The situation Saturday night was all too familiar for Ole Miss. Having the lead with just over two minutes left in the game, a defensive stop would have propelled the Rebels to six wins and bowl eligibility. Instead, they were handed another heartbreaking. This time by the Vanderbilt Commodores, who became bowl eligible themselves with the win.
“Obviously, we’re very disappointed and hurting in that locker room right now,” Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze said. “Those seniors, especially, who are helping us start the foundation here. There’s just a lot of hurt and disappointment right now. Certainly, this is a tough profession, and it’s really tough when you see kids that you care about hurt and their coaches and families.”
The loss was the second down-to-the-wire loss of the year for Ole Miss (5-5, 2-4 Southeastern Conference) after falling to Texas A&M 30-27 earlier this season.
“It hurts bad,” sophomore quarterback Bo Wallace said. “We’ve got to take over games when we are up as much as we were. Offensively, we’ve got to keep scoring points and not allow them to get back in it.”
Just four minutes into the game, Wallace found sophomore wide receiver Vince Sanders from nine yards out to put the Rebels up 7-0. The touchdown was Sanders’ second on the season and he finished the night with five catches for 96 yards and a touchdown.
Vanderbilt would answer late in the first quarter with a field goal, but it was slim pickings for the Commodores (6-4, 4-3 SEC) in the first half.
Ole Miss senior kicker Bryson Rose had himself a solid second quarter connecting on field goals from 22, 28 and 41 yards out, respectively, which pushed the Rebel lead to 16-3 with two minutes to play in the first half. However, settling for field goals provided for several missed opportunities for the Rebels to take control of the game.
“The bottom line is they scored touchdowns, and we scored field goals,” Freeze said. “They are a good football team. They didn’t quit; they didn’t panic. Give them credit. But we have got to score touchdowns when we get in the red zone, and we just didn’t.”
Ole Miss took a 10-point lead into halftime and would drive 56 yards in nine plays that was capped off by a 1-yard touchdown run from Wallace to increase the lead to 23-6 to start the second half, and everything seemed to be going the Rebels’ way.
However, it was only a matter of time until Vanderbilt struck back. On the next drive for the Commodores, senior quarterback Jordan Rodgers connected with junior wide receiver Jordan Matthews from 52 yards out to get Vanderbilt back into the game, making the score 23-13. The Commodores cut the deficit to three with a 2-yard touchdown run by junior running back Wesley Tate that ended a 11-play, 51-yard drive.
Missed opportunities once again plagued Ole Miss as Rose couldn’t connect on 52-yard field goal, and the Rebels had to settle for a 27-yard field goal after yet another drive stalled in the red zone that gave them a 26-20 lead with just over two minutes left to play.
It was up to the Ole Miss defense. A stop would mean a bowl game for the first time since 2009 for the Rebels.
Rodgers and the Commodores took over at their 21-yard line. Vanderbilt had 4th-and-2 at its own 46, and Rodgers converted with a 3-yard run, breaking a tackle in the backfield that would have more than likely sealed the win for Ole Miss.
Moments later, Vanderbilt sunk the hopes of Ole Miss when Rodgers found sophomore wide receiver Chris Boyd for a 26-yard touchdown on a busted coverage by junior cornerback Charles Sawyer, and the Commodores pulled ahead 27-26 with 52 seconds to play.
Wallace and the Rebels had one last chance to rally and win the game that they had once led by 17.
“I was telling them the whole time when we went up 26 to 20 stay in this game,” Wallace said. “We know we are going to have to score a field goal and win this game. It’s where you want to be, 50 seconds, two timeouts. It’s exactly where you want to be as a quarterback, and we just didn’t get it done.”
The Rebels started the drive with a 17-yard pass from Wallace to senior wide receiver Ja-Mes Logan to move the ball to midfield. However, that was all Ole Miss would muster, gaining just three more yards as they handed the ball back over to Vanderbilt.
On the day, Wallace finished 31-of-49 for 403 yards, the most yards he has thrown for all year, and a touchdown through the air as well as one on the ground.
“When you throw for 400 yards and don’t turn the ball over, you usually win,” offensive coordinator Dan Werner said. “That’s sort of depressing, but it was a depressing game.”
Perhaps the most alarming stat of the night, though, was in the rushing department. The Rebels went managed only 55 yards on 40 carries Saturday night, making it three straight game in which the run offense has been held under 100 yards. Junior running back Jeff Scott totaled just 47 yards on 24 carries.
Now, the Rebels are faced with the task of defeating either LSU or Mississippi State to become bowl eligible. The road is tough, but Werner in confident the team will bounce back.
“They will,” Werner said. “It all filters down from the head coach, and Coach Freeze is as good as I’ve ever been around when it comes to dealing with things like this and he’ll get these guys bouncing back and we will as a staff. We’ll come back ready to play next week.”
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