Ole Miss football: Rebels fight their way out of corner
The Ole Miss Rebels snapped a four-game losing streak to the Arkansas Razorbacks on Saturday night, prevailing in Little Rock 37-33. As has become standard when the two SEC West teams meet, it was a crazy game that went down to the wire.
Here are 5 things I liked from the Rebels in their win and 3 things I didn’t like.
What I liked
5. Second-half defense – In the first half, the Rebels defense played like we had seen all year long, giving up 303 yards and getting gashed for big plays. They allowed a whopping 8.9 yards per play en route to giving up 27 points. In the second half they were far stingier, allowing just 173 yards and six points. Arkansas QB Ty Storey went down with an injury, but give credit where credit is due.
4. Success on third down – The Rebels were 6 of 10 (60 percent) on third downs and held the Razorbacks to just 2 of 9 (22 percent). This area has typically been a problem for the Rebels, thus they’ve had trouble maintaining sustained drives on offense and getting off the field on defense. Against the Razorbacks they were improved in both areas, and this certainly played a big role in the Rebels victory in the end.
3. Tight ends stepping up – Dawson Knox and Octavious Cooley have been relatively quiet this season but that drastically changed on Saturday night as the duo combined for 150 yards on just four receptions, averaging 37.5 yards per catch. Their timing was particularly beneficial to the Rebels. Cooley’s 66-yard touchdown grab made it a six-point game, and the 48-yard grab by Knox on the final drive took them down to the red zone.
2. Jordan Ta’amu – The senior QB had a fantastic game all around, completing 26-of-35 passes for 387 yards (two TDs, one interception) and rushing for 141 yards and a TD. Granted, the INT was ugly as he forced a throw into triple coverage trying to connect with A.J. Brown in the end zone. Aside from that Ta’amu was on point all night, showing great accuracy while going through his progressions. Finally, it seemed the Rebels offense wasn’t strictly looking for the long ball on every play, instead focusing on shorter passes to let their receivers make plays in space. That helped the offense sustain drives.
1. No quitting – Hey, give Matt Luke credit for not letting his team to throw in the towel, when it would have been easy to do. This team has had a fragile psyche all year long and has struggled to overcome adversity, especially early in games. This week was different though. The Rebels were down by 17 in the second quarter, and by nine with just 8:31 left in the game. How did the Rebels respond? Two fantastic touchdown drives: A 10-play, 84-yard possession to get within 33-31 and a seven-play, 97-yard drive in under 2 minutes for the lead. The Rebels didn’t quit when they were pushed into a corner, instead fighting back. That’s very encouraging heading into the second half of the season.
What I didn’t like
3. Ugly penalties persist – Ole Miss has reduced its number of penalties since the debacle in Baton Rouge two weeks ago, only committing four against the Razorbacks for 50 yards. But Ole Miss continues to accumulate ugly and entirely unnecessary penalties, especially after the whistle for unsportsmanlike conduct and late hits. There’s no excuse for these types of penalties — it’s discipline, or lack thereof. It’s one thing to be called for an accidental face mask because those things happen. But shoving an opposing quarterback as he tries to get up? C’mon.
2. Run defense still putrid – I know some might think I tend to be overly critical of the defense. The unit showed great improvement Saturday but still allowed 299 yards rushing, or 6.2 yards per carry. The reality? The Razorbacks have a below-average rushing attack, certainly by SEC standards, and they absolutely lit up the Rebels. Just imagine what would’ve happened if Rakeem Boyd, who had 109 yards and a TD on just seven carries, hadn’t left with an injury in the second quarter? There’s still a lot of room for further improvement for the Ole Miss defense.
1. Kicking game woes – Luke Logan missed two crucial field goals, both within 45 yards, which should’ve been made. Luke had to have been glad when Scottie Phillips crossed the end zone with 42 seconds left for the go-ahead score, so he didn’t have to rely on Logan at that point. Think how much worse those misses would’ve been if the Rebels didn’t score a TD on their final drive, and the Rebels lost 33-31. Yikes.