What Ole Miss football means to you has so much to do with when you first fell in love with this program. If you are like me, and first Hotty Toddied to high expectations created by Eli Manning, only to have Ed Orgeron ruin your undergraduate years, then you cherish memories of Dexter McCluster, Jevan Snead, and Mike Wallace putting on a clinic against Texas Tech in the 2009 Cotton Bowl. An older generation suffered through NCAA probation and had their faith in the program dashed before it was revitalized by Deuce McAllister and Romaro Miller in Shreveport. An even older generation though remembers when Ole Miss was a mainstay in the SEC Championship and Sugar Bowl discussions. Those Ole Miss teams from the late 1950's to early 1970's were fun, confidence-inspiring, and relevant. They set a very high bar for success in Oxford (and the rest of the Southeastern Conference) and are arguably the main reason why Rebels fans still today demand what was, until very recently, thought to be unsustainable levels of excellence.
Last Friday, Rebel fans finally got a taste of that excellence after four decades of ups and downs. Ole Miss returned to the Sugar Bowl, beat a good team handily, did so with NFL-ready star power, and set the program up for future successes. And while it is fair to presume that Ole Miss could take a step back in 2016 with the departure of said NFL-ready talent, it is reasonable to think that this level of success is indeed sustainable in Oxford for a longer term with the way this program has been trending over the past few years. Recruiting, program management, and coaching are as good as they have been at Ole Miss in a very long time, and Hugh Freeze's teams will be a tough out for every opponent they play. His body of work is evidence enough of this.
It is because of the state of this program that I must admit that I'm more than a bit jealous of newer Ole Miss fans, whether they be current Ole Miss students or just college football fans who have decided to pull for the Rebs. They are coming on board at an exciting time, and their unflappable confidence in Ole Miss football is something that should set the stage for an exciting culture of Ole Miss football for a long while.
Now, on to the game.
Watching this play is nourishing enough to sustain human life.
Ohhhhh yes nom nom nom gimme some more yes yes yes oh I'll have what I'm having nom nom nom
If you are anything like me, you went full on crazy dork fan when this happened. Ole Miss didn't need to run this play, as the late second quarter three-touchdown lead was almost assuredly going to be insurmountable for Oklahoma State as is. Kicking the field goal to go up by 24 as the first half ended would have been perfectly acceptable. Hugh Freeze and his team went for much more though. After a long Chad Kelly run set up a fake spike, which was used to get an endzone pass interference call on a fade to Cody Core, the Rebels ran this trick play to give Laremy Tunsil his only collegiate touchdown.
The play itself and its setup were an entertaining way to end the first half of the game. Ole Miss fans, understandably, went batshit -- I even spotted a few beer showers in the lower bowl of the Superdown -- as did the players, who were able to maintain a damn high level of energy and enthusiasm throughout the rest of the contest. But this play's significance is much greater than it's context within the Sugar Bowl.
Laremy Tunsil was rated the top offensive tackle in high school football three years ago. He signed with Ole Miss along with Laquon Treadwell, the top wide receiver prospect, and Robert Nkemdiche, the top defensive lineman prospect and top overall prospect. Treadwell has had his moments in the spotlight for the Rebs, snagging a gazillion passes, scoring dozens of touchdowns, and writing his own redemption story after suffering a horrifying injury against Auburn last season. Nkemdiche has had his as well, serving as the focal point of a defense that cemented itself as the main identity of the Ole Miss program under Hugh Freeze.
Tunsil, however, has been quietly dominant as a left tackle. Left tackles, it seems, are like shoelaces or car parts; you don't really think about them that much unless they're not doing what they're supposed to. Tunsil being as good as he has been means that he is almost certainly the MVP of the Rebel offense, but not in a way that is going to get him a highlight on ESPN. Really, the only time he has had any real attention drawn his way as a Rebel was during his gut-wrenching Peach Bowl injury and his 2015 NCAA suspension for some NCAA bullshit or another. It's fair to say then that a guy like him, who has thanklessly done so much to set the stage for future successes in Oxford, deserved his moment in the sun. Hugh Freeze gave it to him, and we couldn't have been any happier for him.
"That Didn't Sit Well"
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"Going Back for Seconds"
Ole Miss Fans Behaving Well
Hey, remember how we were all having fun before, during, and after the game? Remember how fans of all stripes were grabbing drinks in the French Quarter and CBD all weekend? Remember how all of this felt like one gigantic family reunion, but with a lot more beer? Remember how nobody* gave a damn about mascots, fight songs, "sidewalk fans", and all of the other wellsprings of our infighting, even if it were just for one day? I enjoyed that, and I know y'all did too. Yes, cheering for a winning team has so, so much to do with these good feelings, and we are sure to go back to our usual ways of pointing fingers at and shouting over each other at some point, but I hope that we can take the Sugar Bowl experience and learn from it just a little bit, because even if we always win the party, we can always get better at our partying game.
