(AP) - In one devastating moment last Saturday night, Mississippi lost a hard-fought game against Auburn, any realistic shot at a spot in the College Football Playoff and arguably its best offensive player.
The 12th-ranked Rebels will try to regroup from back-to-back, down-to-the-wire losses Saturday as they take a break from the rigors of the SEC and host FCS opponent Presbyterian.
After its unbeaten start propelled it to No. 3 in the AP poll, Ole Miss (7-2) suffered a heartbreaking 10-7 loss at LSU on Oct. 25 before falling short in even more catastrophic fashion last Saturday against third-ranked Auburn.
Sophomore receiver Laquon Treadwell was running for the go-ahead touchdown when he was tackled from behind and fumbled at the 1-yard line in the final minutes, turning a likely 38-35 win into a 35-31 defeat.
Treadwell suffered a broken leg and dislocated ankle and was carted off the field.
"It's just a really, really sickening way to lose," coach Hugh Freeze said.
Suddenly the Rebels are left staring up at bitter rival Mississippi State, Auburn and Alabama in the SEC West. They'll have a bye after hosting the Blue Hose (5-4) before closing at Arkansas and at home against the top-ranked Bulldogs.
"I'm a senior, so I'm going to do everything in my power to get my team ready for the next game," linebacker Serderius Bryant said. "We just have to keep going. I went from 2-10 to where we are now. I need them to keep going with me and make my senior year a great year."
Treadwell's injury came one week after starting linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche was lost for the season with a broken leg. The two injuries highlighted how rough the SEC can be on team health - the Rebels' game against Auburn was the fourth against a nationally ranked opponent in five weeks.
"It is part of the game, and it stinks to see (because of) how much work we put in," Ole Miss tight end Evan Engram said. "Especially guys like Laquon and Denzel, but we love each other and will fight for each other the rest of the season. In one play it could be gone."
While the Rebels' dream season was crushed, rival Mississippi State's lives on. Now the biggest remaining goal for Ole Miss might be to try and play spoiler against its bitter in-state rival on Nov. 29.
"Our character trait this week was adversity. We're staring it in the face a bit and that's life," Freeze said. "Sometimes that's the way it goes. We have to be brothers right now as we stand together and get through a challenging time."
The Rebels can start a potential turnaround by shoring up their run defense. After allowing fewer than 100 yards per game on the ground and ranking eighth in total defense (290.6 ypg) while starting 7-0, Ole Miss allowed 913 total yards - 517 of which came on the ground - against LSU and Auburn.
"I know everybody always wants a sophisticated answer, but the best I can give you is we're playing some pretty darn good teams," Freeze said. "You go look at how many teams have held those two for minimal yards rushing and there aren't many over the course of time in the recent years."
That shouldn't be a problem against the Blue Hose, who have averaged 11.5 points in the eight games they've played against FBS and FCS competition.
"Our coaches and players are excited to get up and go play instead of waiting around all day," Freeze said. "I think it's important to our program that we bounce back and we play well with the ones who are healthy.
"I've been in these games before, where if you don't play well, you don't feel great. We need to feel great going into our open week."