A few notes and observactons from Ole Miss 23-10 loss to No. 8 Alabama ...
The end result isn't surprising but how the Rebels got their was different than I expected. Even though the Rebels were facing the best defense they've seen so far, I thought they'd have a little more success on offense.
Offense has been what they've done well this year, not defense. Saturday night, almost Sunday morning, that flip-flopped.
Defense gave the Rebels a fighting chance in the game, offense did not.
The Rebels weren't going to line up and control the ball in the run game against the Alabama defense. Obviously Houston Nutt believed this as well, since Ole Miss had just 26 rush attempts, far fewer than the 46.2 attempts it averages.
Having freshman Evan Swindall make his first start at center didn't help this cause. Swindall got tossed around a bit but generally held his own. There were no issues with the shotgun snap, something the Rebels used almost exclusively.
Nutt fully intended to use his receivers more, pretty much abandoning the fullback for the entire game. I can remember one play with a fullback, and Brandon Bolden lined up in the spot then.
Early on field position limited some things Nutt could do with play-calling, but you have to be good enough to change field posiiton, to drive for a few first downs before punting. Ole Miss couldn't do that and played the first half almost exclusively in its own end of the field.
Tyler Campbell had his best game of the year punting, with a 47.8-yard average finally showing of the leg in games that he does so often in practice. But his punting mates had their worst game in coverage, as Bama's Marquis Maze averaged 20.8 yards per return. Alabama's worst starting field position on its first five drives was its own 35, and three of those drives started at either the 50 or in Ole Miss territory, one of them at the Rebels' 8 after a Maze return of 37 yards. The Tide scored 13 of its 23 points during that time.
Under the circumstances the Ole Miss defense played exceptionally well.
By the Rebels' third possession Nutt just starting flinging it regardless of field postion. There were a few drops by receivers, a few off-target passes by Jeremiah Masoli who at times let the pass rush get in his head. He was under pressure on most plays.
There were some nice grabs by receivers, one of them from Melvin Harris on the 15-yard touchdown catch. Harris was covered closely on the play and carried the Alabama defender the last yard over the goalline. For the most part though, Ole Miss was unable to exploit the Alabama secondary the way South Carolina did.
You expect some drop in offensive production going from Fresno State and Kentucky defenses to Alabama, but you shouldn't go from 55 and 42 points to 10. There's a middle ground in there somewhere, and the Rebels have to find it if they're going to compete.
Defensively, pass coverage was better. While there was once talk of the pass rush helping out the coverage, that worked the other way around. Ole Miss had four sacks and at times it was becuase Bama quarterback Greg McElroy couldn't find anywhere to throw the ball. He doesn't throw picks, but McElroy will hold the ball and give up a sack. He did it against South Carolina seven times.
There were times when McElroy just missed a receiver or had a pass dropped, but you get that when the defense takes a passing game out of sync with coverage and pressure.
The move of LaMark Armour to defensive end worked well. Armour was also at tackle in pass-rush situations and finished with six tackles and half a sack. I suspect that move will last.
The Rebels were averaging just 36.2 yards in penalties but gave up 106 on 12 flags. They were called for five personal fouls. The first was roughing the kicker against Jeremy McGee on Alabama's opening possession. It was a blown call as replays showed McGee being pushed into the kicker.
Defensively, the blown call resulted in an extra four points for the Tide, which took a made field goal off the board to keep the drive alive, scoring with a 7-yard pass from McElroy to Preston Dial.
Alabama's only other touchdown was a good play call against a stunting Ole Miss defense. End DT Shackelford left his spot on a stunt, and that's where Bama's play went, a screen pass to Trent Richardson that went 82 yards for a score. Ole Miss was close to holding the Alabama offense to the 13-15 point range, which is great imrpovement for a unit that was giving up 32.6 points a game.
Nutt was livid about the off-sides call on the on-sides kick, which the Rebels recovered. He said the play was "perfect" and that he was lined up on the 30 and saw no one off-sides.
Moving forward, the Rebels won't be playing an Alabama-type defense in the next two weeks. They need to regain their offensive step, and if the defensive production becomes the norm and not an isolated incident, they'll be in position to win some games in the second half of the season.