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If this is what the wilderness looks like, it’s not that bad. Hugh Freeze got his seniors to a bowl game, but what he and the Rebels did on Saturday night will be remembered with far more favor and respect by his fan base than anything that might happen in Memphis or any other postseason destination.
Ole Miss got back in the Egg Bowl business Saturday, beating Mississippi State, beating Dan Mullen for the first time and bringing the trophy back to Oxford.
Freeze and the Rebels did it in dominating fashion.
The Ole Miss offense amassed 527 total yards and five touchdown passes against MSU’s vaunted secondary, while the Rebels defense stuffed the MSU run game and held the Bulldogs to 333 total yards.
The Bulldogs scored three touchdowns, one on a kick return, another on a busted coverage by a freshman and a third when the Rebels were in “who cares” mode. Even Mullen didn’t care by then, just letting the game play out and not calling timeouts to try and add a meaningless touchdown.
Given three turnovers and a plethora of first-half mistakes, the Rebels were fortunate to be tied at halftime.
In the second half the Rebels blew open a game that for two quarters was as close as many had predicted.
They did it in spite of youth in the secondary, in spite of a quarterback with an ailing shoulder, in spite of depth problems that have appeared late in games in which they’ve led this season. They were the motivated team Saturday night.
Be true to your school
“Our coaches did a great job of going through the week and making sure whether a kid was from Tennessee, Alabama, Florida, Illinois or California, they better understand that the University of Mississippi has signed them on and is paying for their scholarship here. This game is important to you,” Freeze said.
Through the season Ole Miss has gone about its business with Freeze saying the right things, emphasizing growth and the journey.
Slowly the Rebels improved, responded to coaching, and confidence set in.
And in a rivalry that can turn taunting and nasty from both sides, Freeze got his players to play hard with a different sort of emotion: Love.
“Regardless of how you motivate your team, every coach has to decide with his best for him and his program, I do think we went about it a little different than some. We didn’t play out of hatred for anyone. It was more of playing out of love for one another and this university.”
Parrish Alford (firstname.lastname@example.org) covers Ole Miss for the Daily Journal. He blogs daily at InsideOleMissSports.com.