PARRISH ALFORD: Rebels need to finish strong

By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal

OXFORD – Before the falling of the leaves and cooler temps there was August heat.
And football predictions, few of which were flattering for Ole Miss.
I recall a summer conversation with John Pitts, our sports editor, that centered around the possibility of the Rebels in a bowl game and how that might reflect on Hugh Freeze when the SEC Coach of the Year is announced.
“Forget coach of the year,” John responded. “If Ole Miss reaches a bowl game, Freeze should win the Nobel Prize.”
Well, the bowl game part of that equation is within reach. The Rebels have three chances – three more chances, actually, since losing at No. 6 Georgia – to get that sixth win. They will be heavy underdogs in the second chance Nov. 17 at LSU. Then there’s the in-state rival at home.
While the expectations were slim, expectations sometimes change on the fly. That has happened with Ole Miss football, because Freeze has done a coaching job that puts him in the coach of the year conversation.
That is, if he and his staff can do what all coaches demand of their players – finish strong in the fourth quarter.
The fourth quarter is here, and while many Ole Miss fans would have taken five wins and run to the bank in August, to miss a bowl game now would be a great disappointment.
The first chance to qualify is the best. This is not Vanderbilt of several years back, but it’s also not the Vanderbilt team with athletes like LSU and Georgia, nor does it have the emotional component of the Mississippi State game.
Freeze has already called on fans to be present and loud, and as of Tuesday morning, fewer than 400 tickets remained.
Finishing strong for Freeze means to spark a sagging running game by giving the Commodores something they haven’t seen on video.
Though Vanderbilt coach James Franklin grew up on the offensive side of the ball, Vandy has been most impressive on defense, ranking No. 19 or better in total defense, scoring defense and pass efficiency defense.
Franklin is on top of his game too. When the Commodores could have been distracted at struggling Kentucky, they were fast, focused and led 27-0 at halftime en route to a 40-0 win.
That speaks to their readiness and suggests Franklin will again have them prepared. He realizes the stakes too.
For Ole Miss, a bowl game – and the rush of momentum it would bring to Freeze’s restoration project – was once thought forbidden fruit. Now it’s on the low-hanging branch and there for the taking.
All the Rebels need to do is finish.
Parrish Alford (parrish.alford@journalinc.com) covers Ole Miss for the Daily Journal. He blogs daily at Djournal.com.