Houston Nutt, the coach for Ole Miss kicker Bryson Rose last season, would often say, “You spell fun W-I-N.”
Rose and the Rebels struggled to get that spelling down the last two years, but as he was carried off the field on Saturday afternoon by his teammates after nailing a game-winning 31-yard field goal, he savored the moment.
The fun part of football was something Rose had lost sight of early this season when he began his senior campaign with four straight misses.
Two of the kicks were from 56-plus, low-percentage attempts that call for you to just do your best as you scratch your head and wonder what your coach is thinking.
Though his strength has improved, the booming leg hasn’t been Rose’s calling card.
You wouldn’t have known that in the fourth quarter when he drilled a 53-yarder, no small achievement even with the breeze at his back.
In addition to missing from 58 yards against Central Arkansas and 56 against UTEP, Rose was unable to connect on kicks from 29 and 36 yards. Red flags were raised.
Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze bristled at the word “struggle” when asked about Rose’s early-season issues.
“Struggle means Coach Freeze put him in a position to kick two 60-yarders. He’s probably going to overswing. It’s me trying to drive a par 4. I’m probably going to hook it left or something,” Freeze said.
Something wasn’t quite right, though, for a guy who made 17-straight field goals last year, one shy of tying an SEC record.
When the 2012 season began, the Rebels were unproven at a number of positions. Place-kicker wasn’t one of those.
Rose knew that.
“At the start of the year I was trying to have such a great season, I just focused on that so much. I forgot to have fun out there. That’s the main thing. I talked to my dad and other people. They just told me to have fun with it,” he said.
With five wins in the bank, Ole Miss has already over-achieved in the eyes of many.
Freeze said he doesn’t begrudge the folks who make preseason predictions, saying they’re going on facts and numbers they’ve seen.
“But they can’t judge the heart or soul of a kid or the chemistry of a team,” he said.
Freeze said he’d have made similar predictions for Ole Miss this season.
But not now. Reality changes. Expectations change. Saturday, the Rebels got back the win they let get away at home against Texas A&M. With four games left and one away, opportunity is on the table for a bowl game in Freeze’s first year.
Perhaps the Rebels will get there.
For now, they’re having a lot of fun.
Parrish Alford (firstname.lastname@example.org) blogs daily about Ole Miss at DJournal.com.