Notes and thoughts from the Rebels’ 23-3 win over Texas A&M …
I wandered back home about 12:30, a win for a 6 o’clock start, and my wife greeted me with, ‘You never know which Ole Miss team is going to show up, do you?’
Clearly the answer is no.
I mentioned during the week that it’s time for the Class of 13 to stand out and lead this team during five straight SEC West games to close the season.
One important member of the class – Robert Nkemdiche – didn’t play last night, but the other two poster children really stood out in Laquon Treadwell and Laremy Tunsil.
Tunsil was making his 2015 debut after a seven-game NCAA suspension. I had no doubt he would play well against SEC sack leader Myles Garrett, but I didn’t expected him to dominate the way he did. Garrett is an All-America caliber player, and he made plays. He made tackles along the line of scrimmage, and he picked off a pass that a teammate had batted. He had two tackles behind the line, one in which Tunsil’s assignment – I assume, if it wasn’t a blown assignment – had him going after another guy in the box. No one picked up Garrett, and he did what great players do in that instance.
But the real stat for defensive ends is sacks, and Garrett had none. A&M had only one as a team. That’s a credit to the performance of Fahn Cooper at right tackle, not only to Tunsil, but Tunsil neutralized the best pass rusher in the SEC and one of the best in the nation.
As Jaylen Walton would later say, Tunsil showed why he’ll be one of the first picks off the board next spring.
Treadwell got open and made plays, the most impressive one being the touchdown that was called back because he was down by contact but got up and kept running. He showed his physicality with a big stiff-arm there. He was also two steps behind the A&M defender on a 58-yard touchdown pass that did not come back. He finished with five catches for 102 yards.
I had seen A&M’s rush defense numbers. I knew the Aggies ranked No. 97 nationally in that category and that Mississippi State, which has struggled to run the ball this season, rushed for almost 200 yards on the Aggies in College Station.
I had, however, seen nothing from Ole Miss that led me to believe the Rebels were about to burst out in the ground game like they did last night – even with Tunsil’s return.
Remember, Tunsil and Fahn Cooper were the two tackles last year, and the ground game was quite average.
Defensive ends make their reputations by getting sacks, and tackles make theirs by preventing them. That’s clearly Laremy Tunsil’s strength, but with him back in the lineup this was a much better run team, and Hugh Freeze was much more committed to it.
Ole Miss ran the ball just 24 times at Memphis, 24 largely unsuccessful times, but last night the Rebels ran it on 52 of 92 plays and finished with 230 yards, easily the most they’ve had against an SEC team this season.
Ole Miss has shown what type of team it can be, but it had been a while since the Rebels’ performance level had approached their talent level.
There were obvious factors there, injuries being one, the absence of Laremy Tunsil being another.
Even so Ole Miss was under performing.
That changed last night with a stellar performance in the secondary. Cornerbacks were closer to the guys they were covering and were more effective.
Trae Elston, one of multiple players to be treated for a concussion after the Memphis game, was flying around and making plays. Ole Miss had nine pass break-ups, a career-high five by Elston.
Tackling was much improved.
Generally speaking there seemed to be more spark and enthusiasm on both sides of the ball.
I thought the Rebels could improve the tackling in a week’s time with a little more focus, but I wasn’t so sure we’d see improvement right away in pass coverage.
It’s important to note that A&M quarterback Kyle Allen was playing at less than full strength, but Allen has been pretty good this year. I know his health was a factor in his 12-for-34 performance, but it wasn’t the only factor.
Ole Miss will face Auburn this week. The Tigers have had problems in the passing game but are getting better. Sean White won’t be a world-beater, but the Rebels can’t afford a backward step in intensity and effort against him.
Last night was the first time since the Alabama game that the Rebels had really clicked in all phases, had really looked clean, crisp and efficient.
That’s not that there weren’t issues.
Chad Kelly made a couple of questionable decisions, one of them being to force a throw into double coverage (Remember that name and search for it where you go to look for podcasts on your smart phone. Double Coverage with Logan Lower and myself is a Daily Journal production).
The first interception was tipped at the line, and Kelly gets a lot of those. I was making my way through the stands at the end and didn’t see the third one, but the fact that there were three interceptions lets you know it wasn’t Kelly’s best night.
He finished 26-for-41 passing for 63.4 percent.
Short-yardage offense was improved but wasn’t flawless, and while the run game was a lot better the episode inside the 5 in the final minute and a half is a reminder that it has a long way to go.
Freeze was trying to add a touchdown there late and with a first-and-goal at the 1 couldn’t score on three running plays.
The bottom line is the Rebels’ last two SEC games plus another against a quality opponent in Memphis gave no indication they would be so dominant last night.
I’m still not thinking this is a team that will close with a five-game win streak, but if they can bottle the emotion and execution they showed last night and perhaps build on it it could be a very interesting Halloween and November.