By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
There was a positive vibe that followed Ole Miss out of the Alabama game.
The Rebels did things that others had not against the Crimson Tide – like take a lead, be it ever so briefly, and reach the end zone on sustained, clock-eating drives.
Alabama coach Nick Saban furthered the upbeat Ole Miss mood postgame when he talked about the effort and physicality of the Rebels.
Saban’s comments were underscored on Monday with the news that two Alabama players sustained season-ending injuries against Ole Miss.
Maiming the other team’s players is not a point of pride or celebration, but if we had known in advance of ESPN’s awful kickoff time that one team would sustain two major injuries who among us would have guessed Alabama? Very few.
For last week’s assignment against that particular opponent and at this stage of Hugh Freeze’s ongoing restoration project at Ole Miss, claiming moral victory after a 33-14 loss to the nation’s top-ranked team is acceptable.
Warm fuzzies, though, don’t have a very long shelf life, and this one is about to expire.
The reason the Rebels’ performance at Alabama felt so good for so many is because of the hope it represents. It’s not that the Rebels were particularly close in the fourth quarter.
That’s the next step for the program. It’s getting in position to win and then actually making the game-changing plays to win. Those are two separate and distinct hurdles to clear, Freeze told us Monday.
There are no Alabamas left on the schedule, but there are no chumps either.
Texas A&M has the potential to put up video game-like numbers. Auburn has been less formidable.
Freeze doesn’t talk about wins and losses this season, but others do, and the next two weeks are critical for the Rebels. They’ve been made that way because the Rebels have shown they can compete. Now they must compete consistently – no backward steps after the Alabama’s warm fuzzy – and win.
A split with Texas A&M and Auburn would have the Rebels pondering the possibility of a bowl game.
Gaining a split in the next two weeks or enough wins to qualify for postseason will be hard to accomplish if the Rebels don’t begin to supplement effort with efficiency.
They’ve got to stop turning over the ball, and that was Freeze’s message on Monday. That’s why the quarterback job that seemed well in Bo Wallace’s hands after two games is back on the table.
The Alabama game effectively displayed progress and work to be done at the same time.
It was a good feeling, but moral victories are forgotten when they’re followed by immoral defeats.
Parrish Alford (parrish.alford@ journalinc.com) covers Ole Miss for the Daily Journal. He blogs daily at InsideOleMissSports.com.