Tayler Polk/USA Today Images

Ole Miss played short-handed at linebacker Saturday against Memphis

The bye week couldn’t be coming at a better time for the Ole Miss linebackers.

Ole Miss ultimately ran away from Memphis Saturday night, but a depleted Rebel defense made it interesting at times. The Tigers rolled up 474 total yards, including 355 net yards passing for quarterback Riley Ferguson, in a 48-28 Ole Miss win. They even came as close as 27-21 midway through the third quarter, but four Memphis turnovers and a Rebel offense that generated 624 total yards were too much.

Ole Miss (3-2) was playing without starting linebacker Demarquis Gates, who head coach Hugh Freeze said was suspended for a violation of team standards. Freeze set no timetable for a possible return for Gates, only allowing that he will “evaluate it every week.”

“I’m at a point in my life that, you know what, kids have to put the team first,” Freeze said. “I love our kids, and I want to do things that help them long term. If it means I sit one, I’ve done it this year and I’ll continue to do it. The ball’s in their court. They understand very clearly what our expectations are. I know kids make mistakes. I make them. I still make them. But, man, to be a great program, you have to have accountability to each other in some areas that are detrimental to the team.”

The 6-foot-2, 211-pound Gates, a junior, entered the day as the team leader in tackles (30) and sacks (2.0). He’s played in all 30 games in his Ole Miss career, having recorded 119 tackles and three forced fumbles.

Former walk-on Tayler Polk started in his place alongside middle linebacker Detric Bing-Dukes. Polk finished fourth on the team in tackles with six, while Bing-Dukes finished second for the second-straight week. He totaled seven tackles in what was his second career start.

However, Freeze said the group, collectively, will have to improve in a hurry. Freeze and staff dug as deep into their roster as possible against Memphis in an effort to find a productive mix, at one point even calling upon seldom-used reserve Ray Ray Smith. Smith was credited with six tackles in three seasons prior to collecting two Saturday.

Ole Miss returns to action at Arkansas in two weeks — the first of back-to-back road trips.

“I’d like to watch the film first, but we did make some mistakes there,” Freeze said. “I can’t say if it was Tayler or it was Terry (Caldwell) or it was Ray Ray or Rommel (Mageo). But we’re definitely making some mistakes that are giving up some plays that we’ve got to get fixed. It’s not them all the time. Some of the time you have to get to the quarterback and make a play. We were there and didn’t. It’s very difficult, I don’t care how great your linebackers or DBs are, if you change him having to cover from three seconds to six seconds it’s tough. It’s hard. We had chances (tonight), but give credit to (Ferguson). He’s elusive.”

Freeze hinted at potentially moving some players around to add depth to the position. Redshirt freshman defensive end Shawn Curtis, for example, could be an option at middle linebacker.

Fortunately for the Rebels, they have a week off to get creative.

“Next week I’ve got a deal in my mind,” Freeze said. “We couldn’t get it done this week because we were trying to prepare. (Memphis) is difficult to prepare for with all their motions and formations. We’re very thin there. We were very thin tonight. Next week, I’ve got a few things in my mind.”

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