Postgame thoughts

A few thoughts following the heartbreaking 13-10 loss to Alabama in Oxford yesterday. A play here and a play there and we'd all be celebrating.

OXFORD, MS - The Ole Miss Rebels (2-4/0-3 SEC) came as close to winning a big football game as a team can come without actually winning. With 60,135 people looking on, No. 6 ranked Alabama (6-0/4-0 SEC) did what good football teams do in crunch time, they found a way to win the game.

The upset-minded Rebels lost 13-10 on the final play, just moments before it appeared the game was headed to overtime. Alabama called on their excellent playmakers of Brodie Croyle and Kenneth Darby, who refused to allow their team to lose with big plays on the final drive.

How much more exciting could this game have been? Only if the scene were reversed and Ole Miss had made the winning field goal to end the game on top. It's easy for us an fans to sit back and criticize players and coaches for mistakes made in losing this one, but I want to go record for giving the Rebel players credit for playing their hearts out and playing to win for 60 minutes.

I can guarantee everyone who reads these comments that Robert Bass and Will Moseley feel terrible over their missed opportunities and that memory will be with them a long, long time. These are two fine young men who want to succeed as badly as anyone. All they can do is continue trying to get better at their craft and one day they will hit that elusive game-winning kick.

The Rebels missed on a wonderful opportunity to win this game when they recovered a Darby fumble at the Alabama 48-yard line with 8:01 left in the fourth quarter. As was the case most of the time on first down, the Rebels could only gain two yards on a Mico McSwain run, a pass completion to Jamal Pittman gained nothing on second down and a third down pass fell incomplete forcing the Rebels to punt. Noel Mazzone talked of that "blown" opportunity after the game, wondering if he had called the right plays.

The Rebel offense had one last opportunity with the football at their own 20-yard line with 4:11 left on the clock and the scored knotted at 10-10. Again the Rebels followed the same pattern, getting no yards on first down, no positive yards on a completed second down pass and an incomplete third down pass.

It appeared Rob Park had bailed the Rebels out when he hit a 56-yard punt down to the Bama 24-yard line with just 2:39 left in play in regulation. It was not to be as Croyle took charge. With the Tide facing a third and nine at their own 25, Croyle scrambled up the middle for 20 yards and a huge first down. That gave the Crimson Time the momentum and energy they needed to pull out this hard-fought victory as time expired.

The Ole Miss offense put up 279 total yards against the best defense in the SEC as Bama was allowing opponents 251 yards offense per game through their first five games. Micheal Spurlock threw for 210 yards and Mico McSwain got a career high 27 carries and 70 net yards rushing. But when you analyze what happened, the down that kept the Rebel offense stymied all game long was first down. Looking at the numbers on first down you would say there should not have been a problem as the Rebels gained 110 yards on 26 first down plays. The problem is the fact that on two of those twenty six plays, the Rebels gained 51 of those 110 yards. This meant the Rebels offense only averaged 2.5 yards per play on 24 other first down plays. This lack of production on first down limited the Rebels play selection based on field position.

Contrast that with Alabama's first down yardage, they gained 192 yards on 28 first-down plays. The Crimson Tide turned the ball over on two fumbles while the Rebels turned it over twice, once on a fumble and once on a first down interception.

The two delay penalties down at the Bama goal line were killers for Ole Miss. Coach O said, "there is no excuse for that to happen." I could not agree with that sentiment more. The lack of communication there was mind-boggling.

Alabama in their first five games had pounded the ball on the ground and then play-action passed the ball over the top of their opponents to their three big receivers, Tryone Prothro, Kevin Brown and D.J. Hall. With Prothro out and Hall hurt most of the game, Croyle hit more short and crossing routes allowing his receivers to turn the completions into bigger yardage. An example, facing a second and ten at the Rebel 40 with 33 seconds left on the clock, Croyle under a heavy rush managed to get off a shovel or Utah pass completion to Darby for nine yards. That play set up Croyle's two-yard sneak and a crucial first down with 24 tics on the clock.

The Rebel defense fought Alabama tooth and nail today, holding Bama to 355 total yards, 47 yards below their per game average of 402. Kenneth Darby has been averaging 102 yards per game but today was limited to 84 yards rushing.

Patrick Willis, who leads the SEC in tackles per game, was the man again today, coming up with 10 solo tackles and five assist for a total of 15 tackles. We have not seen a better linebacker all year in any region of the country. Kelvin Robinson, Travis Johnson, McKinley Boykin, Jayme Mitchell, Michael Bozeman and Jamarca Sanford played very well.

The biggest thing today was the defense could not come up with that key play or stop in crunch time to pull out the win. This shows the Rebels are in need of a few more playmakers and added depth on defense.

The offense certainly needs help in several areas although they held their own pretty well against an experienced Alabama defense. The Rebel defense did hold the Crimson Tide to a season low in points with 13, they were averaging 29.6 per game.

Ole Miss head coach Ed Orgeron appreciated the crowd. He said, "this was a great crowd. It was good to see everybody fired up."

Patrick Willis summed it best, "it's always tough to come close and lose. We knew we could play with them all along, but we made some key mistakes. We have to watch the film, correct our mistakes and come out next week ready for Kentucky."

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