CR: If you wanted to see a microcosm of this football season for the 2016 Ole Miss Rebels, now 3-5 on this disappointing year to date, look no further than a two-play series with about eight minutes to go in the game.
Sure-handed Tight End Evan Engram, who had had a marvelous night with nine catches for 95 yards and a TD, dropped a sure touchdown pass that would have made the score 36-33 Rebels. On the next play, Chad Kelly, who set a single game passing record with 465 yards, topping Archie Manning's 56-year old previous high, threw his lone interception of the night. Auburn returned it deep into Rebel territory and punched in a score with 5:58 to go for the final margin.
There were other plays, for sure, the Rebels could have made - on both sides of the ball - to get the win over a hot Auburn squad, but the Rebs, who played as hard as they have at any time this year for the full 60 minutes, just could not get over the proverbial hump.
There are no qualms with the Rebel effort, but the performance was typical of this season. Two steps forward, in the first half; one step back in the second. In "big boy" SEC West football, if you cannot stop the run or run the football some, it is difficult to win and that was the case against Auburn, no matter how hard they played.
Auburn had 307 yards rushing on 52 grueling totes while the Rebs were held to 101 on 31 attempts. Despite Kelly's monster passing yardage, that is the story of the game. Auburn did respect the Reb run game some, but not enough to turn the tide of the game.
But it says here, without hesitation, the remaining four regular season games will fit Ole Miss' "style" better. Texas A&M is better, for sure, but they won't run right over anyone like LSU, Auburn and Alabama will. Ditto with Vanderbilt and Mississippi State. If the Rebels can keep their heads up and keep fighting for each other, it is not a stretch to say they could win out. And, no, I haven't been drinking.
Certainly, coming into this year 7-5 was not what anyone was looking for, but based on what has transpired to this point, it would be a good rebound effort, if it happens. The ball is in their court. If they stay the course, good things will start to happen. It's all up to them.
That's easier said than done, it just has not been their year so far and it will be difficult to stay up. The next four games will - no doubt - test every fiber of what they are made of.
Will they rise up or wither? Time will tell.
BG: Ole Miss is 3-5 (1-4 SEC) on the season following its latest conference loss, this one a 40-29 disappointment at the hands of West rival Auburn, the third straight for the Rebels. The script was pretty much the same as every other loss lately — an offense that can’t score in the second half and a defense that can’t in any way stop its opponent from running the ball.
The harsh reality is this: Ole Miss is what it is at this point. There’s no magical cure for what’s ailing this team. A handful of SEC-quality linebackers isn’t walking through the door next week. This isn’t fantasy football where Ole Miss can put in a waiver claim to supplement a position of need, or free agency where it can sign a former good player off the scrap heap to help out. The Rebels are probably going to lose if they don’t score 40 points, especially against comparable league opponents. But think about this: Chad Kelly was masterful Saturday night. He threw for a school-record 465 yards as well as three touchdowns passes. They lost anyway. Evan Engram had nine catches for 95 yards and a touchdown, surpassing 700 receiving yards for the season to ellipse his own school record. He’s also now in sole possession of the school record for touchdown catches by a tight end with 13. Yet all anyone is going to remember is his critical would-be touchdown drop on second down in the fourth quarter. The play resulted in a 14-point swing, as Kelly threw an interception on the next play and Auburn went on to put the game away with another touchdown.
One play. The 2016 season in a nutshell, I guess.
Where do the Rebels go from here? That’s a good question. Freeze has never had to deal with a team in this position before, and it’s going to be one of the greatest challenges of his Rebel tenure to date. Will Ole Miss continue to play hard and fight? Salvaging a bowl-eligible season is imperative for not only team morale, but fan morale, too, not to mention program momentum and recruiting. With the seemingly never-dissipating NCAA cloud hanging overhead, the program, as a whole, needs a win and something positive to get behind. The responsibility for making sure that happens falls on Freeze. The offseason is sure to be interesting for Ole Miss, from potential staff changes to how Freeze addresses the team’s many needs on the recruiting trail. But that comes later.
Ole Miss just needs a win.
SU: Going into Saturday night's game against Auburn, I think most people knew that Ole Miss' defense would give up points. The Rebel D has not been able to stop opponents from scoring in 2016 and I definitely did not expect that to change nine weeks into the season. What I did expect was for Chad Kelly and the Ole Miss offense to look like the group that won the Sugar Bowl at the end of the 2015 season. I thought Hugh Freeze would get his offense fired up and pull out one of those surprising performances his teams have been able to put together when facing adversity.
For most of Saturday night's 40-29 loss to the Tigers, the Rebels did that. Chad Kelly was on fire all night, carrying the Ole Miss offense like we've seen him do on many occasions in his two-year career as a Rebel. Ole Miss' outmatched offensive line did a tremendous job against one of the best front sevens in the SEC. Despite never securing a comfortable lead, the Rebels looked as if they could pull out a close one at home. A win to bring momentum back into a disappointing season so far. Then the dropped ball happened. On a night when he broke the Ole Miss tight end record for single season receiving yards (his own record from 2014) and career touchdowns by a tight end, Evan Engram uncharacteristically dropped a wide open touchdown pass. The Rebels were down 33-29 with 8:06 left in the game.
The touchdown would've put Ole Miss up by a field goal and shifted the momentum back to the Rebels side. The very next play Chad Kelly threw an interception that Auburn ended up converting for a touchdown. By the time Auburn scored, Ole Miss' momentum was gone and so were most of the fans at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
I predicted an Auburn win in this game but I fully expected Kelly and the Rebels offense to answer every single Auburn score, and Ole Miss did for the most part. I expected Kelly to have a career game and carry this Ole Miss offense in an exciting game, and he did for the most part. I expected Kelly and Engram to dominate as they've done most of this season, and for the most part they did. However, "for the most part," doesn't win games and tonight's loss was another reminder of that.null