I’m not going to bury the lead here as I often do on Thursday.
I will cut to the chase and tell you that I predict that Ole Miss will defeat New Mexico State Saturday. If they don’t I may go ahead and take vacation to avoid the outcry that would follow.
The Aggies and the Rebels will take the field Saturday having lost 13-straight games between them, 10 of those by New Mexico State, a streak that dates back to the last two games of 2018.
This is such an unappealing matchup that John Pitts, jokingly, talked about sending me to another game. I suggested the one in Tuscaloosa.
Defensive coordinator Mike MacIntyre pointed out to us this week that New Mexico State’s “strength is our weakness,” a reference to the Aggies sometimes functional passing game.
Indeed quarterback Josh Adkins, a 6-foot-2 third-year sophomore, has a 62.2 percent completion rate, higher than either half of the Rebels’ two-quarterback system. Adkins threw for 335 yards against rival New Mexico and has completed at least one pass of 30-plus yards in five games this season.
He’s also thrown 14 interceptions, so chances are pretty good that if you just do your job as a defensive back he’ll throw one to you.
MacIntyre on Monday tried to assist in what no doubt has been the coaching staff’s biggest challenge this week, and that’s been to keep the attention of the players.
We heard about New Mexico State’s talented passing game, but we also heard that much of the attention for the week of practice would be focused on the Rebels’ themselves, and that’s a good thing, because they need attention.
Maybe there was focus that in some way helped John Rhys Plumlee advance in the passing game.
Not much from the offense looked good against Auburn, but as much as people don’t like to hear it the Auburn defense needs to be taken into consideration there.
Matt Corral against Missouri and Texas A&M was a combined 20-for-33 passing (60.6 percent). Two of his best throws were to Braylon Sanders and were overturned on review. That’s against defenses that this week rank No. 1 (Missouri) and No. 4 in the SEC in pass defense efficiency.
On the road at Auburn the Rebels were not able to get anything out of the passing game until very late.
There’s no doubt the Rebels need to be better there, but I don’t think they’re as bad as they looked most of the night on the Plains.
As far as this week the Rebels could probably get by without throwing a pass.
Only UMass at 270.8 yards a game is allowing more on the ground than New Mexico State at 263.5.
Ole Miss coach Matt Luke said Wednesday that Scottie Phillips, the Rebels’ starting running back, is doubtful. Phillips, who left the Texas A&M game with a knee injury and the Auburn game with an ankle injury, should be held out. I suspect that’s the plan, but coaches and military leaders don’t like to discuss plans.
Braylon Sanders should take a week off too because he appears to be the only receiver able to make a play downfield right now.
QB accuracy has a lot to do with wide receiver production, or the lack thereof, but Sanders made nifty contested catches – or came close – four times in the last two games. Two against A&M were overturned on review, and one, on the Rebels’ final drive at Auburn, was called back by a holding penalty.
There’s a tendency to say, “Oh well, Sanders had a big catch on the next play, so the holding didn’t matter.” But it did. The first catch was for 33 yards, the second for 17. Ole Miss lined up at the Auburn 35 on the last play of the game, 16 yards from the Auburn 19. The end zone’s a lot more attainable in one play when you’re throwing from the 19 instead of the 35.
So rest Sanders and his hamstring this week.
Feed Jarod “Snoop” Conner and Jerrion Ealy. Feed Isaiah Woullard.
Execute well on offense. Get hands on Adkins and avoid coverage busts in the secondary. Get young guys who haven’t played into the game.
Do these things, and the Rebels should leave Vaught-Hemingway Stadium with another win in pocket and trying to figure out how they can get one in the Egg Bowl in the season finale. They’ll be unlikely to get one next week at home against LSU.
Prediction: Ole Miss 44, New Mexico State 19