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OXFORD, Miss. – It's hard to even recognize Mississippi's football program these days.
For so long an afterthought in the Southeastern Conference Western Division, the Rebels completed one of the biggest moments in their history during a 23-17 victory over Alabama on Saturday at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
And it wasn't just the win — it was the way the Rebels pulled it off. Trailing 14-3 at halftime and 17-10 midway through the fourth quarter, Ole Miss rallied for two touchdowns in the final six minutes, making all the clutch plays down the stretch to stun the Crimson Tide and send jubilant fans streaming onto the field.
Usually, it's the other way around. But third-year coach Hugh Freeze and the Rebels are setting new standards and expectations almost every week.
"I'm just so proud of our young men," Freeze said after Saturday's victory. "You can't lose a game in 30 or 45 minutes. You have to play for 60 minutes and that is something we've preached since we've been here."
No. 3 Ole Miss (5-0, 2-0 SEC) — which jumped eight spots in the rankings on Sunday — faces another huge challenge this weekend when it travels to play No. 14 Texas A&M (5-1, 2-1) at College Station. The Aggies lost to Mississippi State 48-31 on Saturday, but still have one of the most prolific passing offenses in the country.
For an Ole Miss program so unaccustomed to this level of success, it's a quick turnaround in the unforgiving SEC West gauntlet.
"We've got to put (the Alabama win) in the trash can and go to an outstanding Texas A&M team that will be angry," Freeze said. "If you want to go from good to relevant, then you've got to put it behind you and go to the next game."
One thing that bodes well for the Rebels is the steady play of senior quarterback Bo Wallace. In the biggest game of his career he was terrific, completing 18 of 31 passes for 251 yards and three touchdowns. Maybe most importantly, he had no turnovers.
Wallace has had an up-and-down career with the Rebels, mixing great games with brutal ones. But so far this season he has thrown 14 touchdown passes to just six interceptions. Fans and media like to say there's a "Good Bo" and "Bad Bo," which Wallace admits irritates him.
"It's the most annoying thing I've ever heard," Wallace said. "I feel like I'm the only quarterback in the nation that has thrown an interception. But I try to play on an even keel. I stayed on an even keel for the whole ballgame."
His nearly flawless performance against Alabama will certainly help shed that inconsistent reputation.
While the offense emerged late to lead Ole Miss to the win, the defense was good for almost the entire afternoon. Alabama's offense scored just 10 points — the other seven were on a fumble recovery.
Senior cornerback Senquez Golson came up with the crucial interception in the game's closing minute and sophomore defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche was consistently causing havoc along the line of scrimmage, forcing hurried throws from Alabama quarterback Blake Sims.
It all added up to one of the biggest wins in Ole Miss history. The players hope it won't be the last.
"This win shows how far we've come," Ole Miss defensive end C.J. Johnson said. "But it's not the end of the season."
Follow David Brandt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/davidbrandtAP