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A few thoughts and observations from the Rebels’ 42-35 win over Kentucky …
Thirty-five points is a lot to give up, as linebacker D.T. Shackelford admitted. Still, in the midst of 35 points and 424 yards allowed there were some bright spots.
I thought the defensive backs, thinner in number every week, flew around and made some plays.
Damien Jackson is playing with a speed and comfort level he hasn’t yet shown, but it wasn’t only Jackson.
Reserve cornerback Frank Crawford, not used much so far this season, broke up a pass, and the Rebels had six break-ups for the game, twice the number of last week against Fresno State.
Kentucky at the Rebels alive on third downs early in the game, but that became more difficult for the Cats as the game wore on. The Rebels had a couple of key fourth-down stops, though they could have been better there since Kentucky was 3-for-5 on fourth downs.
Kentucky had 424 yards for the game, just 272 after three quarters. So the Cats had 152 yards on 19 plays in the final period.
They were down three scores at the time. The Ole Miss defense held the second-leading rusher in the SEC, Derrick Locke, 50 yards below his average. Locke finished with 68 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries.
The Rebels might be better served without a three-touchdown lead in the second half. It’s the third time they’ve had one this year, and they’ve had to fight off a furious comeback each time. Once they were unsuccessful.
This defense might perform better with the game still in doubt, so they’re in their base sets and playing aggressive, and the opposing offense isn’t in pass-every-down mode, something that works against the Rebels.
It also didn’t help that the offense couldn’t pick up key first downs. This wasn’t as much a lull as was experienced against Jacksonville State and Tulane, as it was difficult field position. You have to be careful down on your goalline.
Offensively, the Rebels had 211 net yards rushing, a figure not achieved until Brandon Bolden broke free on third-and-19 in the final seconds.
I think that’s more an indication of the speed of SEC defenses as compared to Fresno State last week when the Rebels were able to get to the corner with Jeff Scott and soften up the middle for Bolden. The inside-outside combination totaled 425 yards.
Bolden ran hard and physical, and his big run late gave him 108 yards on 23 carries for the game, his first 100-yard game in the SEC.
I wrote in the 3 keys to victory that the Rebels needed to get the wide receivers involved. There’s untapped talent there, and Houston Nutt basically apologized for not utilizing it in his postgame address.
Melvin Harris had a great catch, a 23-yard gain on a Jeremiah Masoli pass to keep a drive alive. Harris adjusted to the ball in flight and came back in front of the defender to make the catch. This guy basically had hands of stone last year, and the improvement he’s made is phenomenal.
Masoli had another nifty pass, a 35-yard completion to Markeith Summers, that was ruled incomplete after review. I thought the replays showed a catch. It looked to me that Summers took a step with each foot and possibly had his free hand down on the ground before he hit the ground completely and lost the ball. Ground can’t cause a fumble.
In terms of efficiency it was Masoli’s best game. He’s thrown for more yardage, but it was his first game without a pick, and he threw three touchdown passes, finding the open receivers, and they made catches for him. Masoli was big in the run game again too.
Injuries in the secondary are reaching a catastrophic state, and it’s a good thing the Rebels don’t play next week. A bye week ought to take care of some of this, and the concussion guys – Brishen Matthews, Marcus Temple and Charles Sawyer – should be ready for Alabama on Oct. 16.
Lots of improvement still to make on both sides of the ball, defense more than offense. A 3-2 record after five games isn’t what people expected, but it leaves the Rebels with a manageable path to bowl eligibility.