, Allen said.
“To get to any bowl game you have to work hard for it.”
Noted for his blocking, Allen goes into his final college game with seven catches for 123 yards on the season.
The chance to play one more game was a dangling carrot that help move him through the rehab process.
“It was devastating. You see your brothers out there working hard. You feel like you could be out there helping, doing something. It’s a terrible feeling when you have to look at it from the sidelines,” he said.
But his final view from the sideline was memorable.
“Come Mississippi State, I had guys coming up saying, ‘We’re going to win this for you, Ferb.’ That’s exactly what they did, going out and playing 60 minutes.”