After a year in which reaching a bowl game was treated like a banner season, expectations were a bit higher in 2013. A trip to Austin in Week 3 presented an opportunity for the fledgling Rebel football program to indicate that they planned on raising the bar.
The home-and-home series with Texas was long in the making, with part one having already played out in Oxford in 2012 in the form of a 66-31 Texas beatdown decided by halftime. A Longhorn victory over a team in rebuilding mode wasn’t much of a surprise, but it served as a stark reality check that claiming the status of usurpers would take some time for Ole Miss.
From 2010 to 2012, Mack Brown hauled in three consecutive top-four recruiting classes, with the 2013 group being a relative disappointment (17th nationally). The Rebels were headed to Austin with not nearly the same star power or depth, their only top-ten class coming just seven months prior to kickoff.
After entering the season with national title hopes, Texas was already off to a less-than-ideal start in 2013, having suffered a 21-40 rout to BYU in Provo, which prompted the firing of defensive coordinator Manny Diaz. That talent advantage over Ole Miss never went away, though, so a 21-point win for the Rebels that included a 27-0 shutout in the second half may have caught folks off guard.
No extra bit of context, not even the Longhorns’ underachieving in recent years, would have made it any less surprising that Ole Miss had just decisively beaten Texas in a football game.
The Rebel offense established an unfamiliar level of balance and worked in the read option through their two opening touchdown drives, splitting their first 16 plays evenly between the ground and air and reaching 7.9 yards per carry. Things were going great, but because it’s Ole Miss, the momentum completely shifted following their early success. Of course it did.
On the next drive, Longhorn sophomore Johnathan Gray ripped off some big runs to set up a screen from Case McCoy (remember that guy?) to Mike Davis that cut the lead in half. Ole Miss responded by gaining negative yardage and setting Texas up for a drive starting on the Rebels’ 46. Oh yeah, and once the Longhorns had taken the lead outright, this happened.
Following that extremely bad-Bo moment at their own 18, the Landsharks forced Texas to settle for a field goal. Ole Miss kicker Andrew Ritter nailed a 52-yarder to close the half, but the Rebels’ opening punches seemed a distant memory.
The second half still doesn’t make sense, but it happened. To start things off, Wallace drove the offense the length of the field and barreled his way into the end zone on a 15-yard run. After a second consecutive Texas punt, the Rebels put together another steady, 80-yard possession, ending with a play-action strike to then-freshman Evan Engram. Was that guy ever a freshman?
Jeff Scott was brilliant all game, rushing for 164 yards on 8.6 yards per carry, but his best work was on a punt return to close out the third quarter. I’m gonna go ahead and assume this is the last time an Ole Miss special teams unit has scored on a punt.
On the Rebels’ next drive, Scott had a 32-yard burst that set up another touchdown. Needless to say, he was the catalyst for the offense’s second-half dominance. Their rushing total of 272 yards was the most Ole Miss had enjoyed against a Power 5 opponent since Dexter McCluster’s show against Tennessee in 2009. HOO.
While the offense was having a field day on the ground, the defense was arguably even more devastating, allowing just 3.1 yards per play and a success rate of 19 percent. NINETEEN. Following a 41-yard possession that ended in a punt, McCoy’s group had three consecutive three-and-outs. On the next drive, they did manage to move the ball six yards before fumbling at the Ole Miss 41, which I guess is progress. A stretch of 12 consecutive unsuccessful plays was enough for the Rebels’ to build an insurmountable lead.
The road win bumped Ole Miss up to 21st in the polls, only to be shut out by 25 in Tuscaloosa the next week. It was still too early in Freeze’s tenure and too young of a roster to expect that kind of performance every week, as the Rebels won just four of their next nine games.
That didn’t downgrade the thrill at the time of dealing a blow to a program that, despite experiencing internal turmoil, was working with far greater resources. Whether it was upsetting No. 6 LSU at home a month later or beating Alabama the following season, injecting chaos into the college football universe would become a regularity for the Rebels.
This team is nothing if not entertaining, especially in its current incarnation.