Concerns for Ole Miss the rest of the season
Heading into the back half of the season, Ole Miss still has a chance to win the SEC West and make it to the SEC title game in Atlanta for the first time since the game began in 1992.
But for that to happen, the Rebels are going to have to get better on third down, on both sides of the ball. And getting healthier for the stretch run would be good, too.
Here is a look at what has to be concerns for coach Hugh Freeze and his team heading into this week’s crucial divisional game against Texas A&M:
- Third down defense: The Landshark defense has been stout this season, allowing just 22 points per game, but it has only been tough during first and second downs. On third down, when the defense has a chance to force punts, the Rebels have allowed way too many conversions that kept opponent drives alive. On the season, the bad guys are converting 43 percent of third downs. And that has been by teams like New Mexico State and Fresno State. Still on the slate are Texas A&M, Auburn, Arkansas, LSU and Mississippi State. Those offenses cannot be allowed to convert third downs and keep the Rebels’ offense on the sideline.
- Third down offense: Ole Miss is only converting 40 percent of its own third downs to allow it to keep possession and let the defense rest. Oddly enough, the Rebels are struggling with third-and-short situations, not the longer ones. On third down with an acre to go, quarterback Chad Kelly can drop back and throw the ball down field. When the first down is close, the Rebels’ running attack has abandoned them. Even last week, Ole Miss faced a third-and-short against Memphis and could not convert on a dive play. The Rebels went for it on fourth-and-inches and a quarterback sneak lost a yard.
- Health: There isn’t much anyone can do about this, but it is a concern.The offensive line has been so banged up that reserve quarterback Jeremy Liggins had to don a No. 66 jersey and fill in at right tackle. Running back Jaylen Walton and wide receiver Damore’ea Stringfellow each has missed time with injuries. Defensively, Issac Gross is gone for the year, Tony Connor for a few weeks more and now Robert Nkemdiche is being supervised because of a concussion. Even punter Will Gleeson has suffered a concussion this year.
- Everybody else: Sure Ole Miss needs to take care of its own business on the field, but they need help from other teams. With two losses now (0ne in conference), the Rebels are in a group with Texas A&M and Alabama looking up at LSU. Ole Miss already has a win over the Crimson Tide and has games still to play against the Aggies and Tigers. The Rebs to beat n LSU and A&M to get to Atlanta. Ole Miss still controls its own destiny, but a little help from some others wouldn’t be a bad thing either.