Mitchell: Ole Miss Turns A Corner
Jeff Scott
Jeff Scott
Posted Aug 30, 2013

We're not talking about Jeff Scott's game winning run around the corner. Rather, the big question mark in Oxford this off-season – whether the Ole Miss Rebels could close out good teams in tight ballgames. This is how they did it Thursday, and what it means to turn this particular corner.

By Russ Mitchell
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We expected this to be the best game of the weekend, and nearly the most important next to the Georgia vs. Clemson match up. And it didn't disappoint.

For those that had any doubts, Vanderbilt receiver Jordan Matthews is as good – and tough – as advertised. Ole Miss running back Jeff Scott is indeed very fast, quite talented and plays a smart brand of football. His quick decision to fall down on the sideline and run clock late in the game being a good example of his football awareness.

Moreover, the Rebels' true freshmen will indeed turn heads this season, especially defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche and receiver Laquon Treadwell – two names you had better commit to memory.

However, the big question this off-season in Oxford was if the Rebels would have the maturity to finish off tight games, after surrendering fourth quarters leads to TAMU, Vandy and LSU in 2012.

Moreover, to do so while relying on approximately eight true freshman.

With that in mind, two things from Thursday night stand out, besides the mutually destructive, bonehead defensive play inside the final two minutes.

First, after dominating the opening quarter Ole Miss seemed to fall apart, allowing Vandy to score on three consecutive series, while amassing just 80 yards, no points, and surrendering 3 sacks.

And thus it was that head coach Hugh Freeze, down 21-10, and with almost no momentum absent a successful fake punt, walked into the locker room at halftime. Ole Miss regrouped, fixed issues with defense intensity and the offensive line surrendering sacks, and outplayed the Dores most of the second half. A tremendous amount of credit for this win goes to coach Freeze and his staff.

Just as importantly, Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace had zero interceptions to match zero fumbles. One of the biggest knocks on the talented junior has been his propensity to give up possession, with Freeze even going so far as to threaten benching his star quarterback last season.

However, in Nashville, against one of the better defenses Vandy has fielded in a while, Wallace made a number of good decisions throwing and running – but most importantly, played with excellent ball security.

Old Miss takes a step forward with this big – albeit narrow – win against a good conference foe. This is all the more important given the Rebels still have at Texas, at Alabama, at Auburn, TAMU and LSU in a row this September/October.

Moreover, Freeze and Co. can now dispatch the monkey on their back for closing out tough opponents, which will impact not only this Ole Miss team's confidence, but also Hugh Freeze's already stellar recruiting.

On the flip side, the loss snapped a seven game winning streak, the longest in the SEC. But once again, head coach James Franklin showed tremendous guts, going for it on 4-and-18 with two minutes left when conventional coaching wisdom called for punting and trying to hold.

This home defeat will sting, but Vandy lost to SC in a nail biter in last year's season opener, and bounced back to finish 5-3 in conference…9-4 overall.

Russ Mitchell is the Lead SEC Columnist for CFN and Campus Insiders. Follow him @russmitchellcfb