It’s Thursday, and welcome to the long and rambling predictions post.
I invite your input below on the Rebels’ Saturday night — This season it’s redundant to say night when speaking of Ole Miss kickoff times — homecoming game against Idaho.
Ole Miss is coming off a thrilling 27-24 win over then-No. 6 LSU in which the depleted Rebels invested quite a bit emotionally to get things done.
I thought it was the best job of a team being ready to play that I’ve seen covering Ole Miss. That didn’t mean the game was without mistakes, and two big ones — an I’Tavius Mathers fumble and a muffed punt by Korvic Neat — would be reviewed as plays that cost the Rebels dearly had things turned out differently.
For what it’s worth, Neat, who also muffed a punt against LSU in 2012, was not among players fielding punts during viewable practice periods this week.
In addition to being ready to play against LSU the Rebels needed some other things to work out. They needed Zach Mettenberger to take a few shots downfield, and when he did, they needed to be in position to close with big plays, and they did.
They also needed LSU not to pound relentlessly with Jeremy Hill. I don’t feel like that would have favored the Rebels over the long haul. LSU did not pound, and callers to WWL out of New Orleans were the ones to pound relentlessly when I was driving home and listening to that postgame show.
Things worked out for Ole Miss in the end, and Hugh Freeze picked up his first signature win.
The challenge facing the Rebels this week against a bad Idaho team to present themselves emotionally fit again. This is a bit of a different situation for Ole Miss. We’ve seen the Rebels bounce back after a tough Texas A&M loss last year and play well against an SEC team when Ole Miss had the motivation of ending an embarrassing SEC losing streak. We’ve seen the Rebels bounce back from a tough home loss against Vanderbilt and have a chance to win in Baton Rouge, and we’ve seen the Rebels bounce back from this year’s tough Texas A&M loss and play well and win against LSU.
We’ve not seen Ole Miss try to come down from a high against a struggling foe.
I don’t think Idaho wins the game. No matter what level of praise showed upon Paul Petrino by Hugh Freeze and Dave Wommack this week, the fact remains that the Vandals are being outscored on average 43-16 and will likely be starting their No. 3 quarterback.
Respect for opponent is something that should be a part of every game, but that really means respect for yourself as well. Ole Miss needs to play with the discipline that it would against the better teams its already played this season. Five times in six games the Rebels have done themselves proud in that regard. They never really figured out the Nick Marshall thing against Auburn nor did they protect Bo Wallace enough to match the Tigers with offense. There were other factors too.
There is a recent example of Ole Miss giving a lackluster performance against an overmatched opponent, Southeast Missouri. Freeze declared early this week that he would hammer home the message of focus and intensity. Emmanuel McCray followed that with his belief that because the Rebels were lackluster against SEMO, he didn’t expect that to happen again this year.
I tend to agree, but we’ll see.
Wommack spoke earlier this week about the chance for this team to get on a roll. Clearly it’s there. The Rebels are behind the gauntlet, as it’s been called, and as things stand presently would be favored in four of their last five games.
Because the brunt of the schedule is in the rear view mirror doesn’t make the remaining games easy. Ole Miss is a physically beaten up football team right now. If the Rebels play their cards right against Idaho they’ll have the rare chance to get quite a deal of rest before the Nov. 9 game against Arkansas, which, by the way, has allowed 104 points in its last two games against South Carolina and Alabama.
For the rest to happen, Ole Miss needs to come out with the focus and intensity it would against one of the best teams on its schedule. The starters themselves will dictate how much rest they will receive. If Bo Wallace leads multiple scoring drives and builds the cushion that Ole Miss did against SEMO, they’ll get quite a bit. Hopefully the backups will compete better than they did in that game.
This ought to be a game the Rebels can handle easily without Robert Nkemdiche, Cameron Whigham and Mike Hilton.
I suspect they will and that those multiple scoring drives will come about and will enable the Rebels take a bit of a blow Saturday night then head into an open date week.
If things play out that way, the Ole Miss defense will be a lot healthier when the Hogs come to town.
Prediction: Ole Miss 39, Idaho 15