October 10, 2012 9:41:48 AM
OXFORD -- Cody Prewitt has been a part of the University of Mississippi's football program for more than a year.
He still doesn't know what it feels like to celebrate a Southeastern Conference victory.
And that frustration has grown exponentially since Saturday, as he and the rest of the Rebels have continued to digest a painful 30-27 loss to Texas A&M. Ole Miss had a 27-17 lead midway through the fourth quarter before the Aggies rallied to send the Rebels to their 16th consecutive SEC loss.
The close game was further proof Ole Miss is improving. But for Prewitt, it's not happening fast enough.
"Everybody's sick of losing," Prewitt said. "We're doing our part and it's time for things to start going our way."
Ole Miss (3-3, 0-2 SEC) gets another chance to end the SEC agony this weekend when it hosts Auburn (1-4, 0-3) at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. In a rarity, the Rebels are favored by Vegas to win the conference game. The Tigers have the league's worst offense, averaging just 15.4 points per game.
Now first-year coach Hugh Freeze said it's his job to make sure the Rebels forget about the Texas A&M loss and focus on the future. He's been pleased by their response so far.
"I'm confident they are still a hungry group," Freeze said.
Now he's trying to turn it into a winning group.
There are certainly some positives. Bo Wallace completed 20 of 34 passes for 305 yards and a touchdown against the Aggies. He also rushed for a touchdown.
There was also the Rebels' defense, which forced six turnovers and showed a consistent knack for the big play.
But Ole Miss also has a knack for backbreaking mistakes.
For instance: Wallace made just two truly bad throws all night, but both were interceptions. The first was when a ball slipped out of his hand -- and returned for a 37-yard touchdown by Texas A&M linebacker Steven Jenkins. The second was a bad read on a quick slant throw, and ended a potential game-winning drive.
"If you look at (Wallace's) game, he played a good game," Freeze said. "But the mistakes he makes are magnified because of the state of our program. Every single snap and every single possession is critical for us."
Wallace has now thrown as many interceptions (eight) as touchdowns this season, but insists there is improvement.
Now he wants to give Ole Miss fans a reason to celebrate.
"We love the support, but I'm sick and tired of people telling us 'We're almost there. We're almost there,"' Wallace said. "It's starting to make me mad. It's a fine line. Football is about winning and losing and we lost. It's time to start winning some football games."
The Ole Miss defense is improving quickly, and is building with a pair of young leaders. Redshirt freshman linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche leads the Rebels with 38 tackles, including eight for a loss. Prewitt, a sophomore safety, is second with 35 tackles. He forced two fumbles, recovered a fumble and grabbed an interception against Texas A&M.
Freeze said it's rare for such young players to turn into leaders. For Nkemdiche, it's not a problem.
"There's no age, there's no perfect rubric for being a leader," Nkemdiche said. "If you want to be courageous and step up and lead by example, lead vocally, why not? If the teammates respect that why not keep doing it and show up every weekend?"
And that's exactly what the 5-foot-11, 203-pounder plans to do against Auburn.
The aftermath of the Texas A&M loss wasn't much fun, but it also proved to Nkemdiche that the Rebels can end their SEC drought very soon.
"It hurt and I'm glad that players were affected like that," Nkemdiche said. "They really cared. They wanted to win. It hurt the entire locker room. It's a feeling we don't want to ever have again - it will give us a little push."