As I reported two weeks ago, the most important game of the year for the Rebels is coming up this week on the road against a quickly improving Arkansas team.
All you have to do is look at the Razorbacks’ shutout victory over the LSU Tigers in their last game to know this game will be a stiff challenge for coach Hugh Freeze and his Rebels. Seeing LSU lose may have been some sweet revenge for Rebel Nation, but the Arkansas power running game will be like a not-so-instant replay of the tough loss in Baton Rouge for the Rebels. Let’s hope they can change that tape with better decisions and more focused play.
The Rebels prepared for Arkansas with an easy win over Presbyterian in a game that some would say should never have been played. It was a payday game for the Blue Hose and a chance for a great coach to fine tune his running game and play young players. That’s an opportunity that can’t be dismissed easily.
I’m a former coach, and I can tell you with confidence that any coach’s greatest fear is that when injuries happen – as they always do – his substitutes won’t be up to the challenge. On the other hand, the history of sports is full of those stories of backups who get their chance and refuse to relinquish that starting opportunity.
In the Presbyterian game, Freeze brilliantly tweaked his offensive line and got his stable of running backs the extra work their going to need to excel in these two critical remaining games. Freeze and the rest of his excellent coaching staff stressed the fundamentals in this virtual practice game. How do we hit those running and passing lane angles, make those crucial blocks and support quarterback Bo Wallace so he can effectively manage the game?
I think we answered some of those questions, but remember what I said about the key impact of injuries. One of the biggest challenges in losing Laquon Treadwell is not passing production, but the young man’s talents as a blocker in our offense. We’ll need to adjust to that missing element in our offense against Arkansas and State.
Again, although we’re all looking forward to the Egg Bowl and a chance to pay State back for last year’s heartbreaker, this Saturday is the key game in our season. It is the first step in our fight to control our own destiny.
I was pleased to see Ole Miss got some first place votes in the latest coaching poll. We’re moving back up the rankings in the race for the final-four football playoffs. As coach Nick Saban says, however, the only poll that counts is the last one.
Some may see the two disappointing losses that the Rebels have suffered as black marks on a “could-have-been” miracle season for the Rebels. As a former coach and top athlete, I see things a little differently. Whatever happens, this has been a season of great positives for Ole Miss football, Oxford and the entire state of Mississippi. Coach Hugh Freeze has solidified his position as one of the great college football coaches in America. And I don’t believe for an instant that he will take that momentum and ability to Florida as some have conjectured. Battling through adversity our players have learned that winning at the top level is never about “I” but about TEAM.
But the greatest thrill for me personally has been witnessing the great upswing in the pride of Oxford, Ole Miss and the worldwide Rebel Nation. As a basketball player who enjoyed my moment in the sun here in Oxford when the university amounted to 3,000-4,000 students, this spotlight on our community has been a magical time to enjoy.
Finally I want to express my appreciation and best wishes for Treadwell and Denzel Nkemdiche. Injuries are inevitable in sports and they have handled theirs with Rebel class. Speaking of class, allow me to express my appreciation and admiration for Rebel legend and fellow athlete Archie Manning as he deals with his own health challenges. What Archie accomplished for Ole Miss and Rebel Nation will simply never be equaled.
Johnny Neumann, from Memphis, has been voted one of the top college basketball players of all time for his achievements during his brief tenure at Ole Miss. Neumann was a High School All-American at Overton High and brought his talents to Ole Miss in 1970. The statistics Neumann compiled over just ONE season at Ole Miss are proof of his greatness. Currently Neumann is an Ole Miss student again majoring in journalism. He spent many years in the NBA and ABA and as a coach. His goal is to enter sports broadcasting.
- Became one of only three players in the nation to ever average 40 points a game in a career
- Ranks fourth all-time in points scored in one game, 63 vs. LSU in 1971
- Ranks sixth all-time in points in a season, scoring 923