Former Ole Miss Coach Billy Brewer sat at his regular table at The Beacon Restaurant in Oxford last week ready to dive into his normal breakfast of pancake, two poached eggs and bacon. He proceeded to make some bold statements that turned out to be prophetic.
He said, paraphrasing, he had been to an Ole Miss practice and that Florida State could not stop Ole Miss. The only way the Seminoles could win the game was if Ole Miss started making bad mistakes.
The Dog's crystal ball was clear and concise and on the money. On both counts.
For 27 minutes, the Rebels could do no wrong, but for the next 20 minutes, they could do nothing right and a huge, one-sided 28-6 lead disappeared into a 39-28 deficit/nightmare. The turnaround, was, as Brewer predicted, a result of mistakes by Ole Miss, offensively and defensively.
And the final tally was a disheartening 45-34 victory for the Seminoles.
There's just no other way to describe it. A team that, for just under a full half, looked invincible, suddenly looked, well, inept. Granted, a lot of that had to do with Florida State and their improved play, and an obvious momentum swing in the direction of FSU, but the Rebels did a nice job of giving them easy opportunities with an interception, a fumble and no third quarter first downs on offense and a couple of crucial coverage/contain busts on defense.
It's really difficult, in a fair analysis, not to reward Florida State with some complimentary words. Consider that done by stating their gameplan in the second half included effectively breaking out the TE that wasn't used in the first half and the freshman QB Deondre Francois using his legs for some key pickups at important times, but it was obvious after the game the Rebels felt like they had done more damage to themselves than the Seminoles had inflicted on them.
Suddenly, real suddenly in fact, the offense became stagnant and the defense could not get off the field, no matter what they tried. With CB Kendarius Webster lost to injury early in the game, FSU patiently started finding holes in the inexperienced Rebel secondary and the pass rush was a quarter of a step from sacks and disruption for most of the second half. The Seminoles, with star RB Dalvin Cook, had just enough run game to keep the Rebels honest on defense.
Obviously,the coaches saw the same things everyone saw.
"It was a nightmarish second half," noted Coach Hugh Freeze, rightfully somber postgame. "We blew a coverage right before half to allow a TD and then gave up two turnovers to start the second half that completely swung the momentum in their favor. We were bad on third down defense - we could not get off the field.
"We have to improve our calls, our techniques, everything on third downs. Our off coverage techniques were poor. In the second half, FSU figured out we could not run the ball against them and they just teed off on us, sacking Chad (Kelly) several times. In short, the way we played the second half, we did not deserve to win the game."
To add injury to insult, literally, Freeze said it did not look good for the return of CB Kendarius Webster, the Rebs' best cover man, and RB Eric Swinney, who both went out with what insiders are thinking are year-enders for both.
So where does that leave the Rebs? Not at bad as one might think. Sure, they blew this one, but they proved they can play with the best in the country toe-to-toe and will win a lot of games if they correct a few things and put this one behind them quickly.
The first half by the Rebs was marvelous, except for the last three minutes. That is the type of play that can be expected from this team.
There will not be many games Chad throws three picks and has a fumble. And let's face it, the Rebs will go how he goes, for the most part. They feed off their senior signal-caller. Expect him to bounce back with a vengeance.
Yep, the underdog Rebels went from great to blah in the blink of an eye, dropping a game they had in hand in wobbly fashion, limping to the finish, game, but beaten.
It's fair to credit FSU.
It's also fair to blame Ole Miss.
Brewer called it.
The Seminoles could not stop the Rebels effectively - the first half proved that conclusively, and mistakes, not FSU, were the ultimate Rebs' undoing.