For all the angst that’s come from the Memphis loss there remains the glass half full outlook that it was not a conference game, and Ole Miss still has only one league loss.
That leaves a lot of goals on the table for the Rebels.
If there was only one issue to consider, only one area in which the Rebels need to be vastly improved as they begin a stretch of five SEC West games to close the season, I might give Ole Miss more of a chance for a big finish.
However, there are multiple issues to consider.
There is rushing offense, third-down offense and third-down defense. It’s not just about the players. Play-calling is questionable too.
It’s Texas A&M visiting Vaught-Hemingway Saturday night, the Aggies in some way perhaps over-sold as the Rebels appear to have been coming off the Alabama game.
Yes, injuries have been a big consideration for Ole Miss. They still are. And the Laremy Tunsil matter lingered on too long. We’ll see this weekend if he can be at mid-season form in his first game back as he takes on A&M end Myles Garrett, the SEC sack leader.
At this point the status of defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche is not known. If he clears one more round of tests today he should be good to go. Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said Trae Elston was cleared yesterday. Both sustained concussions at Memphis and went through the required protocol this week.
The bottom line is the Rebels have been ranked as high as No. 3. They won at Alabama and didn’t just win. They’d controlled Alabama. Maybe a turnover or two could be considered gifts, but when you cough it up five times somebody is forcing that. Had Alabama not gotten a sweet candy hop on an on-side kick the Rebels would have won by two touchdowns.
Ole Miss vaulted to No. 3 in the polls. That’s rare air. That’s elite football.
Teams of that level find a way to play through injuries and adversity, and if they do lose, they’re competitive, which is something the Rebels really have not been in their losses, 38-10 at Florida and 37-24 at Memphis.
I’m tempted to look at A&M’s rushing defense that ranks No. 97 in the country, a unit giving up almost 200 yards a game on the ground, and cite that as an advantage for Ole Miss.
Then I’m reminded of what a struggle the run game has been for the Rebels. That was punctuated last week when Ole Miss averaged less than 2 yards a carry at Memphis.
It’s worth noting here that Mississippi State, who’s run problems have been well-chronicled, gained almost 200 yards on the ground at Texas A&M.
And the Rebels are adding Tunsil at left tackle, so maybe?
Still not sure. It’s hard to gain much confidence from what I saw last week.
I think Tunsil’s lack of game speed this year is a concern, but he has a better chance to limit Myles Garrett than the Rebels have to rip off seven- and eight-yard runs with any sort of consistency.
A&M quarterback Kyle Allen took a hit on his shoulder against Alabama last week. He’s expected to play at Ole Miss, and I don’t expect him to throw three interceptions as the did against what appears to be a surging Crimson Tide team.
I think last Saturday was an aberration for Allen who had thrown only two interceptions through the first five games. Rivals had him as the No. 1 rated pro style quarterback in the Class of 14.
Ole Miss has struggled against accurate quarterbacks of late. Alabama was unsettled at the position in Week 3, and the Rebels were healthier and playing better.
Since then in the Rebels’ losses Florida’s Will Grier and Memphis’ Paxton Lynch have completed a combined 77 percent.
I do think there’s something to be said for improving on the fly. I think you can do that in some areas. I think you can get better at tackling. I’m not so sure pass coverage is something that gets noticeably better in seven days.
A&M is obviously weak against the run, I just don’t think the Rebels are good enough to exploit that weakness.
The Rebels’ best chance to move the football and score is with Chad Kelly and his receivers, and I like their chances to do that with Tunsil at left tackle and Fahn Cooper at right.
But don’t expect the Rebels, who rank No. 100 in third-down defense, to improve their lot in life if Nkemdiche isn’t playing.
So, five big games left for Ole Miss. Hugh Freeze calls them opportunities, and he’s right.
There are just too many issues to consider right now.
Prediction: Texas A&M 30, Ole Miss 23