Last week, Ole Miss played an SEC opponent in Florida with the Rebel execution leaving a lot to be desired on a lot of different fronts.
The end result was not pretty, especially for a team ranked 3rd in the nation heading into the contest.
Obviously, it was time to go back to the drawing board for the coaches and players and what better opportunity than the match with the next opponent, winless New Mexico State. If this was not a time to be introspective and correct some previous woes, then there would not be one.
In a nutshell, the game with the Aggies was a chance to right the ship and get back on track after two straight sub-par showings while not having to worry too much about the opponent or getting another blemish on their record or having to expend too much emotion, with all due respect to New Mexico State.
This game was 100 percent about Ole Miss. The Aggies were just the unfortunate scrimmage dummies.
What can be learned/gained with games like this? A lot, actually, but it has to be carefully analyzed because the opponent's resistance factor is way down from SEC play.
* One of the main things that can be accomplished with mid-season patsy games is rest for the weary before the stretch run. Guys like Justin Bell, Robert Conyers, Jaylen Walton and some more walking wounded got a "free week" to heal without putting the team/record at risk. Some of those guys could have played had it been, say, Texas A&M on the other side of the line of scrimmage, but they will be beter off having taken a "vacation."
* Several players were making their debut as starters at certain positions, i.e., C.J. Hampton at free safety, MIke Hilton at Husky and Terry Caldwell at middle linebacker. It was important to get them as many game reps as possible before they head to offensive-minded Memphis next week. We've seen no grades from the coaches, but Hilton seemed to be very comfortable and Hampton and Caldwell also had their names called quite a bit by the venerable Glen Waddle, Rebel PA man.
* It was a perfect opporunity to work on pressure packages and it was apparent that was a focus of this game. Again, the OL for the Aggies will not compare to SEC lines, but there was good pressure, there were sacks and there were turnovers caused by said pressure, all of which can have a contagious effect moving forward.
* Snaps for everyone. . . . while this Rebel team has decent depth, it does not have decent depth with good experience and in games like this, a team can get backups a lot of game snaps that will pay dividends down the line. Personally, it was cool to see Jeremy Liggins at right tackle, to see more of Jordan Sims and Akeem Judd and Breland Speaks and Zedrick Woods and Eugene Brazley and on and on.
* Getting some explosivenes back. The Rebs started the season with three games seemingly full of explosive plays, then saw that dwindle to almost nothing in the next two contests. It was good to see that explosiveness return. That has to be a shot in the arm to the playmakers on the team. Again, execution. (How about the one-handed catch for a TD by Laquon Treadwell? Scary good and a little Odel Beckam-ish.)
* Playing "cleaner." The tackling seemed crisper, the penalties were limited, the obvious MAs were reduced, the run game seemed to be more efficient, the tempo of the offense seemed quicker and the third down ratios were quite a bit better. Yes, some of that is opponent-induced, but some of it, it was clear, was the Rebels executing better. It was, well, just cleaner.
* And the Rebels, as stated previously, were able to do these things without having to draw from the well of emotion or "fire" too much. There was no need wasting that limited commodity when playing even keeled, hard but even keeled, was good enough.The Aggies were somewhere between UT-Martin and Fresno State and the Rebels played them accordingly, taking care of business while working on their games efficiently. Coach Hugh Freeze said afterwards that he would have liked to have seen a little more intensity, but he didn't seem too upset about what he did see.
What did not go well? Just some little things early - poor Red Zone production on offense and not getting off the field on third downs on defense, both of which were corrected - and later on, some poor play on punt returns (a fumble and a ball hitting a Rebel on the foot for a turnover).
Freeze said 80 percent of the time, things are real good, which is OK, but he knows what is coming and that percentage has to increase as the opponents stiffen.
All-in-all, it was the blowout that was anticipated and, along the way, the Rebels did what they needed to do to get back on track.
Now it gets harder - again, but maybe this time the Rebels will be ready for it.