Rapid Reaction: Rebels rise to avoid embarrassment
Ole Miss had a completely different offensive line than it did a week ago in a loss against Auburn. The season’s disappointment looked very similar early against Georgia Southern in an eventual 37-27 victory, a win that took a risky Georgia Southern on-side kick to help Ole Miss along.
Ole Miss trailed the Eagles 21-10 in the first half before turning it on for four touchdowns in the second quarter and holding on with Chad Kelly going to the sideline in the third quarter with a right knee injury.
What it means: Ole Miss beat a team it was supposed to beat. It had to salt it away. Had the Rebels scored 100 points in the second half and won by 75, the win couldn’t have looked much worse. After losing three consecutive games, the Rebels needed to blast Georgia Southern. Georgia Southern fired all the first shots, leading 14-3 after a quarter and answering an Ole Miss touchdown with a 68-yard run and 21-10 lead. Ole Miss won, but in a way that won’t carry any winning momentum to College Station next week.
What I liked: Ole Miss became Ole Miss. Down 21-10 in the first half, Kelly turned it on. As his offensive line started figuring things out, the Rebels rattled off three unanswered touchdowns in the second quarter. Despite key penalties, the Rebels were able to keep the Eagles out of the end zone in the second half.
Offensively, Javon Patterson was solid in his first start at center, after starting the previous eight games at left guard. Alongside him, the line provided more protection and more lanes after the first quarter. Akeem Judd rushed for 139 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries and along with Gary Wunderlich (3-for-3 FGs) was a key to holding on with Kelly on the bench.
What I didn’t like: Vaught-Hemingway Stadium was flat. There were empty seats on camera and fans in seats sitting on their hands. The team might as well have been seated on their hands, too. Ole Miss had a three-and-out, a drive that stalled into a field goal and two punts to open a touchdown-less first quarter.
Georgia Southern WR Malik Henry blocked Wunderlich’s punt, a block that words can’t accurately describe. Henry ran not only nearly untouched, but unnoticed by a trio of protectors for the block. Five plays later, the Eagles had a 14-3 lead. On 3rd-and-3 early in the second quarter, Matt Breida went 68 yards for a 21-10 lead. Ole Miss made him look like Leonard Fournette doing so.
Kelly’s first-half numbers (14-for-20, 260 yards, TD) came despite the new-look offensive line that early on looked like the same old mess. Defensively for Ole Miss, Georgia Southern’s first touchdown came on a 3rd-and-14. Things got better as the game went on, but there won’t be room for error next week. Ole Miss looked like a team that needed to see potential embarrassment in order to get motivated.
Who’s the man: Kelly was again the ultimate competitor. He threw for 226 yards on 16 of 23 passing with a touchdown. Before exiting, he rushed for 23 yards and two touchdowns.
Key play(s): Georgia Southern went up 21-10 and went for broke. An on-side kick failed and Ole Miss scored on Kelly’s 5-yard run kill the Eagles’ momentum.
A later play identified Ole Miss. The Rebels had battled back to take a 24-21 lead. The defense held the Eagles to a three-and-out and scored in two plays on Evan Engram’s 38-yard catch-and-spin. It got bigger and bigger, with Ole Miss again not being able to score in the second half.
What’s next: Ole Miss (4-5, 1-4 SEC) travels to Texas A&M next Saturday.