Notes and thoughts on the Rebels’ 21-20 loss at Mississippi State …
I said it this past week, and I’ve said it many times before.
Mediocrity makes for exciting football.
It’s true, but while it was not hard to predict a close, competitive Egg Bowl between two teams without a dime’s bit of difference between them, it was impossible to predict the way it played out in the final 2 minutes, 6 seconds.
That was Matt Corral leading the Rebels on a 12-play, 82-yard touchdown drive, converting a fourth-and-24 from his own 14 to get it done, hitting Elijah Moore for the points then Moore going off the reservation with the leg lift that basically put the Rebels in the very close-game scenario they wanted to avoid with Luke Logan having to make a pressure kick.
More on all that in a bit.
The biggest thing we learned from Egg Bowl 2019 is that these teams were what we thought they were – average at best.
Better teams would have made Ole Miss pay for those three turnovers, but State couldn’t apply the knock-out punch.
The fact that this game was so close is a win in and of itself for Ole Miss.
Yes, the Bulldogs have the trophy. They can parade it around, kiss and make videos with it for a year, and that is important, don’t get me wrong.
But a year ago these teams were miles and miles a part.
That’s just not true right now. Anybody who watched the game with an open mind can see that.
So when Matt Luke goes recruiting he’s not going to have to answer questions about the gap between MSU and Ole Miss. It’s not there.
Instead Luke will have to answer questions about a team that’s won just three SEC games in two years – Arkansas (twice) and Vanderbilt.
The improvement this year was evident. Yes, it’s a young team, and games were closer. All of that is true, but this would have been a nice win to put in the pocket and carry into the off-season. You can only sell “young and improved” without wins for so long.
Regarding Moore and the leg kick, there’s just no sugar-coating this.
Players know what comes after an action like that, and Moore knew what his touchdown had done for Ole Miss. It had given the Rebels life, had given them a chance to win. A hurdle they’d tried to climb the entire second half they’d finally cleared.
Yet he makes that decision anyway.
Moore is Ole Miss’ best receiver. He’ll come back from this and will be a key player next season.
Luke, however, absolutely has to address place-kicking for 2020. If Ole Miss is going to play in games like this – five of its eight losses this season were by a touchdown or less – someone has to make kicks.
It was the MSU defense, not the Ole Miss defense, that looked like it had the extra time in the off-week to prepare.
They held John Rhys Plumlee to his lowest rushing game of the season with 34 yards on 18 carries.
They did this by shadowing Plumlee everywhere he went. The Bulldogs were not fooled by counters, misdirection or formations.
They tackled well, took good angles and stayed between Plumlee and the goalline.
When Ole Miss won at MSU in 2007 the Rebels scored four touchdowns from beyond the red zone. The Bulldogs did not allow those big plays this time.
Plumlee ends his season averaging 113.6 rushing yards a game. MSU running back Kylin Hill, after his 127-yard performance in the Egg Bowl, is averaging 112.2 yards. He could catch Plumlee in a bowl game and take the SEC rushing title.
Defensively the Rebels deserve credit for making adjustments and limiting the Bulldogs more after halftime.
The Bulldogs had 131 rushing yards in the first half, 79 in the second.
MSU had five second-half possessions. They scored what proved to be the winning touchdown after a Plumlee fumble gave them a short field starting at the Ole Miss 40. Their other possessions ended in three punts and a fumble.
On the whole though, the Ole Miss rushing defense that was vastly improved much of the season faltered in the last two games albeit against two of the better backs in the league in LSU’s Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Hill.
The Rebels still have some work to do there, and they’ll have to do it with a rebuilt defensive line in 2020.
Maybe the pass defense will improve.
The Rebels gave up just 108 passing yards against MSU. Statistically that’s a great improvement, 185 yards below their average, but it’s a weak MSU passing games, and the Bulldogs were able to make some key plays and move the chains through the air.
Speaking of the air …
I doubt Corral’s performance changes anything with his future. I still think he’ll transfer.
I was pulling for him at the end though. His comeback would have been a much better story had the Rebels completed the deal and won the game.
Had Moore’s penalty not thrown everything into chaos Matt Luke was going to try the extra point and take his chances in overtime.
That’s not what I would have done, nor was it what newly minted AD Keith Carter would have done. I was standing near Carter on the sideline, and when Moore scored he held up two fingers which I don’t think he intended as a peace sign.
A two-point try would have been better, I think, much like the Rebels pulled off in Starkville under Tommy Tuberville in 1997 when Luke was a junior center.
The Rebels’ two best running backs – Jerrion Ealy and Jarod “Snoop” Conner – were injured and out of the game. That would have made overtime tough.
The irony in all of this is that Plumlee, in his best percentage passing game in the SEC, was pulled so the Rebels could pass.
In Plumlee’s last three games he was a combined 29-for-47 passing for 61.7 percent.
Maybe that’s a springboard to being a more complete quarterback as a sophomore.
The Rebels will certainly need that from him.