A few thoughts and observations from Ole Miss' 14-13 season-opening loss to BYU. …
It was a tough, tough way to lose for a program starved for success, to hold a solid offense to one touchdown and lose on a fumble from your offense.
The defense deserved a better fate, but many times last last year, so did the offense.
When the Rebels can find a way to click on both sides of the ball they'll get back to winning like they did in 2008 and 2009.
The good news: From what we could see in August it looked like the defense would be improved, and that was certainly the case.
The Rebels held a pretty good BYU offense to one touchdown and generally kept the ball in front of them. They tackled better and didn't give up the big plays common to much of last season. BYU's longest gains were 26 and 25 yards.
There were strong debuts from junior college transfers Uriah Grant on the DL and Aaron Garbutt at Spur, and that's good, because the Rebels are going to need those guys. Grant had three tackles, Garbutt five.
There was better play in the secondary across the board. DC Tyrone Nix said Charles Sawyer's interception, which he returned 96 yards for a touchdown, was set up because the Rebels successfully disguised their coverage. Sawyer baited BYU quarterback Jake Heaps on the play. Heaps was throwing over the middle for the tight end. Sawyer delayed his move, drifted over and made the pick.
Clearly the Rebels are better in the secondary. They were better at tackling and better at limiting big plays.
They can get better at getting off blocks and stuffing the run. BYU rushed for just 91 yards as a team, but J.J. Di Luigi averaged 4.7 yards a carry with 56 yards on 12 attempts.
This defense is fast, but it didn't look particularly physical on the line.
Offensively, the line was not impressive. Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt pointed to the absence of two senior running backs, but the Rebels weren't getting much done in the run game when Brandon Bolden was around in the first quarter, and Enrique Davis didn't leave until the fourth quarter.
In all likelihood, the run game would have eventually gotten going with Bolden, more so than it did without him.
It will be a major loss if Bolden is subtracted from the plan with what Nutt said could be a fractured ankle. We'll learn more about that this afternoon on Nutt's conference call.
In the postgame Nutt talked about moving a couple of players over to running back. He named wide receiver Korvic Neat and freshman defensive back Chief Brown specifically.
At quarterback, Zack Stoudt made a strong push to become the starter. Nutt was in no hurry to name a starter after the game and said he'll go over the film and get back on the practice field before doing that.
Stoudt was 13-for-25, not a great percentage, but the fact of the matter is much of the talent in the signing class is at receiver, and if you can't pass, you're negating their ability to impact the game.
Speaking of the freshmen, it looks like roles are developing. Offensive coordinator David Lee was comfortable going to Donte Moncrief in high volume, comfortable with Nick Brassell deep.
If Brassell holds the 43-yard pass in the end zone late in the third quarter, then Stoudt's numbers look a lot better, and the Rebels likely win.
Brassell showed he can get open deep, and that play will come. The receivers will have to be involved for this offense to be successful.
I would expect Randall Mackey to get back in the mix this week, because accuracy is one of his strengths. May see all three against Southern Illinois.
Bottom line: The defense had to be better, and it is. It can get better still. Offenses with more speed remain on the schedule, though Heaps was as good as the Rebels will face at quarterback.
It would be a greater concern if the defense had just laid an egg and looked no better than last year, because I think the offense will bounce back.
The line will come around, and some decent level of quarterback play will emerge from either one player or two.
I like the talent at receiver, and that group will make an impact.