Barring an upset in the 2015 SEC Championship Game, No. 13 Ole Miss (9-3, 6-2 SEC) is heading to the Sugar Bowl to ring in the new year.
That’s quite an accomplishment and another step in the right direction for coach Hugh Freeze, but much will be said about what could’ve been for the Rebels. Ole Miss was a play away (and there were several to pick from) from being the SEC West representative in Atlanta on Saturday.
There were several key moments to get the Rebels to where they stand today, but five moments shine above the rest. Let’s take a look:
Ole Miss offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil misses the first seven games of the season because of NCAA violations.
The saga surrounding Tunsil’s eligibility took over the first month and half of the Rebels’ season, and his absence ultimately played a huge role in Ole Miss’ offense.
Without Tunsil, the Rebels run-game was abysmal, and many speculate as to whether or not Ole Miss would’ve lost to Memphis if Tunsil was in the lineup. One thing that can’t be denied is how much better Ole Miss’ offense looked with Tunsil back in the lineup.
Against Alabama, Vanderbilt, Florida and Memphis, Ole Miss averaged just 88 rushing yards per game without Tunsil. In five SEC game with Tunsil, the Rebels averaged 200.6 rushing yards per game.
Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly finds wide receiver Cody Core for a 73-yard touchdown on a pop pass against Alabama to extend the Rebels’ lead to 36-24.
It wasn’t the flashiest play in the world. But there’s no denying how important that win in Tuscaloosa against the Crimson Tide was, and the pop pass touchdown stopped an Alabama run.
The Crimson Tide had cut a 30-10 deficit to 30-24, and Ole Miss needed an answer. Kelly to Core delivered the answer and was a huge play that often gets overlooked in the Rebels’ big win during Week 3.
Kelly throws an interception near midfield with 3:40 to go in the second quarter against Memphis to set up the Tigers’ go-ahead score.
With the four minutes left in the first half against Memphis, Ole Miss led 14-7. By halftime, the Tigers had a 24-14 lead. Before Kelly’s interception, Memphis made a field goal to cut its deficit to 14-10, and all the momentum was on the Tigers’ sideline.
Ole Miss needed a response, and they had the play they wanted. Kelly had wide receiver Markell Pack for a big gain across the middle, and Pack would have had a good chance to take it to the house on the play. However, Pack had the ball go off his hands and deflected into the air for an easy Memphis interception. The Tigers took the lead three plays later.
Arkansas tight end Hunter Henry heaves the ball backwards to keep the play alive on fourth-and-25 in overtime, and the ball lands in the hands of running back Alex Collins who gets enough for the first down. A couple plays later, Arkansas quarterback Brandon Allen scores on a game-winning two-point conversion after facemask penalty keeps the game alive.
Neither Ole Miss nor Arkansas’ defense could stop the other, but the Rebels finally looked like they had a great opportunity to get the stop needed to win the game.
The Razorbacks were backed up to fourth-and-25 before the the crazy play happened and kept Arkansas alive. The Razorbacks scored two plays later. If Ole Miss stops that play, it is playing for an SEC title and creating chaos in the College Football Playoff conversation.
After all the craziness of the lateral that kept the game going, Ole Miss still had a chance to win the game, and it appeared to get the game-winning stop on the Razorbacks’ two-point conversion attempt.
Rebels defensive end Marquis Haynes was all over Allen and dragged him to the ground to preserve Ole Miss’ SEC title hopes, but Haynes got Allen’s facemask during the tackle. On the next play, Allen scored the game-winning two-point conversion.
Ole Miss cornerback Tony Bridges gets a 45-yard pick six to put an early nail in the coffin the in the Rebels’ win against Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl.
It was as good of a start as Ole Miss could’ve asked for. The Rebels were up 14-0 on the road in Starkville, Miss., but there was still plenty of time for the Bulldogs to erase a two-touchdown deficit.
On second-and-10 from the Mississippi State 40-yard line, Bulldogs quarterback Dak Prescott scrambled out to his right and threw the ball towards a receiver on the near sideline as he was pounded into the ground by Ole Miss linebacker DeMarquis Gates.
The hit took a little off the pass, and cornerback Tony Bridges jumped the route, intercepted the pass and took it to the house for the defensive score.
The play not only put Ole Miss up 21-0, but it all but put the game out of reach with three minutes remaining in the first quarter. The Rebels went on to win 38-27.