Notes and thoughts on the Rebels’ 24-17 loss to Texas A&M …

As the Aggies reeled off chunk plays in the first quarter I thought they were about to take control of the game in a way that Missouri did in the third quarter in Columbia last week.

But the Rebels began to settle in for the second quarter and at halftime made some adjustments and benefited from the return of Jacquez Jones at inside linebacker.

Jones and Tariq Tisdale both sat out the first half suspended from their targeting ejections at Missouri.

Jones in particular had a nice second half with six tackles a couple of them on his own in space.

Ole Miss coach Matt Luke afterward said the defense “played its guts out” and gave the Rebels a chance to win.

It certainly did.

The Aggies finished with 337 total yards, just 212 over the last three quarters.

Offensively the Rebels rushed for 250 yards, the most allowed by Texas A&M this season.

When it was all said and done, however, the Rebels just could not make the biggest plays at the biggest times.

Whether those plays needed to be made on offense, defense or special teams they weren’t there on the plays that turned the game.

Play-calling was lacking too.

Trailing 17-14 and at the Aggies’ 10-yard line late in the third quarter the Rebels were stuffed for no gain on two-straight Scottie Phillips runs to the left side then lost 8 yards on a John Rhys Plumlee run to the right.

Then Luke Logan’s 35-yard field goal attempt was blocked.

I thought Ole Miss matched up better with Texas A&M than it did Missouri, and it played out that way.

The Rebels were never out of this game the way they were in Columbia when they fell behind 35-14 in the third quarter.

But it was the Aggies who made the big plays in the third and fourth quarters in all three phases: the blocked field goal, the stuff of Phillips for a 1-yard loss on second down near mid-field after his 9-yard run on first down – the subsequent incomplete pass by Matt Corral forced the Rebels to punt – and Kellen Mond’s 12-yard run on third-and-6 when the Rebels could have gotten the ball back one more time in a three-point game.

Ole Miss defended Mond well for the most part, better as the game went on.

The Rebels showed improvement in the secondary against a guy who had been passing for 266 yards a game.

Freshman cornerback Deantre Prince and sophomore corner Keidron Smith made strides.

The Rebels pressured Mond, sacked him and hit him, but he made winning plays on the drive that ended in Isaiah Spiller’s 22-yard touchdown run and in effect sealed the game.

Ole Miss right now looks like a team that’s not far away from successfully closing out a game but doesn’t know how to win.

There’s not a player right now offensively or defensively that says, “Get on my back. I’m going to carry this team for a while.”

Part of stopping Mond in the first half and getting into a better defensive goove were the interceptions by end Austrian Robinson and linebacker Donta’ Evans the latter on a ball initially tipped by Smith. Robinson’s pick was an extremely athletic play on a ball meant to be thrown over his head.

The problem was the Rebels couldn’t turn either turnover into points, while the Aggies’ defensive touchdown – a 62-yard fumble return by linebacker Buddy Johnson -- in the third quarter changed the game.

Johnson was in the right place at the right time when Plumlee fumbled. Plumlee saw pressure on the play and stepped back in the pocket. He didn’t see the two defenders behind him and when hit lost the ball.

The Rebels used both quarterbacks as promised, but again Corral didn’t enter until late in the first quarter.

It looked like offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez wanted to give Plumlee every chance in the first quarter to get in a rhythm and get the offense moving. Had he done that I don’t think Corral would have played much at all.

But when it became necessary to pass Corral showed this team needs him as part of this offense. He was 9 for 17, but again this offense looks better in the passing game when he’s in there.

Twice he gave Braylon Sanders deep balls that looked like catches before they were overturned upon review.

He gives the receivers a better chance to be involved.

That’s going to be important moving ahead especially in two weeks against Auburn’s physical defensive front.

A&M last night did a good job of keeping Plumlee in front of them and limiting his big plays in the run game.

I thought the 74 yards he needed to set an Ole Miss season record for rushing yards by a quarterback was something he’d easily obtain perhaps but halftime. But he never got there.

The Rebels did, however, find a groove in the run game in the second half. They showed their depth at running back with production from all three backs, and all three were necessary as Jerrion Ealy missed the second half with an illness, and Phillips turned an ankle.

There were several ankles and assorted injuries last night, the severity of which remains to be seen. The open date is coming at a good time.

Speaking of wide receiver involvement Rodriguez tried the end around with speedy freshman Dannis Jackson last night. They’ve been working on that in practice for a couple of weeks, probably more. It only gained 3 yards, but I hope he’ll stick with it and try it again.

Though it’s taken a while to get in sync Ole Miss has run the ball against two very good defenses over the last two weeks.

The Rebels aren’t making winning plays right now, but they’re a better team than they were in September. They are improving.

That improvement will likely end short of a winning season and a bowl game. They need three wins to become eligible and with four games remaining will be heavy underdogs at Auburn and at home against LSU.

A&M was a game against a middling SEC opponent, the next level that Ole Miss is trying to reach.

The Rebels have to find a way to make the big plays at the big time and get over the hump.

parrish.alford@journalinc.com

Twitter: @parrishalford

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