Fighting to Finish

Ole Miss played one good half of football against Arkansas. But games don't end after 30 minutes.

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The Rebels held a 17-7 halftime lead last Saturday. They were in control of the game. A struggling offense had risen from the ashes, and Ole Miss' much-maligned defense held strong against a potent Razorback offense fueled by quarterback Tyler Wilson.

But as morning turned to afternoon, the Rebels fell apart. Arkansas scored 29 unanswered points. Ole Miss quarterback Randall Mackey scored his second touchdown of the game, a run, to give his team its 17-point lead in the middle of the second quarter.

The Rebels managed only four first downs the rest of the game, and just two in the second half. They lost the game 29-24, falling to 2-5 overall on the season and 0-4 in Southeastern Conference play.

"We're trying to win, man," junior tight end Jamal Mosley said. "Practicing hard, trying to play harder. We got to finish."

Ole Miss allowed Arkansas 128 yards of total offense in the first half, including 56 rushing yards. By the end of the game, however, Arkansas had gained 438 yards offensively, with 206 of those yards by way of the ground game.

Arkansas running back Dennis Johnson, who had just 51 yards on two carries prior to halftime, finished with 161 yards on 15 carries for a whopping 10.7 yards-per-carry average.

"We just have to finish. Nothing changed," defensively in the second half, linebacker Mike Marry said. "We've just got to learn to finish. We've got to learn to take the proper angles and believe in each other. We just all got to do our job."

Saturday wasn't the first time this season Ole Miss failed to finish a game. The Rebels were up 13-0 over BYU in the season opener in September, only to surrender 14 points in the fourth quarter for the first loss of the year.

Mike Marry
Associated Press

It's a trend dating back to last season; the year Ole Miss' downward spiral of 10 straight conference losses began. The Rebels finished 4-8 in 2010, and are on pace for an equal, if not worse, record a year later.

"We have a lot of confidence. Like I said, man, we just got to finish," Mosley said. "We played good pretty much the whole game until we start backing ourselves up with penalties, fumbles or interceptions and stuff like that.

"If we lose all that and finish the game, we'll do pretty damn good."

Ole Miss and Auburn are scheduled to meet Saturday at 6 p.m. inside Jordan-Hare Stadium. The Tigers are 5-3 overall and 3-2 in SEC games. Sophomore running back Michael Dyer leads Auburn with 812 yards rushing and eight touchdowns.

"They're pretty good. We're going to have to gang tackle and play together and believe in each other," Marry said. "Last year, they were a Cam Newton team. Now, it's all of their team. They run the ball more than they did last year."

"We have to start winning now. We have to get this Auburn game," Mosley said. "There's no going in there and trying to play our hardest or try not to get blown out. We've got to go in there and win the game. That's our focus, going in and winning, beating the Auburn Tigers at Auburn."

Johnson breaks through:

Freshman linebacker/defensive end C.J. Johnson had just one tackle against Arkansas. However, the tackle was a sack of Wilson, the first sack of Johnson's Ole Miss career.

Johnson, one of the most highly-recruited players in the class of 2011 and a four-star prospect, moved to defensive end earlier this season. He has played in six games, totaling eight total tackles.

"Saturday went pretty well except for the loss," Johnson said. "Of course it would have been better with the win, but I'm getting more playing time and am comfortable. It's just a matter of being where I can help the team be successful. Right now (defensive end) is the place."

Talents of Brassell, Moncrief no longer a secret:

Three players, all in their first years at Ole Miss, led the Rebels in receiving in the loss to Arkansas. Two of those players, Nick Brassell and Donte Moncrief, are freshmen.

Getting Brassell involved early and often was a focal point for Ole Miss offensively. He had eight receptions for 70 yards. Moncrief, meanwhile, hauled in five passes for 73 yards and two touchdowns.

