October 22, 2013 9:54:26 AM
Ole Miss football coach Hugh Freeze is preaching moving forward.
After recording the biggest victory in his two seasons as head coach in Oxford, Freeze said the Rebels' mission is to finish the regular season on a strong note. To do that, Ole Miss must put away memories of its 27-24 victory against then-No. 6 LSU on Saturday night at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
The victory was Ole Miss' first against a top-10 team since it defeated LSU in 2009.
Ole Miss (4-3, 2-3 Southeastern Conference) will try to regroup at 6:30 p.m. Saturday (CSS) when it plays host to Idaho for its Homecoming game.
"I'm extremely proud of our kids and our staff," Freeze said Monday at his weekly media gathering. "After watching the film, it's probably one of the most complete games we've played since we've been here. We made a few mistakes that caused it to go down to the wire. You can't control some of it. We wish we had the two turnovers back and the low kick by (Andrew) Ritter, which made him coming back and getting the game-winner that much more special. He's a Mississippi kid that had a quite good understanding of this game. It was good to celebrate with him after the game."
With Ole Miss leading by seven points early in the fourth quarter, Ritter had a field goal attempt blocked. The senior from Jackson Academy bounced back with a 41-yard kick as time expired that brought the Magnolia Cup back to Oxford for the first time in four seasons.
"It was exciting to be in that position," Ritter said. "Every kicker has confidence they can make the game-winning kick. I really didn't get down (after the block). I was just hoping the offense could have a drive and give me another opportunity to make a kick."
The even-keel approach isn't reserved for the kickers. Ole Miss snapped a three-game losing streak with the win. The Rebels just completed a stretch of four games against nationally ranked opponents, each of which is in the top 14 this week.
Freeze admitted he was concerned about the Rebels' mental state after a 41-38 defeat to Texas A&M at home.
"We're not ready to be the biggest, fastest, and strongest, but we can play with the most passion," Freeze said. "I set the tone with our staff everyday in the staff meeting. They get tired of hearing me, but I remind them every day of one expectation I have. It starts with us and we have to pass that expectation on to our young men.
"Certain weeks, like last week, when you're worried that the message may not get across clearly because you come off a very difficult, gut-wrenching loss. You look around and half of your unit you're used to playing with may not be with you. You're playing the top one-loss, ranked team in the nation. As a coach, you sit back and wonder if you can really get them ready to do it. You have doubts you have to fight yourself."
Ole Miss built a 10-0 halftime lead after a near flawless half by the defense. For the night, Ole Miss intercepted quarterback Zach Mettenberger three times.
"The defense played its tails off," Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace said. "They did everything imaginable. Even thought we led at halftime, we felt like we left too many points on the field. In the second half, we had three really good drives.
"We had a couple of turnovers but fortunately we were able to come back from those and make enough plays to win the game. The thing with this team is they never got down. We knew if we kept working hard, we would beat one of these top-10 teams."
Wallace was 30 of 39 for 346 yards in the victory. Playing without leading rusher Jeff Scott, the Rebels still generated 525 yards. Jaylen Walton (18 rushes, 105 yards) picked up the slack and collected his first 100-yard game.
Idaho, a Football Bowl Subdivision Independent, is 1-6. The Vandals were open last week. Prior to that, Idaho dropped a 48-24 decision at Arkansas State. The lone victory is a 26-24 victory against Temple.
While Freeze hopes the game is merely a tuneup for the stretch run, he said the most important thing for his team is to look forward.
"That gauntlet we've gone through has taken a toll on us some physically and mentally," Freeze said. "We need to continue moving in the right direction in all areas. We have a team coming in this week that I'm sure they will like they have nothing to lose. They're playing in an SEC home and have a chance to make some noise, just like many teams did last weekend. We don't want to be on the other end of that, so we've got to regain our kids focus and elevate our concentration to do little things right."
After the Idaho game, Arkansas, Troy, and No. 5 Missouri will come to Oxford. Two wins will clinch bowl eligibility for a second-straight season.
"It's unreasonable for you think you can get young men up to their maximum emotional peak week in and week out," Freeze said. "That's not a reasonable expectation. A reasonable expectation is they're going to play extremely hard and with some level of focus. I don't think we did that really well early on in the season, when they had a game where they felt like they should win. I expect us to change our mind-set a little bit on that. That will be clearly communicated all week."
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Scott is sports copy editor and reporter