Ole Miss football: Offense continues to be saving grace after defensive meltdown
The Ole Miss Rebels were fortunate to come away with a win over Southern Illinois on Saturday, in what should have been an easy layup before a huge game against Alabama next week. Despite the score indicating a blowout – 76-41 – up until the fourth quarter it was neck and neck.
Still, a win is a win, and there were some positives from the Rebs, though almost exclusively on offense. The defense? Yikes.
Here are 5 things I liked in the Rebels win, and 3 things I didn’t like.
Things I liked
5. Winning the turnover war
One of the positives for the Rebs was that they won the turnover battle, forcing 3 turnovers and committing none. The 3 turnovers forced were late in the game when Ole Miss needed them most. The way the Rebels defense has been playing, the offense absolutely cannot give up the ball if they want to have a chance at winning.
4. Scottie Phillips continues looking good
The Rebels star RB followed up his 204-yard performance in Week 1 with another strong showing in Week 2, rushing 15 times for 107 yards and 2 TDs. He continues to show great vision, patience and balance with the burst to get into the second level and punish smaller DBs. It’s becoming apparent that the Rebels will rely a lot on Phillips even more moving forward so they can control the clock and maintaining possession for longer stretches.
3. Defense got better in second half
The defense was utterly abysmal, and their final grade on the day is an ‘F’. If there was anything worse than an ‘F’, it would be that — the unit was that bad. The Rebels gave up 386 yards in the first half alone. They were bad in the second half too, allowing 243 yards, but they showed signs of improvement. After allowing 38 points by halftime, they only gave up a field goal in the second half, and they came up with those 3 big turnovers, including 2 returned for TDs. It was a horrible showing, but at least there were signs of improvement as the game went on.
2. Jordan Ta’amu
If only he could play defense, too. The senior QB completed 23 of 33 attempts on Saturday for 448 yards and 5 TDs with no interceptions. On the season, he has completed just under 70 percent of his passes for 784 yards with 7 TDs and no INTs, averaging a ridiculous 12.06 yards per attempt. He has been very efficient with the ball, spreading the ball to various receivers and showing excellent ball placement, especially on deep balls. He just seems to get better and better.
1. The offense continues to be the saving grace
If their offense couldn’t score in bunches, the Rebels would be in even more trouble than they are now. The Salukis scored on all 6 of their first-half drives, including 5 TDs, but Mississippi’s offense went toe-to-toe with them, also scoring 5 TDs after an early three-and-out on the first possession. In the second half the Rebels scored another 4 TDs. The offense racked up 646 yards and 62 points.
Things I didn’t like
3. Poor tackling, poor execution on defense
That was a truly embarrassing game for the Rebels defense. Poor game plan, poor execution, poor tackling, poor angles, poor everything. The defense, especially in the first half, looked like one of the most poorly coached units I’ve seen in a long, long time. There was no passion, desire, hunger or pride. The Rebels looked sloppy and careless. They didn’t look like this at all last week against Texas Tech, when the unit was not too bad. This was not just one, but about 10 steps backwards. The amount of work that needs to be done this week as they prepare for Alabama is staggering.
2. Penalties, penalties, penalties
In a home game against an FCS squad that they should’ve manhandled, the Rebels committed a dreadful 9 penalties for 75 yards. The Rebels committed 7 penalties the previous week against a Power 5 school away from home, but drastically regressed at home against Southern Illinois. Quite honestly, it looked like the Salukis wanted to win this game more than the Rebels for much of the contest. If Ole Miss is to win some games it is not supposed to this year, the Rebels can’t beat themselves by committing a slew of penalties which kills drives and puts them in disadvantageous field positions.
1. Defense couldn’t get off the field
The Salukis dominated time of possession and controlled the clock for much of the game. Southern Illinois had possession for 37:33, and the Ole Miss defense became gassed. The Salukis were 7-for-17 on third downs and 3-of-4 on fourth downs, and continually came up with big plays. The Rebels don’t have enough depth on defense to play like this. As quickly as the offense scores, the defense is already going to be on the field too much. So when Ole Miss can’t make a stop on third or fourth down, they players will wear down quickly and allow sustained drives and points.
It was a tale of two different teams. One half of the Rebels, the offense, was fantastic. It’s hard to come up with any negatives. Just electric stuff, both passing and running. They can score practically at will. But the other half of the team, the defense, was awful, especially in the first half. It’s almost unthinkable for an SEC defense to give up 629 yards of offense to an FCS team at home, but Ole Miss did.
Next up? Alabama, whose offense looks practically as unstoppable as the Rebels. If Southern Illinois can move the ball like that against Ole Miss, how in the world will the Rebels stop Tua Tagovailoa and company? This is going to be a long week of preparation for defensive coordinator Wesley McGriff and staff. But hey, the Rebels still came away with a win, and for the next week, they’re still undefeated.