AUSTIN, Texas – Before the final seconds ticked off, the chants came raining down.
When the game did end, the Ole Miss players sprinted to the southeast corner of Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium where their fans waited. Together, they bellowed out "Hotty Toddy" so loud they nearly drowned out Smokey’s nearby cannon fire.
Coach Hugh Freeze had been waiting for that signature win to pin his program’s ascent upon. Saturday night, he got it, as Ole Miss repaid the Longhorns by hammering them on their home field, 44-23.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” said Freeze, who pointed to this game a measuring stick after losing to Texas by five touchdowns last season. “We didn’t take six steps tonight. We just took one.”
But what a step it was.
Until Saturday, Ole Miss’ biggest victory under Freeze had been a 17-point win over reeling Mississippi State in last year’s Egg Bowl.
Sure, the Longhorns are a team in turmoil. Texas coach Mack Brown fired defensive coordinator Manny Diaz earlier in the week and was forced to play backup quarterback Case McCoy with starter David Ash ailing with head and shoulder injuries.
But beating Texas in Austin still counts for something. And not only did the Rebels beat the Longhorns, they beat them up. In the second half, it was Ole Miss delivering the hits, and Texas taking them.
All told, the Rebels racked up 272 yards on the ground and shut down the Longhorns’ running game after halftime to pull away.
“At half, we just said, ‘Hey, I know we’re young, but let’s go out and play our base defense and see if our kids can compete,’” Freeze said. “Just line up and play base.”
Ole Miss didn’t do anything special offensively, either. Rebels quarterback Bo Wallace simply operated the zone reads to perfection, and tailback Jeff Scott dashed through Texas defenders around the edge.
Behind superb blocking from the Ole Miss offensive line and wideouts, Scott piled up 164 yards on 19 carries, then returned a punt 73 yards for a touchdown late in the third quarter to send Texas fans scurrying through the exits for Sixth Street.
“I think we had a great game plan,” Wallace said. “Our coaches studied it and knew we had a great game plan. It was on us to execute it.”
Wallace executed the game plan with unyielding precision. He rushed for 57 yards and a touchdown out of the zone read, finishing off the TD with a nifty spin move. Wallace also completed 17 of 25 passes for 177 and two touchdowns without an interception.
Wallace’s trust with hotshot true freshman wideout Laquon Treadwell only grew as the game wore on, too. With Ole Miss clinging to a 24-23 lead in the third quarter, Wallace found Treadwell 11 yards downfield to convert a third-and-6. Two plays later, Wallace connected with Treadwell for an 18-yard completion on the other side of the field, setting up an Ole Miss touchdown to give the Rebels the momentum back for good.
“We never got it back,” Brown said.
While the Longhorns are having to lower their expectations by the week, the undefeated Rebels are raising theirs.
“No doubt,” Wallace said. “Seven, eight wins, I don’t think that’s good enough. We’re talented enough to win more games.”
Such talk underscores which direction this Ole Miss program is heading. Since 1971, the Rebels have reached double-digit wins just once, when Eli Manning quarterbacked them in ’03.
But even in the rugged SEC West, these Rebels have their sights set high. And during postgame interviews, the conversation quickly changed from beating Texas to challenging top-ranked Alabama on the road in two weeks.
“It’s huge,” Wallace said. “’Bama will be hostile and fun. But those are the kind of games we want to play in.”
First, Ole Miss and its fans will enjoy this one. Until Freeze arrived, wins like this had been few and far between. But the way the Rebels played in Austin, many more appear to be on the way.
“For some of the times that our fans have gone through,” Freeze said, “and now to be in these games and them leaving the stadium very happy – it’s a great satisfaction.”