Notes and thoughts from the Rebels’ 58-37 loss to No. 1 LSU …
As I’ve said before progress this season was going to be marked less by wins and losses and more by how the Rebels competed against the better teams in the SEC.
With games against Alabama and LSU now complete, they’re looking quite similar.
The Rebels by 28 to Alabama and by 21 to LSU. Both games were, for all intents and purposes, over at halftime.
In both games the Rebels were unable to slow down offenses that are among the best in the country.
They were, however, able to make enough of their own plays to keep from being totally embarrassed.
The difference in the two games is last night after having trailed 31-7 at halftime the Rebels had the ball on the LSU end of the field with the chance to make it a one-possession game in the fourth quarter.
And not the fourth quarter with 11 seconds left. Ole Miss, down 44-30, had a first down at the LSU 27 with about 8 minutes left.
I never thought the Rebels would win the game, not with the way LSU was moving up down the field with Joe Burrow, but I didn’t think they would be in that position once they’d trailed 31-7 either.
Clearly Ed Orgeron didn’t consider the game locked down. He told the sideline reporter at halftime that he hoped to get the score up to 38-7 then put backup quarterback Myles Brennan in the game.
So that’s your glass half full analysis.
The glass half empty said the Rebels put themselves in their big hole by making mistakes and looking tight at the beginning of the game.
Down 7-0 with their first drive of the game the Rebels got to the LSU 21 before Elijah Moore dropped a pass on a crossing pattern that would have been a big gain, and the drive stalled when Luke Logan clanked a 38-yard field goal attempt off the right upright.
If Ole Miss was going to give itself a chance to win it was always going to be about ball control and scoring with the LSU offense.
The Rebels were able to do that more in the second half.
Burrow against the Ole Miss secondary proved to be the terrible matchup that it looked like on paper. Further complicating matters for Ole Miss was the Rebels’ inability to slow down LSU running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Ole Miss went into the game ranked No. 26 in run defense but reverted to last year’s poor tackling and looked unprepared for Clyde’s quickness. He would finish with 172 yards on 23 carries, his 49-yard run with 3:08 left stretching the margin for the Tigers.
Burrow finished with 489 yards and five touchdown passes. He completed 91.6 percent in the first half when the game was really decided with 22 completions in 24 attempts. At one point he completed 17 straight through the second and early third quarters.
Predictably, there were gaps in Ole Miss coverage, and Burrow was on the money.
That said, Ole Miss defensive backs made a few plays. Young cornerbacks Keidron Smith and Deantre Prince had interceptions. Burrow looked more human in the second half going just 10-for-18.
There’s a temptation here to point out that Smith is a sophomore, Prince just a freshman, that it’s going to be different with these guys in 2020.
But it won’t be unless they can bring those plays to the table more often. Way too many times LSU receivers weren’t just a little bit open.
Offensively, that was no run of the mill run defense on which Ole Miss rushed for 402 yards. That was four games worth of rushing yards against LSU which had been allowing about 100 a game.
It was done mostly with big plays as Ole Miss scored three of its four touchdowns from outside the red zone.
Some of the Rebels’ big gains were due to play-calling. When John Rhys Plumlee scored on a 60-yard run off the right side, the entire LSU defense was on the other side of the field. When Plumlee got to the second level nobody had a chance to catch him. The Rebels had success with counter plays.
It wasn’t only about play-calling. The offensive line did a good job of creating some holes on the off-tackle plays.
The Rebels were better in the passing game too with Plumlee going 9-for-16, Matt Corral 6-for-11 as Ole Miss totaled 212 yards.
Elijah Moore, as always, was the most targeted receiver, but the gap is disturbing. Moore was targeted 13 times while no other receiver was targeted more than three times.
Freshman Jonathan Mingo was targeted three times and had no catches. In an underwhelming passing game his lack of development this season stands out.
There emerged last week a report at FootballScoop.com that said the Ole Miss was administration – read chancellor Glenn Boyce here – was leaning heavily toward having Matt Luke return as head coach citing concerns about the buyout for Luke and his staff as the motivating factor.
That squares with what I’d been hearing, but I also know that things sometimes change quickly in November.
The LSU game had the chance to swing Luke and this staff back into the danger zone until the second half looked much better for the Rebels. Optics are important.
The Mississippi State game is another one in which the Rebels need to look a lot different than they did in 2018 when they lost 35-3 on their home field.
That was a generational type defense for MSU last year. The Bulldogs are more vulnerable this season.
The Egg Bowl is another game that could swing things into the danger zone for Luke and staff if the Rebels completely lay an egg. I think that’s unlikely, but I wouldn’t rule it out.
While you can find a silver lining in how Ole Miss played for stretches of time against Alabama and LSU you can also look back with frustration for this team in games against Memphis, Cal and Texas A&M where they had a chance for wins against lesser teams and didn’t make the big plays.
MSU is more like Memphis, Cal and A&M and a lot less like Alabama and LSU.
If the Rebels are in position to win and don’t because of poor execution or other mistakes at critical times it’s going to be hard to swallow.