Notes and thoughts from the Rebels’ 24-3 win over Memphis …
While Memphis is an improved team it’s simply hard to take much confidence from last night’s win into this week’s daunting task against No. 3 Alabama.
That’s mainly because the Rebels were mistake-prone on offense. You can’t say they played poorly. They gained 426 yards. They got Laquon Treadwell involved with explosive plays. They rushed the ball better than they have at any time this year.
But they shot themselves in the foot. They made mistakes and had turnovers that everyone knows will certainly spell disaster against Alabama.
It’s alarming that Ole Miss looked as sloppy as it did against a slightly better opponent. Vanderbilt may have improved a little in recent weeks, but that was a bad football team in Week 2, and La.-Lafayette wasn’t much better.
Maybe the precision the Rebels showed in the passing game against two lesser teams built a false sense of confidence.
If that’s the case, and a slightly better foe brings out this, what will happen against Alabama which is probably a little better than Memphis?
I didn’t think Memphis would be good enough to be a legitimate “trap” game for Ole Miss. I didn’t think Ole Miss would lose, though the Rebels challenged that theory for three quarters.
I did think an improved Memphis team inspired to be playing against the local SEC team would be good enough to make Ole Miss look bad.
That’s what happened.
Players and coaches can say what they will, but this is an Ole Miss team that had one eye on Alabama and the tremendous opportunity this week represents.
They didn’t talk about Alabama, and they didn’t insert packages for Alabama into last week’s practices.
But there’s been too much hype for this game from outside sources to think it wasn’t weighing on their minds to some degree.
You heard Hugh Freeze say it after the game. He told Matt Luke he was glad to get the Memphis game behind him.
Maybe that distraction contributed to the turnovers and the penalties. Bo Wallace certainly looked distracted.
Wallace is a senior and a three-year starter and needs to rise above the distractions. He sets the tone for the offense.
That being said I expect a cleaner performance against Alabama.
There will be no looking past the Tide.
The Memphis game should serve as a humbling experience to remind the Rebels that they have to be at their best each week against the teams that will now appear on their schedule.
The good news from the game was that the Rebels were better in two key areas in which they’ve been trying to see improvement – running the ball and stopping the run.
There were more 4- and 5-yard runs on first downs to put the Rebels in more advantageous down and distance situations. Much of the night – not always – backs had space and ran hard.
The most important thing I thought was the run defense improvement. The Rebels had Memphis to 31 yards on 23 carries, and that may be something to build on.
Every SEC team Ole Miss is about to face is going to be solid in the run game. They’ve got to be better against the run than they were the first three weeks, and they took a stop forward last night.
It was good to see a resurgent performance from Denzel Nkemdiche. He had six tackles and two tackles for loss. He downplayed his game, but he hasn’t looked like that in a while. I called him the wild card earlier this year because if his head’s on straight and he’s healthy he can be a difference-maker as he was in 2012. Good step forward for the older Nkemdiche.
While the run defense was improved the secondary was good again save for a bust from Senquez Golson that resulted in a 44-yard drive for Memphis on its field goal scoring drive. That play helped the Tigers reach the Ole Miss 7, but they were promptly driven back to the 23 and hit a 40-yard field goal.
The Tigers never really threatened the end zone zone even when Wallace’s fumble gave them the ball at the Ole Miss 30.
Wallace was under pressure when he fumbled, and he seemed to get a little more pressure tonight than he did in the first three games.
The bottom line is the Rebels survived a sloppy performance with stellar defensive play.
Alabama will have more weapons than Memphis, but I expect the Rebels to have a cleaner performance.
Freeze talks about the handful of games in which coaches can call on the emotions of players and get them to play at a higher level.
This week will be one of those games.