Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze returned to a familiar theme at his Monday presser this week when he spoke of the Rebels’ building process.
In the midst of four road games, interrupted only by an FCS appearance by Southeast Missouri, things were rocking along quite nicely until the friendly voice on the GPS lured the Rebels into Alabama.
Ole Miss was shut out for the first time in 15 years when it lost 25-0 at No. 1 Alabama.
Losing at Alabama can be forgiven, but there was frustration with so few trips to the red zone and the inefficiency while there.
Auburn was a little more perplexing, not that the Tigers’ winning was a complete shock. Gus Malzahn inherited a roster with talent and added to it.
The surprise came in that for the first time under Freeze the Rebels were thoroughly out-performed in significant parts of a game in which they were not decided underdogs.
Maybe that should just be filed in the “one of those days” category.
For a year and a half, Freeze has made rebuilding look like no big deal – even though the end of the 2011 season was as bad as I’ve seen Ole Miss football.
Maybe the kind of game seen at Auburn was bound to come.
“Unfortunately, people want to create expectations in a short amount of time in our society. That’s not just in football. They want return. They want it now,” Freeze said.
There was trouble in a number of areas at Auburn.
Pass protection that had not been good was worse. The running game again did not adjust when the perimeter runs were taken away. Interceptions that quarterback Bo Wallace had not thrown were there. Run defense that had been strong struggled with Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall.
Wins at Vanderbilt and Texas and a quick jump into the rankings got the Rebels some nice coverage but didn’t help Freeze with the journey message.
It is true that the staff is just 1 1.2 recruiting classes into this project, and fixing Ole Miss football is not a just-add-water challenge.
In spite of its problems, Ole Miss was near midfield and a touchdown drive from the lead in the middle of the fourth quarter when Wallace’s second interception halted things, and Auburn quickly gained the upper hand in field position and clock.
That’s a reminder that significant rebuilding progress has been made. It is no longer November 2011.
However, alarm bells have gone off because not much progress has been visible in the last two games.
The stretch of home games is welcomed, but it starts with two top 10 teams. One bad game does not constitute a backward step on the journey, but if some fixes aren’t implemented location alone won’t carry the Rebels down the road.
Parrish Alford (parrish.alford@journalinc .com) covers Ole Miss for the Daily Journal. He blogs daily at Djournal.com.