Ole Miss looked sluggish in the first quarter of the game with Georgia Southern, as if they didn't get enough sleep for the 11 a.m. kickoff in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, and the Eagles took advantage by running to a 21-10 lead with five minutes gone in the second frame, but it wasn't player lethargy at all, according to the Rebel coaches.
"Georgia Southern did a great job of throwing some new looks at us they put in especially for this game and it took us a quarter or so to get our kids adjusted, on both sides of the ball," said Coach Hugh Freeze. "Once we got everything adjusted, we played pretty good. I was proud of our staff for the changes they made and for our players executing those changes on the fly."
The Rebels scored four touchdowns in the second quarter and went into intermission with a 31-21 lead. Unfortunately, red-hot Reb QB Chad Kelly got injured early in the third period (knee) and had to sit out the rest of the game, awaiting an MRI tomorrow (Sunday).
Even without Kelly most of the second half, the Rebels put up 441 yards with Akeem Judd rushing for 139 and backup QB Jason Pellerin managing the offense efficiently enough to get the Rebs out of the game and secure a win.
"We started slowly. Georgia Southern did a nice job of scheming against some plays we really thought would work going into the game, but we fixed that and adjusted a couple of things and scored four TDs in the second quarter," noted OC Dan Werner.
The Rebs looked to be poised to blow the game open when Kelly was hurt early in the third quarter and Pellerin took over.
"I thought he threw some really good balls and moved us. Obviously we would have liked to have scored some more touchdowns, but Jason did a nice job all things considered," Werner attested.
Freeze noted postgame that he may give Ryan Buchanan a call if tomorrow's MRI to Kelly is not good news. "I am serious. We would need a backup and it would be real difficult to pull Shea Patterson's redshirt this late in the season," he noted.
"Whatever we need to do, we will do. I was proud of the way Jason played, but if we need Ryan, we will call him," Dan stated. "Chad said he was hurting, obviously, but of any guy I have ever coached, if it is humanly possible, he will play. He's the toughest guy I have ever coached."
The adjustments Werner talked about involved some motion that befuddled the Eagle defenders.
"It was a scheme we had fooled around with some with some guys in motion that threw them off kilter a bit. Then they adjusted to that and we had to adjust again to some outside runs that opened up," he said. "There was a real good chess match going on."
Werner did not blame the makeshift offensive line with Javon Patterson making his first start at center and Robert Conyers, Sean Rawlings and Rod Taylor being out.
"It's tough centering your first time, but I thought he did a nice job. We had a nice call early in the game that was supposed to work for big yardage but we had a breakdown and that happened twice more in the first quarter, but after that, we got the ship righted," he closed. "Give Georgia Southern some credit - they hunkered down to take away our inside runs and they had some good schemes going, but we figured them out and our guys executed."
On defense, the Rebs looked to be in the here-we-go-again mode early on, giving up three scores, including an explosive run of 68 yards to give them a 21-10 lead at 10:13 in the second quarter.
But, as was the case on offense, DC Dave Wommack and his staff made some adjustments and from that point on the Eagles scored on two field goals in the final 40 minutes.
"They had us off-balance early. They were doing some things they had not shown on film. They did a nice job of coaching, but once we got things adjusted, we were pretty good. On the big run, that was on me. I made my call too late for our guys to get lined up and they popped us - my fault totally," he stated. "We buckled them down with some different front looks and we changed up some stunts,
"We also went more with our base stuff. I may have been a little too worried with their option game. Once we went to a couple of different looks and more base looks, we were controlling them. We made a couple of double checks on them that they couldn't adjust to. Other than the penalties we had, I thought our guys locked in better in the second half."
Football gives and football takes away. The Rebs lost Captain and DE John Youngblood for the year with an ankle injury, but DE Fadol Brown played the most he has played all year and said he felt "real good."
"I'm so sad about John, but we have missed Fadol all year. It's great to have him back. He has a big body and great athleticism. He made a lot of plays today and has been a leader for us since he has been back," Dave noted. "I love John and am sorry for his injury, but it is good to have Fadol back."
Rommel Mageo got his first start at middle linebacker. The verdict?
"He was up and down. He didn't fit some things well in the first half and didn't attack the line of scrimmage like he should have then either. They were hitting the inside zone on us over and over because of that, but once we adjusted and Rommel and the guys started attacking the line better, we played much better in the second half," he noted.
The Rebel coaches were in a chess match with the sly Eagle staff, but on the end, they checkmated their opponent and came away with a hard-fought victory.