OXFORD, Miss. — It is now two months and nine games into Bo Wallace's first season in the Southeastern Conference.
The Ole Miss quarterback has the bruises — on his body and his ego — to prove it.
"You're going to get hit, banged up and beat up," Wallace said. "But it's everything I've expected."
Ole Miss (5-4, 2-3 SEC) has been a little better than expected so far this season as it prepares for a home game against Vanderbilt (5-4, 3-3) today. One team will leave Vaught-Hemingway Stadium with bowl eligibility in hand.
But the Rebels had a bit of a reality check last weekend in a 37-10 loss to No. 7 Georgia. They actually jumped out to a 10-0 lead by early in the second quarter, but the Bulldogs roared back with 37 points as just about everything that could have gone wrong for Ole Miss did.
It was one the first times all season the Rebels looked like the hapless doormat many expected them to be.
"We're hurting, beat up and disappointed," Freeze said. "If you go back and watch the first 28 minutes of that (Georgia) game, you're thinking this team here is for real. We've stopped their run, gotten to the passer and moved the ball in the first 28 minutes pretty effectively. It's just disappointing that we didn't finish it."
The loss revealed some sobering problems with the Rebels.
Maybe the biggest issue is a youthful and banged-up secondary that's using almost exclusively first-year players. Injuries to regulars like Senquez Golson, Aaron Garbutt, Wesley Pendleton forced second and third-string players into prominent roles during the Georgia game.
The results were predictable. Freeze started the season with only 64 scholarship players (out of a possible 85), so there isn't much in the way of roster maneuvers.
But the first-year coach isn't making excuses.
"We don't have anybody else to put in right now," Freeze said. "We're using them all. We'll just continue with the ones that are healthy and continue to get them better."
Ole Miss has been more fortunate with health issues on the offense. Wallace is battling a bruised shoulder, but for the most part, it's the mental strain of facing SEC defenses on a weekly basis that's been the biggest concern.
The 6-foot-5 sophomore completed 16 of 25 passes against Georgia for 187 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Freeze said Wallace had some good moments against the Bulldogs, but also made some bad decisions at crucial moments. The fact that the Rebels only rushed for 70 yards the entire game didn't make Wallace's life any easier.
"He made some really nice throws," Freeze said. "Again, it's the consistency deal and him understanding the situation of the game."
Ole Miss has proven to be a resilient team this season. The Rebels came back from a heartbreaking 30-27 loss to Texas A&M to beat Auburn and Arkansas over the next two weeks.
Freeze is optimistic that his team can have a similar rebound from the Georgia loss.
"Our character theme for the week was overcoming adversity," Freeze said. "It is a great week for that. The coaches and the kids came back with a renewed spirit knowing that this is the fourth quarter of our season, it's about finishing."
And this weekend's game against Vanderbilt likely represents the Rebels' best chance at gaining bowl eligibility for the first time since 2009. The Commodores are no slouch, coming into the game with a three-game winning streak, including a 40-0 victory over Kentucky last week.
But after Vanderbilt, rivals LSU and Mississippi State round out the schedule. Both those teams are currently in the national rankings.
Ole Miss center Evan Swindall said there's no time for the Rebels to be down about the Georgia loss.
He says a win against Vanderbilt wouldn't just secure bowl eligibility, but would also fuel a nothing-to-lose mentality going into the LSU and Mississippi State games.
"We're one away and that's the truth," Swindall said. "We've got to win it, so why not this game?"