Notes and thoughts on the Rebels’ 73-21 win over Fresno State. …
The big question for Ole Miss players following the game was “Are you ready for the next one?”
The next one, of course, is Alabama this Saturday night in Tuscaloosa.
The Rebels were expected to be 2-0 heading into this game, but I doubt many expected them to surpass 70 points once much less twice against Tennessee-Martin and Fresno State.
On the flip side I think there were higher expectations for the Ole Miss defense than we’ve seen to this point.
Since SEC Media Days we’ve heard Ole Miss players tell us they thought this year’s defense can be better than last year’s.
What I’m seeing is a defense that has been good but not dominant.
Tennessee-Martin averaged 3.0 yards per rush, Fresno State 3.1. The numbers aren’t bad, but if you’re an elite defense you dominate these teams more than Ole Miss has.
Martin and Fresno both had some success running right at Ole Miss. Alabama had good luck with that last year but got away from that at times and started going wide. That played into Ole Miss’ hands last year as speed and gang-tackling are some of the Rebels’ biggest assets.
If the Rebels have trouble defending a straight-ahead run game they’ll have trouble with Alabama’s Derrick Henry (6-2, 238).
It’s not surprising that Fresno would have some success. Marteze Waller is an experienced senior back, the eighth-leading active rusher in FBS. He’s had nine 100-yard games and almost had a 10th against Ole Miss.
Add on the fact that Ole Miss has substituted freely through the first two games and that C.J. Johnson was making his first start at middle linebacker.
The body of work against Fresno wasn’t bad. It just wasn’t elite. Confident players this summer set a pretty high bar for themselves. They may reach it. I just don’t think they’ve reached it yet.
It’s good for Johnson to get a game under his belt. He’s eager for the Alabama trip which I think will lead to a good week of practice.
Tackling was better this week.
I can see this group being better still against Alabama, but the Rebels are going to have to have the offensive execution they’ve had in the first two weeks to win the game.
Chances are they’ll be playing without Laremy Tunsil for a third-straight week. I’ve heard nothing to make me think a resolution is coming quickly there.
Tunsil will be ready to step in at a moment’s notice if that changes. For now, this offensive line has had two good games and is developing some chemistry without Tunsil.
Rarely does a player dominate a game from an offensive line position. Tunsil wouldn’t do that against Alabama. He would allow the Rebels to put their best team on the field, and you need that against Alabama.
Keep an eye on Fahn Cooper at left tackle next week. The line has protected well for two games, and Fresno is a team that has had good success getting to the quarterback.
Alabama will be a different test.
You can see a plan for Ole Miss quarterbacks unfolding now. Ryan Buchanan and DeVante Kincade had their chances to win the job, but it’s Chad Kelly who has made this offense go the first two weeks.
Kincade will always have a package because of his ability to run. That package may be used more in some games than others depending on matchups.
In all likelihood it’s Buchanan who will see his game snaps decrease. They should. Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze has had the luxury of experimenting with different players against Martin and Fresno. He will have to have his best team on the field as much as possible in Tuscaloosa.
In two games Kelly is 29-for-40 for 557 yards, six touchdowns and one interception. He was 20-for-25 against Fresno.
He needs to be on the field, and what I think we’re about to see is a situation similar to how Freeze used Barry Brunetti behind Bo Wallace.
It was another productive game running the football as Ole Miss finished with 215 net rushing yards and a 6.1-yard per carry average.
Fresno wasn’t very good defensively last year. Keep that in mind. Still it’s great to see the Rebels execute so well in back-to-back games.
Looks like Jordan Wilkins has emerged as the No. 2 back. I like the potential of the Ole Miss backfield.
That depends, of course, on solid play from the offensive line. Forgetting Tunsil for a moment, the Robert Conyers injury could be a concern. Conyers gives them a bigger option at center, and the starting group is beginning to develop some chemistry. You don’t want to see anyone go down.
The line is better, but success is still recent, confidence fragile. They need a good game against Alabama.
Freeze wasn’t pleased with the turnovers against Fresno, but the important thing there is that Kelly had none.
He’s been impressive in how he has protected the football in two games. I think he’ll set a positive tone for the rest of the offense there. We’ll see.