Ole Miss has experienced every possible kind of loss this season. We’ve had a shutout, an upset and a nail biting heartbreaker. The bad thing, however, is all three losses have come in a row. Now, we are at the halfway mark in the season and offer you this mid-season review.
Ole Miss started the season fueled with the hype of it being a memorable one. The sudden arrival of the best recruiting class in school history created high expectations for the young program. The Rebels were expected by many (fans and even sports analysts) to go 9-3, 8-4, or even 10-2 at the end of the regular season. That includes you, Colin Cowherd. Even though we have only reached the halfway point through the season, we see a lot of speculation by Rebel fans as to whether any of those records are now possible. Ole Miss currently sits at 3-3, 1-3 in the SEC. That puts them 5th in the SEC West.
So, let’s rewind the past three weeks and see what has led to these speculations:
3 Weeks Ago – @ Alabama
Rebel Nation went into the game fully set on upsetting Alabama. Many believed the Rebels would keep up with the Tide. Even the experts of Duck Dynasty were on our side. So much hype was built up surrounding the Rebels that Alabama was only given a fourteen point spread over them. That is doable, right? Then the game came, and, before the 4th quarter, reality kicked in.
The defense kept the Rebels in the game in the first half. First half score: Alabama 9, Ole Miss 0. Bo Wallace and the Rebel offense just could not get anything going. Wallace had publicly announced, the week before the game, that his offense could put points on Alabama’s defense. It was as if players like Eddie Jackson had used this message as fuel for the game. Or was it Tyler Sisky’s bird watching skills?
The Rebel offense that Wallace referred to in his interview produced 205 total yards and zero points. Alabama handed Ole Miss their first shutout since 1998.
2 Weeks Ago – @Auburn
Ok, so we took that Alabama loss. It was time to rebound from the game. Rebel fans were expecting more improvements and a win against Auburn. It was going to be close. So close, that the Rebels were only a three-point favorite over the Tigers.
When the game unfolded, it was clear the offense had not gotten over the Alabama loss. Our young talented receivers dropped six passes, four of which could have resulted in a first down or more. The defense set up up many opportunities for the offense to put the game away. But, too many times the offense did not capitalize on those opportunities.
How so? There were two Auburn drives late in the game that resulted in forced fumbles, both recovered by the Rebels. Both plays left the Rebel offense near midfield for starting field position. What was the outcome of each? The first drive was an interception and the other was turned over on downs.
After the first half, it looked as if Auburn would run away with the game. But with the exception of the Alabama game, the Rebels have shown they are a second-half team. The Rebels did rally in the second half, but, they never took the lead at any point in the game. The closest the Rebels got to Auburn was a five-point deficit. This came mid-way through the 4th quarter, when Donte Moncrief scored a 13-yard touchdown on a pass from Bo Wallace.
Like I mentioned a few days before, in a game preview article, Ole Miss needed to watch out for Auburn kicker Cody Parkey. Parkey put the game out of reach when he connected on a 23-yard field goal with three minutes to play.
Last Saturday – Texas A&M
Now, those last two losses very well could have come because the Rebels were on the road four out of the first five games this season. They were dying to get back home in front of a supportive crowd, and, indeed, they played one of their best games of the season against A&M. However, it resulted in a loss. No, you could not have lost in any better fashion than they did last Saturday.
The effort the Rebel players put into the game brought back the same spirit seen in the Texas game. The Rebels kept up with the Aggies throughout the game. When the Aggies scored on their opening drive, the Rebels answered a few drives later with a Vince Sanders’ 70-yard touchdown pass from Wallace to tie the game.
This close game, however, came at a price. During the game seven key players came out due to injuries. These players included (mainly on defense): Robert Nkemdiche, Mike Hilton, Issac Gross, and Jeff Scott.
Serderius Bryant’s injury deserves to have its own discussion. This was a scary moment for not only Rebel fans, but for everyone watching. For Rebel fans, this brought back terrifying memories of the Chucky Mullens’ injury. It was a reassuring moment, though, when Bryant gave two thumbs-up to the crowd while being carried off the field in a stretcher. What is even more reassuring is that (just two days later) Bryant is out of the hospital and planning to play in the upcoming LSU game.
The drive that really had Ole Miss fans scratching their heads in the A&M game was Ole Miss’s last drive. With the game tied (38-38), the Rebels had the opportunity to run the ball downfield and run out the clock to keep the Aggies from having another opportunity. The only way to describe what happened in the drive is to commentate the game ourselves:
The Ole Miss offense comes back onto the field with under three minutes to go in the game. The Rebels have a great opportunity to run the ball down field and put this game away:
First and ten for the Rebels, from their own 25. Bo Wallace passes to Evan Engram and it is incomplete?
Second and ten for the Rebels, from their own 25. Bo Wallace’s pass to Ja-Mes Logan is incomplete?
Third and ten now for the Rebels, from their own 25. Wallace’s pass to Donte Moncrief is incomplete?
Fourth and ten for the Rebels, and they are forced to punt it away to give Johnny Football another opportunity for the win.
So, yes, I will say I don’t really understand the motive in that play calling. The run-game from Walton and Mathers should have been utilized in that drive. But, it was not. This drive lasted for a whopping 34 seconds and gave Johnny Manziel just enough time to get the ball downfield to set up a game-winning field goal by A&M kicker Josh Lambo as time expired.
Update: They are planning on renaming Kyle Field to Lambo Field in his honor.
So what should we expect for the remainder of this season?
The tough games are not over yet for the Rebels. They will face (No. 6) LSU next Saturday. With an injured defense, it is hard to say how much of a fight the Rebels can give LSU. The advantage they will have is being at home.
One question that has to be asked is which LSU team will show up Saturday? Is it the LSU team that allowed Auburn and TCU to keep the game close? Or will it be the LSU team that nearly took Starkville off the map?
Fortunately, there will be a bit of an easy stretch for the Rebels to come after the LSU game. They will take on Idaho, Troy, and Arkansas (all home games). Then the Rebels host Missouri. At the beginning of the year, who would have thought Mizzou would be 6-0 and contending for a divisional title? That will also be a tough test for Ole Miss.
If you are one of those who thinks LSU and Missouri will be losses and the rest of the games will be wins, you know that would put the Rebels with a record of 6-5 going into the Mississippi State game. If Ole Miss beats State, which on paper they should, they would finish the regular season at 7-5. This would be a one-game improvement from last year and would offer a better bowl opportunity. If the Bulldogs upset the Rebels, well, you know what that means? It’s back to Birmingham we go to face Pittsburgh. If that happens, the state of Alabama should have a legislative vote to rename the city Oxburgh.