Two weeks ago, the showdown between Ole Miss and LSU looked like it was going to decide the SEC West, but now the Rebels and Tigers will clash in what looks to be just another chapter in a historic rivalry.
The Rebels lost two weeks ago to Arkansas in overtime and have had a bye to clear their minds heading in this year’s Magnolia Bowl. LSU, on the other hand, lost control of the SEC West against Alabama two weeks ago before seeing any College Football Playoff hopes likely slip through its hands with a home loss to the Razorbacks.
“We’re playing a very, very good football team,” Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze told reporters Monday. “They’re one of the more talented groups in the country. They’ve been disappointed the past couple weeks, and that’s part of life. One of the greatest lessons I think you can learn in life is how you handle that. They’re being tested in that just like we’ve been.”
Ole Miss certainly knows what it’s like to see all hope dashed.
Last season, it was the Tigers that handed the Rebels their first loss of the season. Even so, Ole Miss was ranked No. 4 in the first Playoff rankings. The next week, the Rebels lost a heartbreaker to Auburn to end those title hopes.
After that loss to Auburn, Ole Miss never really recovered, which was evident in a 30-0 thrashing at Arkansas late in the season.
With LSU’s SEC title hopes gone this season, will the Tigers feel the same way as the Rebels did a year ago? Time will tell. But Ole Miss is also looking to bounce back after seeing its SEC West title hopes dashed with the loss to Arkansas.
Freeze admitted coaches really never know how kids will react to disappointment, but he’s seen a different mindset than the one that led to last year’s blowout to the Razorbacks.
“Was last year’s Arkansas week different than what I saw yesterday? Yes,” Freeze said. “I think LSU probably experienced some of that too. The Playoff, when it comes out, teams are in it, which is great. When your name is in it — like we experienced last year, and LSU, if I’m correct, was in the top four (this year) — then (you) have a disappointing loss, it is really, really difficult to manage the players’ psyche, the coaches’ psyche, everybody’s psyche. It’s a difficult challenge.
“I can’t speak for them, but I know firsthand that the disappointment that not only comes with a loss, which happens, but a loss where you were in a position that you really want to be in badly. It is difficult.”
Freeze is hoping the rivalry aspect of this week’s matchup will have a positive impact on his team.
“I’m going to let (the emotions) run,” Freeze said. “I think most of them will handle it the right way. It’s the buildup to it, then handling the emotions as the game starts. All of that kind of goes away after the first few minutes. You do want them to understand the history and importance of games like this. That’s the reason you come here to play in these next two contests. We’ll take the approach of embracing it, educating and building up the emotions to it.”