Ole Miss football: Again uncompetitive against SEC West's upper crust
Saturday was another long night for the Ole Miss Rebels, as they were once again largely uncompetitive against a premier team from the SEC West, losing 45-16 at LSU.
It’s becoming all too common for the Rebels when they face the SEC’s upper crust. Against No. 1 Alabama and No. 5 LSU, the Rebels have been outscored 107-23. Mississippi was competitive with those teams just a few short years ago — years that now feel like decades.
Here are the very few things I liked from the Rebels in this game, and just a sampling of the countless things I didn’t like.
What I liked
3. Defensive line continues to show signs of life: Don’t take this the wrong way, because they didn’t play a great game by any means, but they have continued to look better as the season has progressed. They are finally getting off the ball and penetrating into the backfield. Unfortunately for them, LSU QB Joe Burrow was getting rid of the ball very quickly so their pressure couldn’t make much of an impact, but they’re making some progress after a slow start to the season.
2. Strong kicking game: Boy, you know it was a rough game when this is one of the highlights, but hey, special teams play is crucial. Luke Logan was 3 for 3 on field goals Saturday night, putting him at 8 of 9 on the year; he is also 20 of 21 on extra points. Punter Mac Brown had six punts averaging 47.8 yards, including one inside the 20. Not too bad, fellas.
1. Scottie Phillips: Why the Rebels don’t give Phillips the ball more is a perplexing question. Take the second Ole Miss drive, which resulted in a field goal. On that drive, Phillips had three carries for 35 yards, including a 13-yard scamper down to the LSU 13 for a first down. Then what followed? Three straight pass attempts, all incomplete. That’s the story of this offense in a nutshell, but more on that in a bit.
Back to the positive – Phillips is a damn fine tailback who finished with 16 carries for 96 yards and a TD, averaging 6.0 yards per carry against a formidable LSU defense that was 10th nationally against the run coming in. On the year, Phillips has 78-carries for 563 yards and 6 TDs, averaging 7.2 yards per carry. Why he’s not getting the ball even more is a dumbfounding question, especially when the head coach is a former offensive lineman.
What I didn’t like
5. Jordan Ta’amu continues to struggle in big games: Ta’amu was 19 of 38 (50 percent) for 178 yards with no TDs and an INT, averaging 4.7 yards per attempt. Much like his predecessor Shea Patterson, Ta’amu can carve up bad teams with the best of them but struggles against the big boys. Against Texas Tech, Southern Illinois and Kent State, he completed 73 of 103 attempts (70 percent) for 1,226 yards with 9 TDs and 1 INT, averaging an amazing 11.9 yards per attempt. Against quality SEC defenses like Alabama and LSU? He has completed 26 of 60 attempts (43 percent) for 311 yards with 1 TD and 3 INTs, averaging a horrendous 5.1 yards per attempt. And if we take out the opening play of the Alabama game, he has completed 25 of 59 for 236 yards with 0 TDs and 3 INTS, averaging 4 yards per attempt. It’s not like he doesn’t have weapons: Ole Miss has A.J. Brown, D.K. Metcalf, DaMarkus Lodge, Scottie Phillips and a decent offensive line.
4. Defense needs a change at the top: I mean, c’mon. How much longer can Wesley McGriff last at this point? The Rebels gave up an evenly distributed 573 yards of offense to the Tigers, with 292 through the air and 281 on the ground. On the season? They’re giving up 518.8 yards per game. Let that sink in for a moment. They’re giving up 208.8 rushing yards per game, 4.76 per carry. Opposing offenses are 33 of 79 on third down (41%). How much longer does McGriff keep calling plays? I know the severe lack of talent on defense is something he inherited, but he’s clearly not doing anything to make the unit better.
3. Third-down woes: The Rebels were just 5 of 15 on third down against LSU on Saturday night, continuing their struggles. Considering the defense they have, the Rebels have to convert third downs if they’re going to win some games they’re not supposed to. They cannot go 3 and out – which they did five times in 12 drives against the Tigers, including four times in the first half – as often.
2. Holy penalties: Penalties have been killing the Rebels all season long, and it’s getting worse. In their first four games, they averaged eight penalties for 70.25 yards per game. It got worse at LSU: An ungodly 17 penalties for 167 yards. This is flat-out unacceptable. I’ve said it many times, but it remains truer than ever. You can blame many of Mississippi’s problems on a lack of talent on one side of the ball, but you can’t blame penalties on the lack of talent – that’s a direct reflection on the coaching staff. This problem has not only lingered but become progressively and shockingly worse. It is a perplexing question and the responsibility for the extreme lack of discipline lies directly upon Matt Luke.
1. Offensive scheme a mismatch for its own defense: Ole Miss simply can’t run this offense alongside their current defense anymore. I know Phil Longo wants to pass, pass and then run, all at a breakneck pace, but he’s apparently not considering the defense whatsoever. For him to run the offense he wants – and the team win while doing so – he would need a very good defense. That’s the opposite of what the Rebels have right now. The offense that he wants to run either goes three and out or scores a 75-yard TD. You simply can’t play that way with a defense as bad as the Rebels have. Longo needs to slow things down to help keep the strength of the team (the offense) on the field and keep the weakness of the team (the defense) off it.
This is even more obvious when you see that they have a very talented tailback in Phillips who can absolutely carry a bigger workload. He has been criminally underused. I know schematically the hurry-up offense can pay huge dividends against more talented teams, but when the defense is this bad, the hurry-up offense is too. This pairing has been doomed from the start.