Even though it’s a few minutes before midnight, notes and thoughts from the Rebels’ 10-7 loss at LSU …
Lets begin at the end.
The Rebels were anemic on offense most of the second half but had the chance to win at the end … or at least the chance to continue playing for a win.
The coach and the quarterback differed on how to achieve the ultimate goal. Bo Wallace was the guy on the field under fire who made the decision to throw downfield with 9 seconds left in hopes of a winning touchdown.
I don’t defend his decision, but I understand it. Bo Wallace is a gunslinger. I’ve said many times before that Ole Miss needed a gunslinger mentality when he arrived and won the starting job in 2012. The Rebels have needed that mentality less as more talent has come into the program, and Wallace hasn’t always made the best decisions. The result has often been interceptions, a by-product of the gunslinger mentality.
It’s all led to the good Bo, bad Bo narrative, something from which he’s trying to distance himself.
Wallace tried to make a play, and it didn’t work out. There’s no guarantee that a 47-yard field goal would have worked from a freshman kicker’s uncomfortable hash, but it’s the by-the-book approach. The percentage for success is higher than in giving a defensive back a chance to catch up to the ball and make a play.
Getting past the end of the game the bigger problem is the fact that two good secondaries have forced Wallace into a sub-50 completion percentage for the last two weeks. This is a guy who at one point was completing in the 70s this season.
Last week Freeze called Wallace a game manager after he was 13-for-28 passing with two touchdowns against Tennessee.
Given past history I was kind of surprised to hear Wallace described in that way, but that’s what he was last week.
The Rebels, though, need Wallace to be more than that. They need a quarterback who has struggled much of his career with decision-making to walk the delicate line of taking a few more chances and executing on those throws. They need him to be a play-maker.
Because the Rebels are not a very good rushing team they depend on Wallace to make big-time throws as he did against Alabama, Texas A&M and Tennessee and others.
Moving on …
The two most dominant players on this team are Robert Nkemdiche and Laremy Tunsil. They both missed significant playing time, and their status moving forward is unclear.
This is a very different team if those guys aren’t available or are playing hurt.
Offensively, the Rebels sans Tunsil would depend on Wallace more, and Wallace would have less protection.
The Tunsil deal was further complicated by the fact that center Ben Still missed the game with an MCL sprain. That meant that Robert Conyers, ordinarily the top reserve at tackle, played the whole game at center.
Defensively, it’s just a different team if Robert Nkemdiche isn’t in there attracting attention.
There are other injuries to be concerned about too, Cody Prewitt and Denzel Nkemdiche. Freeze mentioned that Denzel could have a fracture. The implication was his injury was the worst. You can read into that that he expects the others to be back. That’s on a Saturday night right after the game, however. Sometimes injury news becomes clearer the morning after, for better or worse.
Ole Miss had made great improvement in stopping the run over the last month. Even with Robert Nkemdiche they had been vulnerable for periods of time over the first three games of the year.
Freeze said LSU presented the best combination of line and running backs that Ole Miss has faced this year.
Auburn will bring a physical run game to town as well. Ole Miss will need Robert Nkemdiche to be at this best, but the Rebels are going to have to tackle better too. They didn’t always do that against the Tigers’ big backs.
In the big picture the Rebels still control their own destiny. If they win out they’ll win the division.
That’s easier said than done.
Whatever the coming week and the rest of the season brings in terms of health the Rebels are going to have to find a way to stop power running teams.
Arkansas and Mississippi State can do it too.
A 7-0 start was great. I don’t think too many expected the Rebels to run the table.
Now we’ll see how they respond to disappointment and if they can refocus, regain their confidence, execute and recapture a special season.