CR: Make no mistake, the LSU Tigers are a good football team with quality athletes across the board and, now that they are opening up their offense and using the many weapons they have more liberally, are very potent on offense. Their defense has always been stout, historically and present day.
Having said that, this Ole Miss team has fallen into a pattern of too many mistakes to muster up wins against quality teams, hence a 38-21 loss.
On defense, the Rebels managed to cause three turnovers and actually had a few stops, but all of that was negated by allowing three or four explosive plays and not being able to stop the run game, namely of Leonard Fournette, who set a single game rushing record for LSU with 284 yards. This was the same Fournette who was held to a pedestrian 104 yards last year by the Rebel defense in an Ole Miss victory. On offense, for the second week in a row, the Rebs played a decent first half, but, once again, they couldn't generate anything in the third quarter except one first down, period. Meanwhile, LSU turned a 21-21 intermission tie into a 31-21 advantage. Ole Miss had 221 total yards at halftime and ended with just 325 total yards, a paltry 104 in the entire second half. From there, the Tiger crowd was rocking, the LSU defense had pinned their ears back and it was all she wrote. Ole Miss was forced to pass and the Tigers knew it. That spelled trouble.
Early in the week, Rebel Nose Tackle Issac Gross remembered playing in Death Valley at night two years ago and leaving with a hard-fought loss. "In the second half, LSU turned up the intensity and we didn't match them," he said. "This time, we have to match them when they ramp it up.” Again, LSU ramped it up. Again, the Rebs did not respond to the extra intensity LSU threw at them. Right now, the Rebels are 3-4 and are simply not a very good football team. They appear to be a team searching for a spark but a team unable to create one. Every potential spark is met with a misfire.
Ole Miss hosts Auburn next week, a team that steamrolled Arkansas, who beat this Rebel team last week, earlier in the day. The Rebs have some soul-searching to do. Suddenly, the Auburn game looms very big in the scheme of the 2016 season. It's not now-or-never yet, but it's darn close.
BG: I’ll be honest, I was bullish on Ole Miss entering the 2016 season. Yes, I understood the schedule was daunting, and I fully acknowledged the Rebels were razor thin depth-wise at certain positions. But I believed in Chad Kelly. I believed in Marquis Haynes, Tony Conner and Breeland Speaks. I believed in the embarrassment of offensive weapons on hand for Hugh Freeze and staff. I was wrong. Make no mistake, Ole Miss is still a competitive team. Heck, I believe the Rebels are still capable of turning their 3-4 (1-3 SEC) record around and making a nice bowl. But they’re not the playoff-caliber team I thought they were. Or the top-half-of-the-West team either. Far, far from it. It’s hard to think of how Ole Miss ever really had playoff aspirations considering this seven-game sample.
Ole Miss’ 4-2-5 defensive scheme was successful the last few seasons because of elite talent at multiple positions. However, Trae Elston, Mike Hilton, Robert Nkemdiche and others are gone now, Ken Webster and Fadol Brown are both hurt and Ole Miss hasn’t adequately recruited the linebacker position for five seasons. And it’s showing. All of it. Honestly, I don't know if there's a way to fix the run defense woes at this point. Arkansas rushed for 200-plus yards. LSU? Three hundred. It is what it is, meaning Auburn, who rushed for 543 in a blowout of Arkansas, is going to rack up for a lot of yards next week. Ole Miss can certainly win, but it will have to play the brand of offensive football it was playing until it ran into a wall at Arkansas. Because the Rebels have now been shut out in the third quarter in back-to-back weeks. Only things got even worse Saturday. Ole Miss didn’t score a point in the second half. Chad Kelly continues to make confounding decisions, many of which result in crippling turnovers. Ole Miss can only win games when its offense is humming and running away from opponents. The Rebels have to score at least 40, it seems, and it hasn’t come close in weeks. Actually, the rhythm we saw earlier in the year is all but gone.
Unfortunately for Ole Miss, there isn’t much time to find it again. No off week or cupcake opponent. If the Rebels are going to stop this slide and turn what is shaping up to be, let’s be honest, a disappointing season — to put it mildly — into a salvable one with momentum and forward program trajectory, they’ll have to start next week. Otherwise? Well, let’s not go there. This is uncharted territory under Freeze. Entering play, Ole Miss was 7-1 in its last eight games following a loss. Against LSU, Ole Miss had the look of an inferior opponent. Losing to Ed Orgeron, who all but tried to single-handily ruin my college experience at Ole Miss, made the night even worse. And for a program fresh off a Sugar Bowl win, that is/was a startlingly sight.
SU: Entering Saturday night's matchup in Death Valley against LSU, we knew Ole Miss had a tough task. The Rebels had to enter one of the toughest stadiums in college football and play an LSU team that has been revitalized since Ed Orgeron took over in week five. In my prediction for the game, I picked the Rebels to lose but thought they had a really good shot at winning. My prediction was 33-31 LSU and the main reason was home field advantage. After watching the 38-21 beat down, I don't know if the result would've been different at home. Ole Miss' offense looked uninspired in the second half.
Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly, who entered the 2016 season as a dark horse Heisman contender, looked lost and made more than one questionable throw. Of course, we can't put this entire game on Kelly. Ole Miss' run defense has struggled the whole season, but it was embarrassed tonight by LSU's Leonard Fournette. Fournette returned from an ankle injury to break LSU's single game rushing record with 284 total yards on only 16 carries. We saw Fournette easily house three touchdowns of 59 yards or more on an Ole Miss defense that had no answers. From where we're sitting right now the preseason SEC title talk seems extremely foreign. We knew Ole Miss would suffer some growing pains at certain positions but expected the Rebels to compete for the SEC. After tonight's game, it's safe to say this is a rebuilding season for Hugh Freeze's squad.
While I expect the Rebels to play in a bowl game this season, I don't have enough confidence in this team right now to say they can win out. Coming up is a matchup against a tough Auburn defense and another hostile away game in College Station. If the Rebels want to win those they need to fix problems that I don't think can be fixed at this point in the season. The offense can definitely get back to early season form, but I don't know what else Hugh Freeze and his staff can do for the defense this season.