*Nobody, save for one guy in my section, who was furious that my brother and I high fived the bear. He had very little chill.
And a Quick Shout to 'Pokes fans
The Oklahoma State fans we interacted with were, as usual, nothing but cordial. They didn't seem as excited to be there as we Rebels were, but that's probably more a result of our geeking out than it was a lack of interest on their part. They did, however, show an incredible amount of pride in their team and program, sticking around their seats until the very end, celebrating garbage time touchdowns with earnest gusto. I, for one, was impressed. Kudos to y'all, Cowboys. Here's to seeing y'all somewhere down the road.
The Ole Miss Front Seven
The Ole Miss defense was the unheralded star of the New Year's Day slate of bowl games. From Bill C's numerical:
And 14 different Rebels logged a havoc play: Ole Miss finished with 12 tackles for loss, 10 pass break-ups and two forced fumbles. That's an average of one havoc play in every three snaps.
Ole Miss did this without either Nkemdiche, Isaac Gross, Fadol Brown, or Tee Shepard, guys who began the season as starters and would have contributed in this game were it not for injury or personal reasons. To be fair, Oklahoma State is a young team that was dealing with quarterback injury issues, but they were still able to put together one of the nation's most prolific scoring offenses this season. Ole Miss simply kept them behind schedule for most of the game, giving them their only significant scoring opportunities once the game was out of hand.
The Landsharks did that in a fashion that's fairly typical of a Dave Wommack defense. They pressured the quarterbacks, forced runs to the outside, and pursued the ball very aggressively. That there was fundamentally sound tackling on top of that was a nice lagniappe.
While much has been made of the Nkemdiches' inglorious and embarrassing fall from being the most celebrated players on the Rebel defense to earning Sugar Bowl suspensions for bad off-the-field decisions, and what their loss will mean to Ole Miss, I posit that any concerns thereabout were all but addressed on Friday night. Breeland Speaks and DJ Jones were monsters in the middle of the defensive line. Marquis Haynes rushed well and John Youngblood filled in admirably for Fadol Brown. Demarquis Gates was all over the field, and is probably now the best linebacker in the red and blue. While it is legitimate to worry that the departures of Trae Elston and Mike Hilton will set the secondary back a good bit in 2016, especially early, it may not be so correct to have similar worries about the departures up front. Yes, this program owes a mountain of gratitude for the Nkemdiches, Channing Ward, and C.J. Johnson, but Ole Miss has recruited well enough (in part, because of those guys) to mostly pick up where they are going to leave off.
I'm Sorry, but We're Fresh Out of Treadwell
It is true that junior receiver Laquon Treadwell was hesitant to commit to an early departure to the NFL, but it is far from true that he's coming back to Ole Miss. As much as we would like to believe that Treadwell's having the time of his life in the red and blue (and, when watching him play, it's tough to believe otherwise), we also know that no reasonable person would be so quick to sacrifice a guaranteed seven-figure paycheck just to stick around college for another year. So barring an incredibly unlikely and terribly unwise decision, what we saw out of Laquon Treadwell on Saturday night was it for his Ole Miss career.
But, sheesh, did he ever go out in some damn style. He caught six passes for 71 yards and a trio of touchdowns, the third of which gave him an Ole Miss record 13 receiving scores on the year. He flung a pretty good looking 45-yard pass to Jordan Wilkins. He reduced All-Big XII corner Kevin Peterson to a non-factor. He did it all while making it look natural and fun. In all, he played like a top overall receiver prospect should, and we expect him to be drafted accordingly. Get paid(well), Laquon, and thanks for the memories.
When Chad Kelly was awarded the Sugar Bowl MVP, he joined in on the crowd's "one more year" chant, directing his plea for another season in Oxford at Laquon Treadwell.
What Chad may not have realized is that the chant wasn't for (just) for Treadwell; it was for him. Ole Miss fans expected a hell of a junior season out of Treadwell en route to a first-round NFL Draft selection way back in the offseason. What none of us could have expected though was Chad Kelly's emergence as the SEC's most prolific quarterback. This year, Chad put together enough total offensive yards to top every SEC player in history outside of Johnny Manziel - yes, that includes Tim Tebow, Cam Newton, and Dak Prescott. He broke Ole Miss records set by Eli Manning and Bo Wallace. He won the daggum Sugar Bowl.
Folks are worried he's going to leave because he's got an NFL pedigree and will sorely miss the departures of Laremy Tunsil and Laquon Treadwell. But, outside of NFL scouts all but guaranteeing a first or second round selection, he should be coming back to Oxford for his senior year. Considering the talent that Ole Miss does return on offense, the incoming 2016 class, and Chad Kelly's balls-to-the-wall playing style, it's fair for Rebel fans to be quietly confident in Swag's ability to again lead a prolific Ole Miss offense for one more year.