At some point during the Ole Miss-Vanderbilt game there came a murmur that Kelly Bryant had gotten hurt.
A knee injury, and it didn’t look good. He might miss the Ole Miss game, the murmur said.
Nobody who’s right cheers for injuries, but they impact games, and it would have been helpful for Ole Miss if Missouri was forced to go without its starting quarterback and with the much less experienced Taylor Powell, who has attempted just 16 passes this season and is not a threat in the run game.
Powell has appeared in nine games in his career, three of them this year.
Powell, a third-year sophomore from Fayetteville, yes the Arkansas one, would have been like facing Riley O’Neal 2.0, and the Rebels had a lot of success pressuring the Vanderbilt quarterback, a three-year starter at Ball State in his previous college football life.
Instead, Missouri officials put the quash on the Bryant rumors, leaking on Sunday that not only would he play against Ole Miss but that he would “fully participate” in practice this week.
There might still be a little gamesmanship going on here. That injury looked pretty bad on television.
I expect that Bryant, who started Clemson’s national semifinal against Alabama in 2017, will start, but starting and playing effectively are not always the same thing.
Regardless of who takes the snaps for Missouri, the Ole Miss plan has to include getting that guy off his spot and making him uncomfortable.
While the run defense is miles ahead of what it’s been for the last three seasons, the secondary, with youth and inexperience this season, continues to be a sore spot.
Last week, however, the Rebels were able to get after Neal, who was finally benched in the third quarter. Ole Miss had three sacks and eight quarterback hurries for the game.
Required to cover for a shorter amount of time, the Ole Miss secondary had seven pass break-ups.
Vanderbilt had 202 passing yards and was well under that late in the game before mop-up time set in.
Ole Miss took the containment approach against Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. He didn’t run on the Rebels, but he passed for 418 yards and six touchdowns with no interceptions. His spot was wherever he wanted it to be.
Ole Miss needs to find the middle ground against Bryant because the secondary needs the help.
While there appears to be no question that Bryant will be the quarterback for Missouri, the Ole Miss question is not who will play but how much.
It appears freshman John Rhys Plumlee will make his third start. Redshirt freshman Matt Corral, we theorize, will also play.
We thought Corral would play last week. Ole Miss coach Matt Luke seemed pretty confident last Wednesday night that Corral would get in the game.
Instead, Plumlee went wire to wire, and Luke said after the game that Corral had not recovered enough from his bruised ribs to handle the running part of the offense.
This week Luke says Corral has gotten “better and better” and that he and Plumlee “split” reps with the ones in Wednesday’s practice.
Looking back on the season opener at Memphis when the Rebels ran just 52 total plays and rushed for 80 yards I had doubts about this offense.
Rich Rodriguez’ unit has made tremendous strides since then. He’s running his offense with freshmen and a rebuilding offensive line, and Ole Miss this week is second to Georgia and No. 16 nationally in rushing offense with 234.3 yards a game.
There’s been some improvement on the offensive line along the way, but that group is still a work in progress, and Jack Bicknell is still trying to push buttons with player rotations.
The run game has been as much about play-calling as anything else as Ole Miss has rushed for 692 yards over the last two games.
I’ve seen some who believe that Ole Miss will line up and run past and around Missouri – mash is not the term for this line – which is allowing just 88.3 rushing yards a game.
I’m not there yet. There’s too much football history that suggests that good defensive coaches – and Missouri head coach Barry Odom is one – will figure this out whether it’s shadowing the electric Plumlee, stacking the box or what have you.
That’s coming, and when it happens the Rebels will need to hit some passes. They’ll need to hit them better than with the 50.9 percent completion rate that Plumlee – in a very small sample size – currently brings to the table.
Corral, with the struggles he’s had in occasionally missing open targets, is at 59.6 percent. It’s not great, but it’s better, and Corral has shown that he can get in a rhythm in the pass game.
This is not a Phil Longo launch downfield approach, but you have to be functional in the passing game. That was the underlying message this week when Luke said he wanted to see his receivers “capitalize” and make plays downfield when teams load the box.
So, maybe Corral plays, and maybe he’s on target.
On the flip side it’s not only about stopping the run against Missouri, which is No. 2 nationally in pass defense efficiency with a 83.46 opponent QB rating.
No, this is the type of quality opponent that Ole Miss is going to have to pick off if it’s going to reach six wins and a bowl game.
Ole Miss has improved offensively as the season has reached the mid-way point. That’s what you want to see.
The Rebels have remained consistent with their improved run defense, but there remains much ground to cover in the secondary.
If Bryant shows up hobbled and wounded, maybe the Rebels harass him more and get him to the ground in the backfield a few times.
It will take that for success in CoMo, and I don’t think it’s coming.
Without disrupting Bryant the Rebels’ run-heavy offense will have to be on top of its game, will have to be more consistent that it was on 39 of the 44 carries it had against Vanderbilt and will have to score in the mid-30s.
Some say a soft schedule has led to Missouri’s impressive defensive numbers. We’ll see. The Rebels are going to have to win a matchup of strength against strength to get it done.
Prediction: Missouri 31, Ole Miss 17