Notes and thoughts from the Rebels’ 53-52 overtime loss to Arkansas …
The plays made or not made at the end always stand out. With that in mind, the fourth-and-25 and the two-point conversion penalty – big plays not made by the Ole Miss defense – will haunt the Rebels from this game.
The question now is how much will it haunt? Will the Rebels let Arkansas beat them twice?
Ole Miss players went into this season talking about wanting to finish better and win games at the end of the year.
The Rebels did not handle the disappointment of the Auburn game last year. They had lost a key player in Laquon Treadwell and were unable to get prepared emotionally two weeks later, and Arkansas pushed them around in Fayetteville.
This time it will be LSU coming to Oxford after an open date. Last year’s Presbyterian game after Auburn was for all intents and purposes an open date, so there are a lot of similarities.
While Ole Miss was unable to convert on those two big plays there’s just too much that happens, too many other plays that could have been made, when a game is 45-45 at the end of regulation.
It’s November now, and you know what you are.
Florida and Memphis had poised and accurate quarterbacks, and exposed Ole Miss as a team that struggles to cover a good passing game.
Honestly, it looks now that the greatest benefit for the Rebels in their Week 3 win over Alabama was timing.
Alabama fans have railed about the Crimson Tide’s five turnovers in that game. Some of those were gifts, some forced by the Ole Miss defense.
Some of those interceptions might not have been forced had the Tide been more settled at quarterback. It wasn’t. Nick Saban wasn’t all in for Jake Coker at the time. There was still the experiment with Cooper Bateman, who started the game. Maybe all the turnovers don’t happen if Alabama is more settled at quarterback.
What that timing did was allow Ole Miss to get all the way to October without a real understanding of some of the issues it was facing with pass coverage.
Will Grier exposed the Rebels in Gainesville then after a week off – New Mexico State felt like a week off – Paxton Lynch did the same thing in Memphis.
Ole Miss had indeed made strides since the Memphis game, and while Auburn quarterback Sean White is a guy who won the job mid-season under less than ideal circumstances, Texas A&M’s Kyle Allen was not a dog. He was playing banged up, but if guys are in the game they’re expected to compete.
The quarterbacks Ole Miss had faced the last two weeks were not elite but were not terrible.
That brings us to Brandon Allen. How many times have you heard quarterbacks described as game managers? It’s not a label most of them like. It usually means they’re fairly competent and good enough to get the ball to the real playmakers.
Allen went into the game as the SEC leader in passing efficiency with a 157.5 passer rating. I’ve rarely seen a quarterback more efficient than he was against the Ole Miss secondary, completing 73.3 percent.
When he was able to set his feet and make reads – which was most of the time – Allen rarely missed.
The question for Ole Miss is can the Rebels’ stop the secondary bleeding in the last two games against LSU and Mississippi State?
Leonard Fournette has been the show for LSU. Quarterback Brandon Harris has been efficient, second to Allen in that category, but the Tigers haven’t taken many chances with him, just 78 pass attempts in conference play going into the Alabama game.
MSU’s Dak Prescott is having the best passing season of his career.
The return of Tony Conner at Huskie gives the staff the chance to use Mike Hilton at corner, and we saw some of that against Arkansas.
If that’s part of the plan moving forward it will help Hilton to have two weeks to work at corner in advance of the LSU game.
Ole Miss did a pretty fair job of defending the Arkansas run game. Alex Collins went in averaging 120 yards a game. He didn’t go over 100 yards for the game until he gained 31 yards on the lateral that kept the Razorbacks’ hopes alive.
Alabama showed that Fournette can be slowed. It doesn’t mean that every team can slow him, but now there’s a blueprint.
Tackling was another issue for the Rebels in the middle of the season. It was another area they corrected, and those corrections have stuck.
Frankly, the idea of Dak with a crowd behind him in Starkville should scare Ole Miss fans more than Brandon Harris.
It’s all moot if Ole Miss can’t win some one-on-one matchups in the secondary and bat away some balls.
Lost in the ashes of the poor defensive performance was an outstanding turnover-free game by the offense.
The Rebels had 590 yards and 45 points without a turnover.
Chad Kelly played his best game of the season. He gained 110 yards on 11 rush attempts. Many of those yards came when Kelly escaped a collapsing pocket, but he made the right reads on the option too.
It wasn’t only Kelly in the run game. Jaylen Walton averaged 5.8 yards with 76 yards on 13 attempts.
It was important for Ole Miss to show it could run the ball against better, more physical run defenses than A&M and Auburn put on the field.
Kelly was the only Ole Miss player to have minus rushing yards, and he lost only seven.
Laquon Treadwell did his thing again. He made catches when targeted, and he was tough to bring down.
He’s stretched his streak of 100-yard games and games with a touchdown catch to five each. He’s been the most consistent of the Rebels’ playmakers on offense.
The most impressive player on offense, though was Kelly. He’s had big passing games with multiple touchdowns before, and he was 24-for-34 for 368 yards and three scores.
His most impressive stat, however, was zero, as in no turnovers. He began the night having thrown multiple interceptions in three-straight games.
Kelly’s turnover-free night was huge, because if the Arkansas game was an indication Ole Miss isn’t going to be able to rely on its defense and will have to be a high-scoring offense to win its last two games.