AD Ross Bjork celebrating with the team. (Photo shamelessly lifted from Jason Jones' twitter account.)
Big plays and solid special teams contributed to Ole Miss' first road win against an SEC team since 2009.
Damn, it feels really good to be an Ole Miss fan right now.
This was a season where few, if any, of us felt that this team would be a legitimate bowl-contending SEC team. Just a few months ago, anyone predicting this team to win four games was being an optimist. And while we do not deny that back-to-back wins over Auburn and Arkansas isn't exactly the accomplishment we would have thought it was during the offseason, we cannot help but feel that this team and program is headed in the right direction.
As for the game itself, here are some things we were able to take away from the 30-27 victory:
- While he did not have but one touchdown, Bo Wallace was tremendous yesterday. He completed 29 of his 37 passes for 278 yards and spread the ball to six different receivers, with four of them having at least five receptions. For the most part, he made the right throws and put his team in a position to win. You can't ask for much more out of a quarterback.
- Vince Sanders has slowly emerged as a reliable offensive weapon. I'm excited for his future here at Ole Miss.
- The running game struggled a bit yesterday, especially in the open field. Jeff Scott and Randall Mackey, though, were reliable options in the passing game. Still, one can't help but be worried about how this OL and these halfbacks will fare against Georgia, LSU, and State.
- The defense struggled overall in containing Arkansas, giving up 464 yards of offense. Cobi Hamilton and Dennis Johnson had huge games for the Hogs, with the two combining for 307 (!) all purpose yards. But well timed turnovers and penalties kept Arkansas away from the endzone for much of the game.
- Charles Sawyer was huge yesterday. His pick saved a touchdown, his blocked punt set up another, and he had a big sack on Tyler Wilson that caused him to commit an intentionally grounding penalty which more-or-less killed what was a successful Arkansas drive in the third quarter.
- The young defensive backs made some pretty good plays as a unit and will certainly be a force to reckon with in the future. Trae Elston, Mike Hilton, Senquez Golson, and a handful of others have already surpassed our expectations.
- C.J. Johnson was giving whoever was guarding him fits. He's surprisingly quick and quite reliable up front.
- Hugh Freeze's play calling in the fourth quarter was, simply, not good. It wasn't aggressive enough and it was clear that the offensive strategy at that point was simply to eat up time and protect the football. Arkansas knew this, and stuffed what seems like every play we ran. Against a more talented opponent (like, oh, Texas A&M), that would have cost us the game. There are definitely going to be some growing pains with this coaching staff, and yesterday proved some of those fears true.
- However, we must give him nothing but praise for the two minute offenses we ran to close out each half. Going into the half with the lead was crucial to yesterday's win, and we were able to secure that after driving the field in to score with only 1:21 left on the clock. During that drive, the Rebels moved the ball 75 yards over 10 plays in just 61 seconds. That's the product of good coaching and great effort on behalf of the players. The drive to close out the game was just as masterful, with Bo Wallace and Jeff Scott exploiting the holes Arkansas left in their defense to move 61 yards in just under two minutes. The proper clock management ensured that Rose's game winner would be made as time expired. Again, that's a hallmark of good coaching and strategy.
- One of Hugh Freeze's "its" is that the "it" of the special teams is to "provide the winning edge." Yesterday, Bryson Rose did just that. We can't say enough about his performance yesterday, nailing all three of his field goals including the 31 yard game winner. He looked pretty together and focused in such a high-pressure situation, and left us with no doubt that the game was won as soon as the ball left his foot. Well done, Bryson; we raise our (red) cups to you, sir.
Looking ahead, the Rebels have Georgia, Vanderbilt, LSU, and Mississippi State. I'm confident that this team can win one of those four games to earn a bowl bid, and I'd say we've got a fighters chance to win two. A bowl bid in Hugh Freeze's first season in the SEC would be absolutely tremendous for this program moving forward. It would be a huge asset towards next season due to the increased number of practices allowed and it could be nothing but beneficial to recruiting.
But perhaps I'm putting the cart before the horse here. Let's just focus on Georgia this week and see where we go from there. Hotty Toddy.