They Did It, Somehow
An unforgettable drive in Starkville, and a march back from the
by Paul Gerald
n three years, Tommy Tuberville has rebuilt the Ole Miss football
program more quickly than anyone had thought possible. On Saturday,
the Rebels won a game that had seemed lost just moments before.
The Rebs made history in Starkville, and probation and its surrounding
turmoil are now in the past. The future in Oxford looks as bright
as a Mississippi summer afternoon.
A nine-play drive; a three-year comeback. They were down by seven,
64 yards from the goal line, with only one time-out. They had
seen two popular coaches leave unhappily, they had practically
no scholarships to offer, and their in-state rivals were getting
stronger. A few months ago, the Rebels were picked to finish
last in the conference and opened with an overtime win against
Central Florida; now their fans expect a bowl bid this year and
a better one in 98.
The Miracle Worker? Ole Miss Coach Tommy Tuberville
For Mississippi State, its the other side of the coin. Two weeks
ago State fans were thinking SEC championship. But they lost badly
to a lame Arkansas team. With a win over the hated Rebels, they
might at least have salvaged a bowl invitation. But when Cory
Peterson caught a Stewart Patridge pass just inside the Bulldog
end zone with 25 seconds to go, they were left only with questions:
How did we lose this game? What happened to our season? When are
Jackie Sherrill and Joe Lee Dunn going to deliver?
State looks like Arkansas did in 1995 when it won the SEC West:
nice season with a poor finish. They will likely be looking for
another coach in a couple of years. In Oxford, its all about
what a difference a coach and a drive make. Tuberville has simply
worked magic with the Ole Miss football program. He makes games
exciting by faking kicks and constantly attempting fourth-down
conversions, including one at midfield on the Rebels opening
drive Saturday. Two plays after they converted the fourth down,
the Rebels went up, 7-0.
Tubervilles got style, too. At halftime Saturday, a radio sideline
reporter asked about State abandoning the blitz after the Rebels
scored quickly on that first drive. Yeah, they made that adjustment,
Tuberville responded. Turns out they were smarter than we thought
People have certainly noticed Tuberville. No sooner did Arkansas
and Texas fire their coaches than Tubervilles name surfaced as
a possible replacement. When was the last time a football power
like Texas wanted an Ole Miss football coach?
And yet, if the Rebels had failed in that last drive Saturday,
the storyline would be that they just didnt have the manpower
to hang with State, that they especially need big linemen, that
they grow weary at the end of games, that their losses to Tennessee,
Auburn, Georgia, and the worst Alabama team in years show theyre
still the same old Rebels.
All of that is more or less true. Ole Miss is about five plays
from being 4-7. Change two last-second, goal-line plays this year
and they would have lost to Central Florida and MSU and finished
But theyre 7-4 and appear on the verge of becoming a force in
the SEC West. There are only 21 seniors on this team. Out of 111
players on the roster, 81 are freshmen or sophomores. In these
heady days, with the memory of Starkville fresh in their heads,
Rebels fans are looking at next season and thinking things like,
Weve got most everybody back, were expanding the stadium, we
trade Tennessee on the schedule for South Carolina, weve got
LSU and Auburn at home, Alabama and Arkansas are down ....
All this, basically because of one drive.
But what a drive. After State missed a 52-yard field goal, which,
along with their switch to the prevent defense for the last
drive, is a coaching decision Bulldog fans will long lament, the
Rebels took over on their own 36. Grant Heard dropped a 35-yard
pass on the first play, then tight end Rufus French got four,
and John Avery, who it says here is the best runner in Ole Miss
history, got seven on third and six. An intentional grounding
call created second and 23, but Andre Rone caught a pass for 30.
After an incompletion, the last 36 yards were covered in three
consecutive passes. Rone caught the touchdown, the conversion
pass got a foot more than it needed, and from either side of the
stadium it was unbelievable. Seventy-nine yards, including the
penalty, in nine plays and 1:47. The only time-out was to set
up the two-point conversion.
If the current promise of Ole Miss football is met if they get
a bowl invitation, if Tuberville stays, if they recruit well and
stay out of trouble it will largely have been made possible
by those 10 plays. n
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