He was a part of two Cotton Bowl teams. Now in his final season, his sights are set on another postseason berth. Ole Miss last reached a bowl in 2009, the second of back-to-back Cotton Bowl wins.
“It feels good to be at this point in the season, actually playing for something,” Jones said. “Last two seasons, you want to get those out of the way, get those out of your mind. It’s really been something that’s been meaningful to us all.”
Ole Miss hosts Vanderbilt at 6 p.m. on Saturday. The Rebels (5-4 overall, 2-3 in Southeastern Conference games) have lost two straight games to Vanderbilt (5-4, 3-3), including a 30-7 loss last season.
Ole Miss last beat the Commodores in Oxford in 2006.
Saturday is an opportunity not only for the team to finally rid itself of the frustrations of the previous two seasons, but for the seniors to leave their mark on a program that has improved dramatically under first-year head coach Hugh Freeze, according to Jones.
Ole Miss was 2-10 last season, and winless in league games.
“It does a lot of good,” Jones said. “It’s going to send us somewhere we haven’t been in two years. I was here for the two Cotton Bowls. As a senior, you want to go out strong and be the foundation for a program that’s being built.”
“It’s exciting, man,” offensive tackle Emmanuel McCray, a junior, said. “This time last year, it was almost understood where the season was headed. Every week, you’ve got something to play for. That makes going to practice easier, that makes waking up to come here easier.”
Freeze inherited a broken program, one that saw some 25 players at academic risk upon his hiring last December. Even more, the Rebels had won just one SEC game in two seasons.
Ole Miss has already doubled that total in his first season as coach, with wins against Auburn and Arkansas, and the off-the-field troubles that plagued the program prior to his arrival have been greatly reduced.
Freeze has a fan in Jones.
“In less than a year, it’s amazing how Coach Freeze has brought this program from like a two to like an eight,” Jones said. “I can’t wait to see how it’s going to look a couple of years from now.”
Ole Miss is looking to bounce back from a 37-10 loss at Georgia last week.
The Rebels jumped ahead 10-0 in the game, only to see Georgia take over on both sides of the ball.
An Ole Miss offense which had ranked in the top-half of the conference in a number of statistical categories struggled in the loss, totaling just 234 yards of offense. The Rebel defense wasn’t much better, allowing Georgia 533 yards of offense.
“We’re a pretty resilient team. We have been all year,” McCray said. “Came off a tough loss the Texas game and bounced back pretty good after that.
“I don’t think we’re still lingering or hurt off of (Georgia). It is what it is. We really did beat ourselves, and we understand that. I think the offense is definitely going to turn it around.”