OXFORD • There was no California dreaming for the Ole Miss defense in Saturday’s 28-20 loss to No. 23-ranked Cal.
Instead, the Rebels experienced more of a third-and-whatever nightmare.
Cal quarterback Chase Garbers, who connected on 23 of 35 passes for 357 yards, used the airways to convert on four third-down plays that led to three touchdowns.
“It was a different situation each time,” first-year Ole Miss defensive coordinator Mike MacIntyre said. “The quarterback made some good throws. He scrambled around and made some plays. They got open on some. A few times we played it right, but a lot of times we didn’t play as well as we’d like.”
Cal took a 7-0 lead in the first quarter when Garbers hit Trevon Clark with a 6-yard TD strike. A third-and-eight 10-yard pass to running back Christopher Brown kept the drive alive.
Cal’s second touchdown, a 13-yard pass from Garbers to Brown, was set up by the quarterback’s 24-yard, third-and-7 completion.
The Bears pushed their lead to 21-13 in the third quarter on Garbers’ 9-yard TD pass to Jordan Duncan. The two key plays in Cal’s 75-yard scoring drive were third-and-14 and third-and-10 completions.
“We just weren’t very good at it today at times,” MacIntyre said. “We definitely didn’t cover as well as we’d like. We’ve got to keep working at it. We’ve got to coach it better and the kids have to do it better.”
Ole Miss head coach Matt Luke called the Rebels’ inability to get off the field on third downs crucial in the loss.
“The biggest thing to me was getting off the field on third down,” he said. “That was the story of the game for the defense. We have to do a better job getting pressure with the front four.”
Cal’s final touchdown came with 9:03 remaining on a 60-yard pass from Garbers to Jake Tonges.
Big test ahead
MacIntyre, whose defense faces No. 2 Alabama and pass master Tua Tagovailoa in Tuscaloosa on Saturday, saw some bright spots from his unit.
“They keep fighting and fighting and fighting, and keep playing physical the whole game. That was impressive,” he said after his unit gave up just 60 yards rushing. “We did really well against the run. Pass-rush wise, we started getting better later on.
“We’ve got to cover better back there and compete for the ball better. We’ve got to just keep working.”