OXFORD – It looks like it’s go for 40 or go home without the trophy for Ole Miss this week.
Yes, it’s Mississippi State week, and the emotional aspect comes into play no doubt, but so does the bottom line, and reality is the Ole Miss defense has given up no fewer than 38 points in its last four SEC games.
The Rebels’ best SEC effort has been 28 points allowed in a 28-14 loss to Vanderbilt. In the last three SEC games they’ve allowed 51, 52 and 43 points.
Maybe you get a pass for giving up 51 points to Auburn, because Cam Newton and friends have put up big numbers every week, but Tennessee and LSU haven’t been as prolific on offense as others in the league.
Going into the MSU game, the Rebels are eighth in the SEC in run defense, 11th in total defense, 12th in scoring and pass defense efficiency. They have 29 sacks, ranking third in the SEC, but just 13 of those have come in SEC games.
The question has been why the struggle for a unit so highly regarded back in August? Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt responded last week with, “We really weren’t that good.”
Nutt points to injuries. The loss of defensive end Kentrell Lockett has had a major impact, especially considering the fact that junior college transfer Wayne Dorsey, penciled in as a starter at the other end from Day 1, hasn’t panned out.
Aside from Lockett, a number of players have missed time at various points, but all except tackle Lawon Scott, injured last week at Tennessee, have returned.
The Rebels haven’t gotten the strong play they needed in the front end to off-set a lack of playmakers in the secondary. Linebackers have been good but not great.
Where do the Rebels go from here? Nutt points to successful recruiting classes, but right now three young defensive players – linebacker Clarence Jackson, cornerback Tony Grimes and end Delvin Jones are on the suspended list. Their futures are uncertain at this time.
What could help the Rebels in the short term is age and experience more than youth. The stars appear to be aligning for Lockett and defensive tackle Jerrell Powe to return.
Lockett fits the criteria to earn a medical redshirt. Powe, as a partial qualifier in 2007, can regain his lost year of eligibility by remaining in good academic standing.
Powe has been emphatic in stating that he won’t hesitate to return to Oxford if he doesn’t like what he hears from the NFL advisory folks. NFL draft analyst Mike Detillier says right now Powe is a late third-round pick at best, probably lower.
There will be other considerations for Powe, such as his age and the NFL labor landscape.
But a rebuilding Ole Miss defense in 2011 will have two good places to start if it includes a Jerrell Powe determined to impress NFL scouts and a healthy Kentrell Lockett.
For now, defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix must find a way to slow the MSU offense, uninspiring in its own right, with the same ingredients that have given up 184 points in the last four SEC games. That’s 46 points a game if you’re scoring at home.
The season is 11 games old, and a trend has emerged. The Rebels give up points.
Perhaps they circle the wagons, play above their heads and turn in a stellar performance this week. Perhaps, but that’s counting an awful lot on emotion.
Offense, meanwhile, has been competitive and has usually given Ole Miss a chance. The Rebels are averaging 31 points a game and need to squeeze out a few more.
Because it looks like it’s go for 40 – at least – or go home without the trophy.
Parrish Alford covers Ole Miss for the Daily Journal. He blogs daily about Ole Miss athletics at NEMS360.com.
Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal