Ben Garrett of the Ole Miss Spirit wrote about some of the Rebels’ biggest recruiting misses a few weeks ago. Most of them were known and we’ve already compartmentalized the pain somewhere deep down in our innards.
But, one of the misses stood out to me that, with what Ole Miss could to a certain extent control at the time (hello NCAA), was a back breaker.
A certain top-100 running back from Coral Gables Senior High School was committed to Ole Miss and was coming off an official visit where he was hosted by then starting quarterback, Eli Manning. Per the highly-rated running back, Manning’s sales pitch was simple.
“Yeah, man, we’re going to be like Peyton and Edgerrin James if you come here.”
This four-star running back was one Frank Gore, the eventual BCS National Champion, five-time Pro Bowler, NFL 2010’s All-Decade Team member, and owner of the third-most rushing yards in the sport’s history.
As Garrett writes, former coach and now Memphis defensive coordinator Mike MacIntyre recruited Gore for the entire cycle only to be left at the proverbial alter after Larry Coker convinced the hometown kid to stay within the Sunshine State limits.
In an interview with SFGate’s Eric Branch, Gore explains what happened:
I was looking at wanting to play early. I thought going to Ole Miss I had a chance to start. But, you know, I had my mom situation. And (Miami) coach C.J. (Curtis Johnson), the receiver coach from New Orleans, and coach Kiel (?), they really recruited me good.
They were like: “You want to be the best? Then come play with the best. I know you’re not scared of competing. Come to Miami.”
Gore later explained that his late mother was in declining health and Miami coaches offered a persuasive sales pitch to go along with him wanting to stay close to her.
So what exactly happens if he leaves Florida, sticks to his commitment, and enrolls at Ole Miss?
Let’s enjoy misery together, shall we?
Oh, look, a run game!
Tremaine Turner and Vashon Pearson combined to run for 1,207 yards and eight touchdowns in 2003.
They were fine.
But, the former No. 17 running back in the 2001 class would have really helped the Rebels here. As a Hurricane and while splitting carries with Jarrett Payton and Tyrone Moss, Gore ran for 468 yards and four touchdowns in just five games.
Despite tearing his ACL at the end of the 2003 season, Gore returns with a vengeance for Miami, touting the rock 197 times for 945 yards and eight touchdowns.
Yes, we all love Turner and Pearson. They were awesome compliments to each other and were great replacements, all things considered, for the former Rebel great, Joe Gunn. But, I think we can all agree that Frank the Tank would’ve been the starter, running away, in Oxford and would have been an awesome compliment to Eli Manning in Cutcliffe’s offense.
Does he get the Rebs to Atlanta?
For even if it were a brief, fleeting moment, we all thought that day was going to be different. We all remember Verne Lundquist’s epic call of Travis Johnson’s pick six.
Butttt the afternoon and eventual night was a cruel mistress.
We all remember Doug Buckles stepping on Eli Manning’s foot on fourth down. We all remember Lou Groza Award Winner Jonathan Nichols missing two field goals.
But, despite all the horror and pain, most don’t remember the complete lack of a run game that afternoon.
The Rebels ran the ball 21 times for an impressive 27 yards, putting the onus on Manning and the passing game to do it all against Nick Saban’s defense. Turner averaged just under four yards per carry and the emphasis put on the passing game forced Eli to run for his life most of the day, ending up with -23 yards rushing.
I’d imagine if Gore was a part of this edition of the Rebels’ history that this game would have been much different. We can all hypothetically imagine that Ole Miss is able to mix things up, play call-wise, and keep Will Muschamp and the Bayou Bengals on their heels long enough for Manning to punish them deep.
Frank’s presence might’ve been the proverbial ticket the Rebels needed to finally punch their own proverbial ticket to Atlanta for that elusive SEC Championship Game.
Alas he was in Coral Gables playing for the Canes and we are left with this.
Can you imagine a two-headed Gun Gore Monster?
We all know that Joe was the guy in 2001, running for 870 yards and nine touchdowns for a 7-4 Ole Miss team that ended their season with two heartbreaking losses and no bowl game. Let’s say that we add in Mr. Gore’s true freshman season and things could have been drastically different that year for the Rebels maybe, just maybe they are a 9-2 team that wins the Western Division.
The aforementioned true freshman season for Gore was on arguably one of the greatest college football teams of all-time. In 2001 while splitting carries with Clinton Portis and Willis McGahee, he ran for 562 yards and five touchdowns.
Now, imagine that combined with Gunn’s 2001 production and enjoy that imaginary world.
The Rebels could have certainly used it in their close loss that year on the road against Auburn where they ran the ball 23 times for just 50 yards. Later that year as part of the seven overtime affair at home against Arkansas, it would’ve been nice to spell Gunn here and there with some fresh Gore legs.
Joe ran it 31(!) times for 102 yards, good enough for just 2.2 yards per carry. As good as Gore was in his first season in Miami, you have to think that the 2001 Freshman All-American would’ve been able to make some hay against the Auburn Tigers and the measly Hogs of Arkansas, two teams that limped to 7-5 finishes that season.
So what have we learned today? Well, one could argue that if Frank Gore were to have stuck to his verbal commitment to the Rebels and signed with Ole Miss in 2001, Eli Manning would have finally had a marquee back to go along his powerful right arm and the Rebels might have made it to Atlanta not once BUT TWICE!
Truly a gut-wrenching “What If?” scenario!!
I’m so sorry.