When Ole Miss trudged off of the field and out of a rattling Razorback Stadium 0n Saturday night, it knew its goals had to be altered. With two SEC losses and Alabama looking utterly invincible, its preseason aspirations of winning the SEC and making the College Football Playoff had been dashed.
The loss stung. It was evident on the faces walking into the tunnel and out of the field. It was evident in their words.
“Losing hurts,” Chad Kelly said after the game. “I know all of those guys are hurting right now. We’ve just got to come back and get on the same page and build some momentum on the offensive side of the ball.”
Freeze alluded to previous moments in his tenure in which his team has responded to adversity. Ole Miss hasn’t lost back-to-back games since 2014.
On Monday, the message was the same. Freeze did acknowledge the difficulty of keeping his team motivated.
“I think this is when you find out a lot about yourself, your team and your kids. It won’t be done just because I come to work and say we are fixing to bow up and get it done,” Freeze said. “It is going got take a collaborative effort from a lot of people and a lot of kids, and a lot of young kids that this is a bit foreign to when expectations aren’t quite met early on. I again preach to them that this life, this football team, it is not about an individual event; it is about a journey.”
One of the difficulties of playing in a league like the SEC is that there is no recovery time. Ole Miss executed poorly in Fayetteville and was hurt by the running game. A few days from now, it will have a similar challenge to the one it had last Saturday. It will be tasked with going on the road and into a hostile environment in Baton Rouge at Death Valley and stopping an LSU running game led by one of the best backs in the country in Leonard Fournette and complimented by Derrius Guice, who has shouldered more of the load in the absence of Fournette in recent weeks.
Fournette injured his ankle against Auburn, but Guice has kept the train rolling with 325 yards on 33 caries in the last two games.
“It will definitely challenge us to respond having Arkansas attack us in the rushing game, and then going up against two good backs,” Zedrick Woods said.
It was reported on Monday that Fournette would likely be ready to play on Saturday. He ran for 108 yards on 25 carries in the game last year in Oxford, and the Rebels will have their hands full with Guice right behind him.
“They have, in the last few weeks, offensively put up a lot of big numbers, 600 and something yards, 400 or so in the other, and I think just 44 plays,” Freeze said. “We all know the talent that they have at receiver, and they are utilizing that now. At running back, they are always special there.”
Life in the SEC usually brings a unique challenge each week, and though Ole Miss’ original goals may be unattainable, the Rebels’ tune won’t change.
“There is a lot more stuff than people think we are playing for,” Kelly said. “We are playing for pride. We want to win every game regardless of the outcome of the game before. We want to win every game. I hate to lose and so do the guys in that locker room. So for us to get over that hump, we’ve got to work even harder.”