I'll admit I was caught off guard by Saturday's post-game in Starkville.
Fresh off of his second consecutive Egg Bowl victory and third in four seasons, Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze quietly entered the small visitors' press room under Davis Wade Stadium. No fist pumps. No shouting. He walked in, sat down and, with the black Ole Miss cap pulled down over his forehead, went into his opening statement.
Proud to bring the Egg Bowl trophy back to Oxford -- check.
Tough environment at MSU -- check.
Don't be too harsh on Dan Mullen, y'all. Wait what?
"The way our world is, and I know it is what it is, but I think it's unfortunate the loser of this game gets to be raked over the coals by some of you guys," he said. "Both teams had good years and it speaks volumes that this game now means something nationally. It's a credit to both staffs, both kids, administrations that are investing and making our programs relevant. I think it's great for our state. I hope you take that into consideration as you write about the years because both teams had good years and it's really unfortunate that some will have to get criticized for whatever it is.
"I know that's just the way our sport is, but ..."
2. Bigger picture
I wasn't expecting Freeze to gloat, but I was taken aback by that monologue.
Freeze took the opportunity to stick up for the man on the other sideline. The guy he's going to battle with in the homes of recruits. Perhaps he felt like he just as easily could have come from the other locker room, where they were wondering what went wrong.
Freeze and Mullen aren't playing golf on a regular basis or hanging out, drinking sweet tea on one another's front porches. But some have built up the Battle for the Golden Egg as the be-all, end-all and, when you win eight regular-season games but lose to your archrival, is it good enough? SBNation's MSU site, For Whom The Bell Tolls, went so far as to ask in its headline if Mullen can "survive" losing three of the last four bowl games.
3. Richt out
Freeze's message could just as easily been directed at Georgia, where Mark Richt was let go after 15 years on the job, the last 10 of which he averaged 9.8 wins a season. And perhaps more to Freeze's point, Richt is coming off of a 9-3 season. But Richt hasn't been to the SEC Championship Game in 10 years. With the SEC East having gone through a transition phase whereby Florida and Tennessee weren't their usual powerful selves, instead of capitalizing, Georgia let Missouri and now Florida represent the East. Coaches at elite programs can't let that happen in today's game and expect to keep their jobs.
4. Not yesterday's landscape
When coaches started becoming multimillionaires, timelines became much shorter. All of a sudden a five- or six-year rebuild was chopped to two or three years. And, if you're leading a program considered to be elite and you go on a three-game skid, you may want to start refreshing your resumé -- just ask Les Miles. It's hard to feel too bad for someone who is getting millions to go away, but pride is a powerful thing. No one likes to be thought of as a failure. I'm not sure there is such a thing as "job security" in today's instant analysis, 140-character world.
By all accounts, Richt is a good man who did things the right way. He held his players -- and program -- to a higher standard but in the end a 145-51 overall record and 83-37 league record wasn't good enough. It won't take long for Richt to find another gig, should he so choose to stay in coaching.
5. Speaking of Mullen
No surprise Mullen's name is getting tossed around quite a bit. The Orlando Sun Sentinel reported Tuesday the head Bulldog has interviewed with Miami about its vacancy.
So is this the year Mullen leaves? He's built up MSU to unparalleled success in the program's history. But his quarterback and a few standout defenders are leaving. His name has been kicked around the last couple years with various vacancies. Richt is thought to be the favorite for The U, but with Mullen connected to the Canes and UGA currently, is now the time Mullen says so long to Starkville?
6. PRCC closing in on a coach
Pearl River Community College spokesman Stan Caldwell said the Wildcats are nearing the end of their coaching search.
The team is interviewing finalists this week to replace William Jones as head football coach. A recommendation is expected to be presented to the school's board of trustees Tuesday.
Jones resigned in late October after posting an 11-16 record in three seasons at PRCC. The Wildcats are coming off a 2-7 campaign.
7. So much for waiting
So much for waiting for the SEC Championship Game to see where the Rebels go bowling. The latest College Football Playoff Rankings jumped Ole Miss to No. 13, with Florida sliding to No. 18. Translation: Unless the Gators pull off an epic upset of No. 2 Alabama (see the pick below), the Rebels will be in the Sugar Bowl for the first time since 1970 (and the 1969 season).
8. How to stop Simmons
St. Stanislaus will get its second crack at Noxubee County and Jeffery Simmons on Saturday. The Rockachaws have been talking about a rematch ever since falling to Noxubee 48-27 last year. The Tigers return a bulk of their championship team, as do the Rockachaws.
Last year, Simmons did a bit of everything and has only seemed to get better as a senior. So how do you stop the state's top recruit?
"He's a guy who last year he lined up on one side and that's all he did," SSC coach Bill Conides said. "What they've done to prevent teams from scheming is move him around. We just have to be really balanced and when there's an opportunity, to go get him and block him; then we've got to put our best guy to block him."
SSC QB Myles Brennan has shown plenty of escapability this season. It'll undoubtedly be put to the test one final time at Ole Miss' Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
9. The (Other) Patrick's Picks
For entertainment purposes only ... Florida just lost to rival Florida State 27-2 in The Swamp. Now the Gators have to turn around and play an Alabama team (-17, according to MGM Resorts International) that is dismantling folks left and right. UF really surprised folks with now-suspended QB Will Grier. With Treon Harris back at QB? Eh ... It wouldn't be surprising if Alabama RB Derrick Henry out-gained the Tide's opponent by himself for a second straight week. Tide names their score in the Georgia Dome.
Patrick Ochs, a Sun Herald sports reporter, can be reached at pochs@ sunherald.com or followed on Twitternote auth="Patrick Ochs" coll="1" ctime="1d12c98 a4ae6a00" mtime="1d12c98 a4ae6a00">
They were just watching it today. We're going to learn from that. Myles hates watching the film because he feels like he's just so much better than he showed last year. And we are. We're more efficient and we can run the ball well. We have receivers upon receivers and we're using the tight end more. There's a number of things that make us better but the defense is what will make the difference. Our defense is what will win us this game.
It's really exciting. The goal is to win the state championship, but if we can play them again and get another shot at them, then that's perhaps what's even more exciting.
Blocked punt early in the game?
They blocked one right off the bat. We got the ball, ended up getting pushed back and then they blocked it. That just set the tone for the whole game. And then we've got some momentum after halftime and are only down three scores, and we throw an interception on a screen play. It went from a two score game to a three score game and then from that point forward it just felt like we were playing from behind and playing catchup.
Just be patient and take those five yards. We're going to do what we do. We're going to go really, really fast.
So what now what? Let's go play ball.