Nick Brassell
Associated Press

On the year, Moncrief and Brassell are second and third respectively on the team in receptions. Moncrief is the team leader with 304 yards. Brassell is tied for second with veteran Ja-Mes Logan with 245 yards.

The next-closest receiver is Vincent Sanders with 44 yards.

"Most likely, people are going to start putting more than one person on me and Nick now, since they see that we can do deep balls real good and run our routes real good. We just got to beat the coverage," Moncrief said.

"It's great. It makes me happy that we've got some guys that just come in here and catch and just play hard," sophomore center Evan Swindall said. "Brassell, Moncrief, they all give great effort. That's my favorite thing about them."

Moncrief has caught four of Ole Miss' six passing touchdowns. Brassell doesn't have a receiving touchdown through seven games. Actually, his only touchdown came on a punt return against Georgia.

"Every time I touch the ball, I think about breaking it (for a touchdown). Every time I touch it, I'm thinking first down or touchdown," Brassell said. "When I was in high school, I used to practice on my moves. I'd try to do this, do that. At this level, everybody's as fast as you. You just got to make one cut and go with it."

Brassell's greatest strength is his versatility. He's been utilized not only on offense as a wide receiver and occasional running back on misdirection plays, but on defense and special teams as well. Brassell is a cornerback and punt returner.

"With me, just work harder, focus, just come in and be a team player. Try to be a leader as a freshman, a young guy," Brassell said.

Like any freshmen, though, both players have battled inconsistency. Noteworthy drops have been a problem.

Brassell dropped a would-be touchdown against BYU that would have given Ole Miss a commanding lead. Moncrief dropped a would-be 50-yard reception with Ole Miss and Arkansas tied 17-17 late in the third quarter Saturday.

"I still differ to the older guys. I look up to them," Moncrief said. "They just tell me good things, tell me to keep focused and think of it just like high school and play like I did then. Now that I'm on the field, I just think of it as high school, and I just play."

Mosley more involved:

Ole Miss offensive coordinator David Lee has made a concerted effort to get Mosley more involved in the offense the last few weeks. Mosley, with 72 yards receiving and one touchdown on the year, grabbed two catches last week for 38 yards.

"Coach Lee, he's been trying to do that basically the whole season," Mosley said. "But he felt like he was doing a bad job (of that). These last couple of games, he's been trying to get the ball to the tight ends, because he feels like he hasn't been using me and that I'm one of the key parts of the offense in getting us going or whatever. He wanted to make that a big issue to give me the ball. He told Mackey to try to get me the ball whenever he can, and that was pretty much part of the plan."

Randall Mackey
Bruce Newman

Mackey impressing:

Mackey has ended all talk of a quarterback controversy.

A junior, Mackey started each of the last three games. Ole Miss is 1-2 in his starts, but the offense has finally shown signs of life with Mackey under center. For the year, he has 42 completions in 81 attempts, with four touchdowns and three interceptions.

He's rushed 47 times for 125 yards and a touchdown.

"That's all we need to do, is let Randall get in this groove and just find out who his play-makers are to let him get it going," Mosley said. "He's been a good quarterback all his life. All he's got to do is have some play-makers. He's kind of getting confidence and finding who is guys are. Things are getting better. But they already are getting better. We just need to focus on finishing and winning the game."

Mackey attempted 30 passes vs. Arkansas, completing 18. Eight of those completions went to Brassell.

"He's an exciting player, man," Brassell said. "You can't sleep on nary a play, ‘cause a play designed to go to one side, things could break down and he can make something happen with his feet and he can look downfield and make a play. That's a great guy."

Swindall relishing opportunity:

Mackey isn't the only player to take hold of a starting position recently. At center, Swindall uprooted longtime starter A.J. Hawkins, and is in line for his third consecutive start when the team trips to Auburn.

"It's great, ‘cause hard work plays off," Swindall said. "A.J.'s great competition. He's still in there. We battle every day for it. It's really good that we help push each other."

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