Notes and thoughts from Ole Miss’ 38-17 win over LSU …
I knew we would not get through the Memphis postgame press conference without someone, it was Hugh Freeze, mentioning that the loss did not affect Ole Miss in the SEC standings and that the Rebels still controlled their destiny.
We all knew it was true, but with what the Rebels had just demonstrated there wasn’t much confidence in the idea they would win out.
They couldn’t stop a hot quarterback, and there were five SEC West games looming.
It was a long hard road, but looking back at it now, had Ole Miss been able to get Arkansas tight end Hunter Henry to the ground on fourth-and-25 the Rebels would indeed be riding a four-game win streak and would be playing for the SEC West title against Mississippi State in Starkville.
At the time of the Rebels’ loss at Memphis, LSU was still unbeaten, and Leonard Fournette was the leading Heisman contender.
Neither of those facts remain true today.
Ole Miss had to slow Fournette to have a chance to win, and they did just that. They tackled in numbers. They rarely allowed themselves to be in one-on-one situations with Fournette. There were a few, and Ole Miss won a few, but Fournette makes guys miss, and it’s not just with brute strength.
Fournette got his hundred yards against the Rebels – 108 on 25 carries – but that’s not how he’s measured. He’s a great back, and he’s measured by his 150- and 200-yard games. He’s measured by putting LSU on his back and carrying the Tigers to a win.
He wasn’t able to do that at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
Ole Miss didn’t dominate Fournette but didn’t have to. The Rebels simply needed to keep from being dominated by him, and they more than managed that.
They forced LSU to win with quarterback Brandon Harris, and that’s not something the Tigers have been able to do. Now they’ve lost three straight for the first time under Les Miles, and Miles’ future in Baton Rouge could be in serious jeopardy according to several media opinions that made the rounds last week.
Harris was barely 50 percent passing, completing just 26 of 51 attempts.
LSU wide receivers were covered better, and there were some nice pass break-ups by Ole Miss. Three of them came from Mike Hilton, who rotated back and forth from nickel and corner and rarely left the game when the Rebels were on defense.
Here’s where we raise the warning flag.
After its secondary was embarrassed against Arkansas, Ole Miss had two weeks to prepare for LSU and did indeed look better in the defensive backfield.
However, to think the Rebels have arrived, and everything is fixed is fool’s gold.
Brandon Harris throws a nice deep ball, and he threw one or two that should have been caught against Ole Miss. He was way off the mark on some other throws.
He’s not the quarterback the Rebels faced two weeks ago against Arkansas or the one they will face in Starkville or probably even the one they will face in a bowl game.
Ole Miss deserves credit for improving during the open date, but there’s still work to do.
The Rebels will need to get more pressure on Dak Prescott than they did on Harris against whom they had just five pressures and one sack.
Those numbers are skewed a bit, because in the latter stages of the game Ole Miss was dropping in coverage and encouraging Harris to throw short.
Fact of the matter is, the Rebels are going to have to disrupt Prescott more.
Back to LSU.
Ole Miss has been good against the run much of this season. It’s not surprising they could slow Fournette, but they did it without some very good tacklers in the lineup – Denzel Nkemdiche, Fadol Brown, C.J. Hampton and a very limited Tony Conner.
It was good to see some young guys step up, guys who are going to have to play key roles next year, linebacker DeMarquis Gates (14 tackles, 2 TFL) and safety Zedrick Woods (three tackles, one interception) in particular.
So, defensively it was a good bounce-back game after the Arkansas debacle.
Offensively, I thought the Rebels would have more success on the ground. They finished with 152 yards, not terrible and better than LSU opponents have been getting by about 19 yards.
The run game was there at times but didn’t look as crisp and proficient as it has since Laremy Tunsil’s return.
That said, Akeem Judd was good for stretches of play, and Chad Kelly was solid again. Both of them (Judd at 5.1 and Kelly at 6.8) had a better yards per carry average than Fournette’s 4.3.
Laquon Treadwell’s streak of 100-yard receiving games ends at 5. He finished with four catches for 58 yards but got in the end zone again, as LSU inexplicably left him in single coverage at the 11-yard line. It was an easy catch for Treadwell on the left side, and he made the physical part of getting in the end zone look easy as well.
Kelly took numerous deep shots against the LSU secondary – a group known for allowing big plays this season – but hit only one. That came on the Rebels’ first possession, a 57-yard gain to Quincy Adeboyejo that set up a field goal.
The best pass play of the night was the screen to Evan Engram. Ole Miss had gone right for several plays, and when Kelly threw back left to Engram it was – almost – only teammates and green space ahead of him.
Kelly competed 19-of-34 attempts and made good decisions.
He was turnover-free for the second straight week and looks like he’s playing his best ball of the season. Now is a good time to peak.
Kelly has playmakers around him, and while the idea of Prescott against the Ole Miss secondary is alarming, Kelly gives the Rebels a chance in Starkville.
So, the Egg Bowl is here. Ole Miss wasn’t quite able to make it to this point of the schedule with fate still in its hands, but there’s still a lot of bowl positioning on the table and the possibility of a second-straight nine-win regular season.
If Kelly continues to protect the football he can get the ball to his weapons and give the Rebels a chance to win a shootout.
That’s where the Egg Bowl is headed unless the Ole Miss secondary did more improving against LSU than I think it did.