Notes and thoughts from the Rebels’ 59-42 win over South Carolina …
I was a junior high and high school kid growing up in the shadow of another SEC school during the Steve Sloan years at Ole Miss.
I wasn’t paying to the Rebels then, but that window in history 1978-1982 has often been described to me as Ole Miss teams with good offense and no defense.
I can’t imagine those teams being better on offense or worse on defense than what we witnessed from Ole Miss last night.
Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin wanted to focus on his offense last night, and rightly so. It was an incredible display, and I’ll get to that shortly. You can’t ignore what’s going on with the defense right now.
I wanted to give that side the benefit of the doubt and say they were improving, and in fact they were better numerically against Arkansas and Vanderbilt. Sandwiched in between the Auburn game was not their worst game, and when those Tigers put up 48 points and 506 total yards on LSU, another struggling defense, you could look at the Ole Miss-Auburn game in a slightly different light.
Last night’s rushing performance by South Carolina – mostly from starting back Kevin Harris but not only from Harris – was embarrassing for Ole Miss.
In one way I appreciated watching a team line up with the quarterback under center in the I formation and dominate on the ground. That was old school and would have made Butch Wax proud at Denham Springs High School, two, three or 40 years ago.
South Carolina at times schemed the Rebels out of position with the pre-snap motion that the Rebels often successfully employed when they were on offense.
Other times the Gamecocks just won at the line of scrimmage, and it didn’t take much for Harris to burst into the second level.
Harris was the third-leading rusher in the SEC when the night began, so he wasn’t just some dude back there. He’ll likely improve his standing after last night.
There are lots of good running backs in the SEC, though, and you’ve got to compete better against them.
There was semi-drama before the game over who would start at quarterback for South Carolina. I say semi-drama because I really thought the two quarterbacks, Collin Hill and Ryan Hilinski were similar.
In the end Hill went wire-to-wire. He wasn’t flashy, but when handing it off you don’t have to be.
When asked to pass he was mostly accurate. I thought the interception by AJ Finley in the first quarter was a solid throw by Hill. It was on the money and would have been caught if Finley hadn’t covered some ground and made a good play.
Hill finished 17 for 28 for 230 yards.
However, it was when South Carolina offensive coordinator Mike Bobo felt the need to pass that the Rebels finally got a couple of defensive stops and let their offense win the game.
Ole Miss forced a punt in the middle of the third quarter after Lakia Henry and Ryder Anderson combined for a third-down sack of Hill.
With 12:02 left in the game and South Carolina down 45-42 Bobo went to the air on third-and-9 after a Hill fumble on second-and-6.
Ole Miss quickly covered the 80 yards and scored on Jerrion Ealy’s 5-yard run to go up 52-42, a two-possession lead with the clock shrinking.
On Carolina’s next possession Bobo passed on first down, and Keidron Smith had a break-up against Shi Smith in front of the Ole Miss bench.
Hill was incomplete again on third down, and the Gamecocks went for it on fourth-and-11 from their 24 with the clock under 6 minutes. Hill was incomplete again.
What happened next was to me a snapshot of the dominance of the Ole Miss offense.
The Rebels took over at the South Carolina 24 with a 10-point lead and obviously wanting to burn some clock.
Ealy was dropped for a 4-yard loss on first down then he gained 4 yards on second down.
Kiffin and Jeff Lebby stayed on the ground on third down, and Matt Corral was dropped for a 1-yard loss.
A field goal there had minimal benefit. It would have prevented South Carolina from winning with a kick but not from winning with a second touchdown.
Ole Miss came out on fourth down after three downs of floundering, and Corral hit Elijah Moore – who had lined up as running back – for a 25-yard touchdown.
As other receivers lined up at the line of scrimmage and ran their routes, Moore slipped out of the backfield and was wide open in the seam.
It had the look of Babe Ruth calling his shot in the World Series. Ole Miss toyed with South Carolina for three downs then came out and did what it wanted to do with no resistance.
Moore lined up at running back much of the night, something we hadn’t seen before, but something Kiffin said he wanted to do to confuse the South Carolina secondary. It worked.
The Gamecocks also looked confused when Corral and Moore teamed up for a 91-yard touchdown. Corral audibled on the play, and when Moore was in the middle of the field the closest defenders to him were in Pontotoc.
While Corral had a record night with 513 passing yards the run game – though it still finished with 195 yards led by Ealy’s 84 and two touchdowns on 17 carries – didn’t look as fluid as it has in other games.
Also, the Rebels had more penalties on offense than they usually have.
That’s about all the fault you can find in last night’s performance.
Kiffin told us during the week that he had a few starters out for the game. Nose tackle KD Hill was one. I assumed wide receiver Jonathan Mingo was another, but Mingo got in the game some. It wasn’t Mingo’s health that created a change with Braylon Sanders getting his first start, and Sanders was productive with four catches on four targets for 141 yards. We’ve seen Sanders get open downfield before in his career, and he did again last night.
The role continues to grow for freshman running back Henry Parrish. Kiffin told us as the beginning of the season that Parrish would play, but we really haven’t seen it until the last couple of weeks.
It’s hard to get carries for three backs and pass the ball too, and Parrish, while productive, may keep Jarod “Snoop” Conner from getting into rhythm.
Conner had 18 yards on eight carries last night but did have the big pass play to set up the field goal right before the half.
At the end of the day it was big for Ole Miss to beat an SEC team not named Arkansas or Vanderbilt, something the Rebels hadn’t done since winning at Mississippi State in 2017.
Kiffin was right to focus on his offense last night, but he’s got to focus on his defense too.
Until that side of the ball becomes more consistent there’s too much pressure on a very good offense to be perfect.
It makes Ole Miss look like a carnival attraction. “Hey, folks step right up and see how many points this great offense can score, but this team could still lose because they can’t get enough stops during the game …”