November 14, 2012 9:09:13 AM
OXFORD -- University of Mississippi football coach Hugh Freeze says he slept only about 30 minutes on Saturday night.
The bad memories of Ole Miss letting a 17-point lead slip away and turn into a 27-26 loss to Vanderbilt University were too difficult to push out of his mind.
In a strange way, this was progress for Ole Miss.
"When you start having success, it builds the expectations for all of us and then we want more," Freeze said. "I don't blame (fans) and we feel the same way."
But the hard reality is the Rebels (5-5, 2-4 Southeastern Conference) possibly let their best chance to become bowl eligible get away when Vanderbilt's Jordan Rodgers hit Chris Boyd for the go-ahead 26-yard touchdown pass with 52 second remaining.
Freeze previously said he didn't talk to his players much about the postseason. But rising expectations have made the topic unavoidable.
"It's something you wish wasn't talked about as much. It is what it is," Freeze said. "As we approach these next few games, it would be nice to have that out of the way, but we don't. There's still a lot to play for. You want it so badly for the fans, but also for the few seniors that we do have."
The good news for the Rebels is two opportunities remain -- though both are against talented opponents. Ole Miss will travel to face No. 8 LSU (8-2, 4-2) on Saturday at Tiger Stadium before hosting Mississippi State on Nov. 24 in the Egg Bowl.
Freshman linebacker Robert Nkemdiche says the Rebels were hurting immediately after the Vanderbilt loss, but quickly pushed it aside.
"Two more games (mean) two more shots to be bowl eligible," Nkemdiche said. "That's how everybody is looking at it. Nobody is looking at it like the season is over and we can't go to a bowl at all. Everybody's attitude is still up and emotional-wise, we're doing great."
The attitude might be great, but health is another issue.
The Rebels are down to 59 scholarship players, according to Freeze, because of injuries. And even the relatively healthy players are bruised and battered after 10 games, including six against SEC competition.
That fatigue might have against Vanderbilt, when Ole Miss struggled to run the ball. The Rebels managed just 55 rushing yards on 40 carries.
Jeff Scott -- who stands just 5-foot-7 and 170 pounds -- carried the ball 24 times for 47 yards. Freeze said Scott missed a few running lanes against Vanderbilt.
"That's another kid that we're probably playing too many snaps," Freeze said. "He's probably not as fresh as he once was. I know at his frame, he's sore. He's taken a lot of hits. We've got to evaluate helping him understand what would be a better decision on this run and at the same time give him some rest ... The thing with Jeff is you know that he could pop one at any moment. I don't know that we feel that way about everybody else."
Things won't get any easier this week. LSU has the second best rushing defense in the SEC.
"We can't use (injuries and fatigue) as an excuse or a crutch," Freeze said. "We have to fix that in recruiting, which we will. Right now, we have to press on with what we have."
Even with the issues, Ole Miss has reason for optimism.
Wallace put up some huge numbers against Vanderbilt, completing 36 of 49 passes for 403 yards and a touchdown. Young receivers like Ja-Mes Logan, Vincent Sanders and Donte Moncrief continue to make big catches.
It's a major reason the Rebels have been competitive in almost every game they've played.
"We know that we can win this game and we can win the next one," Wallace said. "We're just going to go out, play as hard as we can and hopefully go out on top."