September 15, 2013 1:27:43 AM
By Michael Bradley
Special to The Dispatch
AUSTIN, Tex. -- What a difference a year can make. A lot of things can happen in a year. For Ole Miss and Texas, a year can mean a 180 degree difference in the direction of your football program. After jumping out to a 14-0 lead early, Ole Miss took Texas's best shots in the 2nd quarter, then rolled in the second half behind a strong rushing attack to take 44-23 victory before 101,474 fans, the 3rd largest crowd in Texas history.
In any football game the winning and losing is almost always determined when one team takes control of the line of scrimmage at some point and imposes its will on the opposing team. Sometimes this is a quick and relatively painless thing, as the better team is obvious to even the most oblivious fan from the outset, and the weaker team accepts the obvious and begins to prepare for next week. This was the general feeling in Oxford last year. Texas was just obviously better. Everyone in attendance knew it.
The Longhorns literally ran Ole Miss out of its own stadium a year ago. The 66-31 shellacking was a lesson in how big time football programs play the game. Most of the capacity crowd at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium was headed back to The Grove midway through the 3rd quarter. In the end, the Longhorn coaching staff showed some class by kneeling on the football at the end when another score could have easily been had.
Then there are times when the process is slow and methodical where the better team is not as obvious and the pain that is endured before accepting defeat is much greater on the team that loses. Simply put, when you are close it hurts much more. Ole Miss was the better team here tonight, it just took a little while longer for the evidence to show. The Rebels rushed for 272 yards, led by senior running back Jeff Scott's 164 yards, and held Texas normally vaunted running game to a mere 124 yards to wear down the Longhorns and take the victory before a shell shocked Texas crowd and a large visiting contingent of Ole Miss fans.
With the exception of about 10 minutes in the 2nd quarter, Ole Miss controlled both sides of the line of scrimmage, an astounding reversal of what had happened to the Rebels a year ago. Ole Miss came out and established the run from the outset, with almost all of the yardage coming on the left side of the Ole Miss offensive line, which happens to be where heralded freshman offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil starts. Tunsil, guard Justin Bell, center Evan Swindall, guard Jared Duke, and tackle Pierce Burton controlled the line of scrimmage early and allowed the Rebels to be a multi dimensional offense. The Rebels ran the zone read to Tunsil's side 5 times during the opening drive to take an early 7-0 lead. The drive seemed to set the tone for the Rebel defense, as they held Texas to a 3 and out and then marched right down the ﬁeld again to take a 14-0 lead midway through the 1st quarter. "I thought our offensive line played really, really well tonight," said Coach Hugh Freeze, who watched his team win it's fifth straight game dating back to last season and improve to 3-0 on the 2013 season. "Our ability to run the ball kept us out of 3rd and long,...winning 1st down was the key all night long," Freeze said. "When we got into 3rd and long they (Texas) was able to get after us a little, but we were able to avoid 3rd and long most of the night." The play of the offensive line allowed Scott and company to get to the edge, and the Rebel receivers did their part. "Those receivers on the outside blocked their tails off tonight," Freeze said. "It was very pleasing to see the effort that those guys gave out there tonight."
Defensively, Ole Miss came in with somewhat of a chip on its shoulder after surrendering 66 points and almost 700 yards of offense last season to the Longhorns, and it really could have been worse. The Rebels, as on offense, set the tone early with several big plays by the defensive front, including a bone jarring hit by Sophomore Channing Ward from Aberdeen on Texas running back Malcolm Brown to end Texas ﬁrst possession. The young defensive front, with the exception of the previously noted time period in the second quarter, contained the Longhorn ground game and forced Texas to move the ball through the air with its backup quarterback. With supremacy against the run established, the Rebel front, lead by freshman defensive end Robert Nkemdiche, defensive end C. J. Johnson, nose tackle Woodrow Hamilton, and defensive tackle Issac Gross, applied steady pressure to Longhorn quarterback Case McCoy, helping an inexperienced secondary immensely with containing the Longhorn air assault. "We got after him (McCoy) in the 2nd half. We were calling more blitzes and were sharper on pass rushes," said C.J. Johnson. "We executed our game plan better in the 2nd half and adjusted a few little things up front," he continued.
The linebacking corps, led by Mike Marry, D.T. Shackelford, and Serderious Bryant, who is starting in place of injured Denzel Nkemdiche, played with a reckless abandon to insure that Texas was unable to get outside and every yard gained between the tackles came with a heavy price. In the second half, this physical style of play took its toll on the Longhorns and the Rebels took control of the game and cruised to the victory.
The ability of the Rebels to impose their will on a team like Texas was most impressive to say the least. What does this mean long term for the Rebels? Only time will tell. The victory here tonight went a long way to establishing Ole Miss as a force to be reckoned with, a team that is dangerous, a team that you had better prepare to play four quarters against. This Ole Miss team is big, fast, athletic, and plays with a conﬁdence that is well beyond what even the most optimistic Ole Miss fan could have hoped for at this time last year.