Notes and observations from the Rebels’ 28-10 win over UTEP. …
Here’s some Bo Wallace video from postgame.
No. 1, being 2-0 absolutely had to happen to keep this team on track to reach some modest win goals. Hugh Freeze isn’t talking wins, but others are. Ole Miss won’t be expected to beat Texas this week, and I won’t pick them to do so here on the blog. But I do expect them to compete, and I don’t think you’ll see 52-7.
Freeze hit on his most popular off-season themes just hours ago in the postgame interview session. He mentioned the wildnerness again, telling folks the Rebels are getting better but are still there. He mentioned talent and depth and the need to improve in those areas, how they’re behind most conference teams there. He stressed competing for 60 minutes, not wins and losses.
“This is part of the learning, of getting our program out of the wildnerness. We’re not there. We’re still in the middle of it, and we have a long way to go,” Freeze said. “Talent-wise we’re not where a lot of teams are in our conference, and we’re not there depth-wise, but the consistent message we’ve said is that we’ll give 60 minutes of great effort. That’s what people want, and we’re getting that right now.”
Nothing will come easily for this team, but getting off to a 2-0 start with a struggling Tulane team on the schedule after Texas gives the Rebels a chance to get up to four wins, perhaps more if things work out. I’ve felt all along that the biggest thing this team needed to do in Year 1 was to win the ones that on paper it looked like it would win — UCA, UTEP and Tulane — then break the SEC losing streak. Get four wins there, and if you’re truly competing for 60 minutes, maybe another SEC game turns for you in the fourth quarter.
Frankly, after watching Auburn yesterday, Ole Miss folks have to think they have a real shot there. Not to discredit Mississippi State, but Auburn looked bad in some areas, particularly quarterback. A lot can change in a month before the Tigers visit Oxford on Oct. 13.
About last night …
The Rebels were much improved on the defensive front from a week ago. Whether by choice or by Oklahoma’s talent, UTEP was a running team in its 24-7 loss to the Sooners. The Miners didn’t have Nathan Jeffery, who rushed for 177 yards against OU, but the Rebels still held UTEP to just 37 rushing yards on 30 attempts, an average of 1.2 yards per carry. That’s no small feat.
UTEP, though was able to find its passing game. The Miners did a good job of dropping the ball in front of Ole Miss defenders. It looked like backup cornerback Cliff Coleman spent a lot of time on the field, and it was freshman Anthony Standifer who was beaten on the UTEP touchdown, a 26-yard pass. Clearly competition is still going on in the Ole Miss secondary.
Offensively, clearly this is Bo Wallace’s team. Another solid performance for the junior college transfer QB as he went 15-for-22, 174 yards with no interceptions, three passing touchdowns, one rushing touchdown.
Barry Brunetti entered the game with 7:19 left. I mistakenly had in the print edition that Brunetti did not have a rushing or passing attempt, but I was looking at the wrong stat sheet then. He rushed two times for 7 yards but did not attempt a pass. Brunetti’s role appears to be shrinking as Wallace’s increase, and last night Brunetti entered the game at that time that you have to start looking more at your screen for game stories on deadline.
It was really good to see Jeff Scott back out there for the offense. Together he and Randall Mackey can form a potent ground game. They’re quick enough to gain positive yards behind an offensive line that isn’t very physical. When you have fast backs like that you don’t have to hold your block as long.
Scott had 113 yards on 13 carries, Mackey 66 yards on 11 carries. I’m still waiting to see Mackey break a long run. His longest last night was 17 yards. He was sick last week against UCA, and that slowed him down some.
Clearly, freshman Jaylen Walton will be part of the plan. He’s reached the end zone for two straight weeks. His 51-yard catch and run down the far sideline was set up nicely with previous play-calling as the Rebels attacked the line of scrimmage in the run game. When Wallace faked a handoff and stepped back to pass, Walton was wide open.
While Wallace is protecting the ball, others did not last night, particularly in special teams where both Korvic Neat and Philander Moore fumbled punt returns. Moore was able to recover his.
Mackey had a costly fumble, and UTEP recovered at the Ole Miss 8. The defense had a solid stand there, and UTEP contributed a couple of penalties, ultimately settling for a field goal. There were no UTEP penalties when the Miners had first-and-goal from the 7 to start the second quarter. The Ole Miss defense rose up there and got an impressive stop on fourth-and-goal from the 1 when Ralph Williams broke through and made first contact on quarterback Nick Lamaison, and Gilbert Pena finished him off.
Place-kicking has suddenly become a concern with normally reliable Bryson Rose. He’s now 0-for-4 on the year. Two have been from 50-plus with Freeze just thinking “why not try it” in those situations. Last night Rose attempted a 56-yarder, and it would have gotten there if he could have kicked it twice. Rose’s two other attempts have been from 29 yards last week and 36 yards last night. That’s something the Rebels need to get corrected.