Notes and observations from the Rebels' 38-24 loss to Arkansas. ...
Friday night and Saturday morning ESPN was on the Upset Train with the Rebels, placing Fayetteville, Ark., in America's awareness, noting that Ole Miss-Arkansas was a game to keep an eye on for a possible upset.
And for all the reasons the network was pointing out, I agreed.
Nobody saw the Razorbacks reeling off 197 rushing yards. The Rebels had strung together three pretty good games of run defense. They completely took away the run against Fresno State, then held Kentucky's Derrick Locke in check. They limited the Alabama duo of Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson to 100 yards.
Defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix expressed his disappointment in the poor tackling. The phrase “assignment bust” was trotted out by players but not too much, probably not enough. Assignment busts lead to poor tackling. On Knile Davis' 71-yard run, it appeared Ole Miss had evacuated the left side of the line of scrimmage, Davis cut that way and had little challenge once he broke a tackle from safety Johnny Brown.
The Razorbacks' first touchdown was set up by a 46-yard gain to tight end D.J. Williams. All motion on the play went right, and Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett faked right and passed back left to Williams who was so wide open it looked like he was tailgating. Safety Damien Jackson recovered and made the tackle but not without a facemask penalty, and the Hogs were all the way to the 9.
So when the Rebels appeared to be putting some things back together defensively, now it appears they are back at square one with the best player in the league coming to Oxford this weekend.
If the Rebels couldn't tackle Knile Davis, how will they tackle Cam Newton? It's a brutal picture.
There was a time that I thought Ole Miss would actually match up better with Auburn and that if the Rebels were going to pull out a win against an “A” team this week would be the time. Having seen what Newton did to LSU, the league's No. 1 defense, I exercise my right to adjust that opinion.
It would appear the Rebels' best chance to sneak out an A team win was yesterday, and that is now opportunity lost, lost because the Rebels gave up big plays on defense and failed to convert at key times on offense.
In the SEC you have to play offense and defense the whole time. You can't play offense only in the second half when you're down 21-3.
Arkansas thoroughly dominated Ole Miss in the first half. Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt pointed to his young offensive line, a valid point and just another concern on a team with multiple issues at the moment. The Rebels started true freshmen in center Evan Swindall and guard Patrick Junen and had another first-year starter in sophomore A.J. Hawkins, the former center, at right guard. They were going against an Arkansas front seven where five players were juniors or seniors.
So you're going to take some lumps. Maybe that could be overcome with more roll-out passing in the first half. Jeremiah Masoli was obviously up to that task in the second half. Credit his receivers for a good day too. There were fewer drops, and there were some catches in difficult situations, grabs by Jesse Grandy and Markeith Summers coming to mind. Summers' second touchdown catch was made while falling backward when he was covered closely but reached above his head and snatched the ball away from the defender.
No one else had exposed the Arkansas secondary the way the Rebels did.
It's all for naught, however, when you fumble at the 1-yard line going in. Nutt second-guessed himself for calling Brandon Bolden's number on the Wild Rebel play on third-and-goal from the 1 in the late minutes. “We've scored that way a million times,” Nutt said. Not this year. The Wild Rebel has been largely ineffective. It's a good package, and Nutt needs to continue tinkering with it, as he did yesterday with Derrick Herman. But what we're seeing this year is that the player running the Wild Rebel is more important than the package itself.
Bottom line is on their trip to Arkansas, the Rebels did what losing SEC teams do. They were competitive in turnover margin but gave up too many big plays on defense and failed to convert with short-field opportunities on offense.
Every loss hurts in the hunt for six wins and bowl eligibility, but the Rebels will stay in that hunt until Knoxville.
They're an unlikely bet to slow the Auburn train this week or to win at LSU. They need to beat Louisiana-Lafayette at home and Tennessee on the road to give themselves a chance for a sixth win against rival Mississippi State.