The Mississippi football program is going though one of the roughest patches in its history. Just this year, gone are coach Hugh Freeze, many assistants and any chance of a bowl appearance. Athletic director Ross Bjork and chancellor Jeff Vitter have done all they can to patch a sinking ship.
While the program awaits its fate from the NCAA Committee on Infractions, only two weeks ago Ole Miss limped home from a 66-3 shellacking at the hands of top-ranked Alabama.
It was the first time since 2011, the last season under Houston Nutt, that I had seen a team quit wearing the red and blue. To compound matters, a few days later, Vitter announced the university would make plans to change the school mascot from a Black Bear to a Land Shark.
RELATED: Our latest SEC Power Rankings
Social media lit up and Ole Miss again found itself the punchline of more online humor. Couldn’t that announcement have been made anytime other than on the heels of a monumental loss? The timing was horrible. I applaud Matt Luke for not walking out the front door with his hands in the air. Instead, he began the grueling climb back.
Amid questions surrounding his support for the permanent job, he didn’t quit; he simply pressed on. After falling behind Auburn 35-3, what may prove the watershed moment for this season happened. Luke challenged his team. Defensive coordinator Wesley McGriff challenged his defense.
The Rebels outscored the Tigers 20-9 in the second half and Ole Miss began the climb back.
Yes, Auburn was playing its reserves and began running a vanilla offense. No one is arguing that or that Auburn was by far the superior team. That’s not the point. This is about Ole Miss, not Auburn.
Under Luke, the program finally hit rock bottom after the Alabama game. Under Luke, it began its climb back in the second half against Auburn.
This past Saturday, Ole Miss continued the momentum it found in the second half on the Plains and began pounding Vanderbilt before a lethargic – and sparse – home crowd. The game was never close. By the time the four-hour marathon ended, Luke had notched his first SEC win as interim coach. But the result was much more meaningful than that.
Ole Miss began to see the light it’s been searching for since the NCAA investigation began years – many long years – ago. For most fans, it will take more than a win over Vandy to believe a corner has been turned. That’s understandable, frankly.
Ole Miss fans have been put through the wringer the past two seasons and deserve a pass on their absence last week, as well as their general skepticism.
© 2016, gridironnow.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.