I had doubts that Ole Miss would win last week at Florida, but I never envisioned the Rebels losing in such spectacular fashion.
That’s become an alarming trend by the way. Starting with the Arkansas game last year Ole Miss is 3-3 in its last six games against Power Five conference teams.
The losses have been by a combined score of 110-13. In the same stretch the Rebels have beaten two top five-ranked teams.
It’s been a study in extremes.
I have no doubt the Rebels will win this week against struggling New Mexico State, which is not a Power Five team, but there is some doubt about next week at Memphis if they don’t correct some things.
Let’s talk about this week a little bit.
The Rebels will be down three starting offensive linemen. For the third straight game guard Justin Bell will not play. He’ll be joined by guard Javon Patterson and center Robert Conyers.
Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said last night that he expected all three to be back next week, though it’s possible that Conyers, who has been playing with a knee injury since the Fresno State game in Week 2, could be out again.
The starting offensive line during media viewing periods Tuesday included from left to right tackle Fahn Cooper, guard Aaron Morris, center Ben Still, guard Rod Taylor and tackle Sean Rawlings.
That’s a unit that ought to be able to get things done against a New Mexico State defense that ranks No. 107 in passing yards allowed, 117 in pass defense efficiency and 122 in rushing defense.
Freeze in recent weeks has said that Taylor, who is playing with a torn labrum, has been reluctant to offer up his wounded shoulder for contact. That’s obviously affected his physicality, though Freeze said that issue appears to be improving.
The injury list doesn’t stop with the offense line. Running back Jaylen Walton and wide receiver Damore’ea Stringfellow also are out.
On the defensive side there’s a lineup shake-up that doesn’t have to do with injuries. Mike Hilton moves from Rover to Huskie in an effort to improve pass coverage and slow down the short passing games of opponents. Sophomore C.J. Hampton enters the lineup at free safety.
I still like the Rebels’ chances to move the ball and score, but new guys with less chemistry together might move it and score less than the offense would have at full strength.
Don’t look for 70 points in this game.
Teams that have struggled the way winless New Mexico State has often have problems holding on to the football. The Aggies, though, have turned it over just six times. That leads the Sun Belt Conference and is four fewer turnovers than Ole Miss, which, by the way, hasn’t forced a turnover since the Alabama game and is minus-6 in turnover margin the last two weeks.
While taking reasonably good care of the football the Aggies are still giving up 544 yards and 45.8 points a game.
Given the status quo for Ole Miss – something that changes week to week in college football – the Memphis game has become more of a concern.
Offensively, New Mexico State has been able to get some things done. The Aggies are inside the top 60 in both rushing and passing, but they’ve got their own injury issues this week at quarterback.
Here is something noteworthy about the Aggies’ offense. They scored more points at Florida (13) than Ole Miss did and scored them in the first half.
Right now the Rebels need inward focus. They need to worry about themselves more than New Mexico State and to play clean, crisp, turnover-free football.
They need to play a lot of people, rest a lot of people and regain some confidence.
I figured a high-scoring game for Ole Miss earlier in the week, and I’m going to stick with that.
The real victory for the Rebels will be if they come out of this game healthier and feeling better about themselves than they did leaving Gainesville.
Prediction: Ole Miss 50, New Mexico State 19