It’s the New Year’s Eve Edition. Just about an hour left in 2014 as I’ve gotten back from Atlanta and sit here watching the Orange Bowl postgame show and sifting through the ashes of the Rebels’ 42-3 loss to TCU …
Leaving the Georgia Dome today most stadium personnel that I ran into were as surprised by what they’d seen as Ole Miss fans.
It was not surprising that Ole Miss would lose to a great TCU team. It was surprising that the Rebels didn’t show up.
Hugh Freeze took responsibility for the meltdown because that’s what you do. It’s his team.
It’s a very different team than it was in September and October when it was healthy and clicking on all cylinders.
Some important parts or missing now, but this wasn’t about injuries.
The broken fibula of left tackle Laremy Tunsil took some wind out of the sails, but c’mon, how much wind was there? The Rebels were down 28-0 at the time.
Offensive line play has been spotty at best since Tunsil was hurt in the first half of the LSU game. The Rebels had over 200 yards in the first half at LSU but next to nothing in the second half when Tunsil was out.
They rebounded and scored 31 points against a bad Auburn defense, had chances to win but didn’t.
Arkansas was a reminder that things weren’t well.
Because the Rebels gathered themselves emotionally and beat Mississippi State they went into bowl prep with some degree of momentum. They had a month off and the chance to rest and heal.
But the offensive line didn’t increase its talent level over the last month.
Freeze addressed that talent level after the Arkansas game and did so again after the Peach Bowl meltdown.
A humiliating loss to TCU wasn’t only about OL play. It’s just a place to start this recap of events.
There were a number of positions that didn’t play well.
When Bo Wallace throws a pick just three plays into the game you just about count on a multiple-turnover performance. That’s his body of work.
Bo Wallace is a fierce competitor and a good fella who comes out and fields questions when times are bad, and for Wallace there has been more bad than good down the stretch.
He was not on top of his game by any stretch. He made some poor decisions. His awareness wasn’t always there as the snap sailed past him late in the game.
When a quarterback is struggling it helps to have a run game to fall back on, and Wallace didn’t have that.
This goes back to line play. There was a bit of a shuffle in this game with Rod Taylor making his first meaningful start, but pressure came from all directions.
“We didn’t give a great effort up front,” said running back Jaylen Walton in an extremely rare instance of one guy calling out another position group. “TCU’s defense was good, but it was more us than them. We’d hand off, and seven would be in the backfield.”
I thought the play-calling was good at the outset. Freeze started off with a pass to Jeremy Liggins, a look he hasn’t shown a lot.
The second play was a throw downfield to Cody Core. Wallace was protected, but the defender got tangled up with Core. No flag was thrown. I didn’t see a replay on that so I’m not commenting on the call.
It does make you think a little about what might have been on that drive had Core not fallen and made a big catch instead.
The next throw was Pick No. 1.
Two plays later TCU was in the end zone with a bit of a trick play that the Ole Miss defense responded to as though it had never seen such. Trevone Boykin threw a lateral to a receiver who threw to a running back down the middle of the field. The guy was wide open.
While the offense had multiple issues it did not have the defense to back it up as it has most of this season.
The Ole Miss defense, on a national stage, didn’t show up nearly like it did in so many other games.
Boykin worked the edges with screens and short passes, and the Rebels just looked a step slow in getting there.
Boykin made some plays with his legs, but he didn’t dominate the game that way.
When he did hold the ball and try to throw downfield he was pressured. The Rebels sacked him three times. He threw three of his own picks and should have thrown a fourth, but Trae Elston let the receiver take the ball from him for a touchdown.
This was not a good game by the defense, but this side gets a little bit of a pass because of how much time it spent on the field.
The defense did force turnovers, but its inability to stop the perimeter passing game allowed the Frogs to score on 15- and 11-play drives to really apply pressure early in a game in which the offense was getting nothing done.
When the defense had a chance to show the second half would be different TCU scored less than 2 minutes in to make it 35-0.
The bottom line is the Egg Bowl created a bit of false hope for this team. Subtract Walton’s 91-yard run, and Ole Miss did not average 4 yards a carry against the Bulldogs.
The Rebels were good enough to twice score when down close after big plays by Evan Engram got them to the 1.
They were good enough to score on big plays from Walton and a halfback pass from Jordan Wilkins.
But TCU was better than MSU defensively. The holes in the secondary that Wallace exploited in Oxford he didn’t see in Atlanta.
And there were no big plays either.
So the 2014 season is a wrap. Freeze is correct that the “journey” is ahead of schedule. Through two months the Rebels exceeded expectations, but expectations change on the fly, and nobody expected a 7-0 Ole Miss team to finish 9-4.
The Rebels need to celebrate the season’s accomplishments, namely two wins against top-five teams, one against a No. 1, and a dominating road win in an extremely difficult environment in College Station.
They should also take the Peach Bowl as a reminder that there’s ground still to cover on the journey.