Notes and thoughts from a 15-10 season-opening loss at Memphis …
OK, so the former Pac-12 head coaches have a game on record as coordinators at Ole Miss, and results are mixed.
The defense looks much better, but offense was a struggle.
First, the defense.
The bar for improvement was very low, but the Rebels didn’t just stumble over it. They will face better offenses this season, but that was a very competent group that averaged 42.9 points last season and returned playmakers at every position, most notably quarterback.
The Rebels were lined up correctly and tackled better. Huge first steps.
They held Memphis to under 200 rushing yards, but don’t sound the trumpets on that right now as the Tigers finished with 192 yards on the ground.
Tackling wasn’t as crisp late in the game when the defense had been on the field a while. After the safety pushed the Memphis lead to 15-10 the Tigers took ball possession with 6 minutes, 21 seconds left and didn’t give it back. The Rebels couldn’t get off the field then, and Memphis had 33 rushing yards on that drive.
Defensive line play was strong. Ryder Anderson was one of three players with a team-best seven tackles, and Josiah Coatney had six, one of them a sack. Benito Jones had three tackles, one for loss, an interception and a pressure.
For all the talk of outside linebackers in the 3-4 I thought that group was just OK. Sam Williams finished with two tackles but was credited with a forced fumble. He had two major penalties on the Tigers’ 74-yard touchdown drive late in the first quarter. You can probably get away with following through with your momentum against the quarterback in junior college but not at this level. He also had a facemask when he was close to getting Brady White down for a sack. DC Mike MacIntyre wasn’t happy to see the flags but shrugged off both as hustle plays and growing pains for Williams.
Qaadir Sheppard didn’t show up much. Maybe the heavily-wrapped hand bothered him.
The most impressive debut at outside linebacker to me was Luke Knox, maybe because I didn’t expect much from him. He had three tackles, two tackles for loss.
I was concerned about depth in the secondary, but Armani Linton had a nice pass break-up and three tackles playing behind Jalen Julius at free safety.
The secondary had a several nice pass break-ups on the day and looked really prepared for the Memphis short game.
The Rebels were in position and made plays.
If you have a warm fuzzy for how the defense played you may have heartburn from watching the offense.
It was a disappointing debut for the run-based spread option of Rich Rodriguez, and he was critical of his own performance afterward.
We had been told to expect motion within the offense and didn’t see much of that.
Offensive line play was not good. The Rebels went three-and-out on their first three possessions and went to halftime with minus-1 in the rushing yardage category.
Credit Rodriguez for making some different calls and generating a bit of a run game in the second half, still far from what’s needed to sustain drives and score touchdowns.
There were more power runs, some two tight end sets, and it was in the second half that Scottie Phillips began to look like the back we saw last season.
It was an uninspiring debut for redshirt freshman quarterback Matt Corral. He was 9-for-19 passing. He was pressured a good bit, but there were times when he wasn’t pressured and didn’t make good throws. Coaches felt like he was pressing at times.
Corral got into a little bit of a rhythm in the second half and was 4 for 6 passing then.
It’s hard to gauge the receivers because of his inconsistency. I think playmakers will emerge here, but not before Corral has some success. I wrote this week about Corral’s “can do attitude” – some may have another word for that. Hopefully his confidence did not take a hit at the Liberty Bowl. That’s not what Ole Miss needs at this time.
As for the receivers, Elijah Moore led the way with four catches for 60 yards including a physical grab on a sideline route where he had to fight through a defender to get back to the ball.
Freshman Jonathan Mingo was targeted a couple of times including once in man coverage that resulted in a pass interference flag against Memphis and a first down inside the red zone for the Rebels. Phillips eventually scored on a 1-yard run, the only Ole Miss touchdown.
I had it in my mind to chart Ole Miss success in the red zone in this game. There were only two trips, one TD one field goal, a 35-yarder.
I thought Jerrion Ealy might get a few more touches. He had five, four rushes and a kick return. He was targeted once or twice in the passing game, once in which Corral tried to force it to him.
So Game 1 is a split decision on the coordinators.
There’s reason for optimism with this defense. It was a very good start, and I think they’ll get better.
You would expect the offense will get better too.
If it doesn’t there won’t be much difference in the bottom line for the Rebels.