One of the dangers of youth is feeling invulnerable, immune to anything going wrong, in situations where you shouldn't.
Meet the young Ole Miss Rebels, fresh off a good, solid win over Memphis, heading to the trap that was being laid in Columbia, MO.
I know this sounds strange, but the Rebels, as LG Andrew Wicker pointed out postgame, felt too good about themselves when they shouldn't have.
That resulted in the Rebs being a bit too nonchalant in their approach to the Tigers, then shell-shock when they realized Missouri showed up to kick their tails and, finally, a flat performance that defied logic coming off a nice opening win that should have garnered momentum.
In short, the Rebs were supremely confident when they shouldn't have been. The drop from being too confident to hanging by a thread is a quick one for young teams. It's like putting a needle to a balloon.
What worked in the opener didn't even come close in Columbia and the Tigers smelled blood in the water early and often. On the flip side, the Rebs looked out of synch and, at times, listless.
"We felt we had them reeling early on and we wanted to keep that pressure on. We could feel we had more intensity than they did," said Tiger senior DE Xzavie (yes, that is the correct spelling) Jackson, who anchored a Mizzou DL that controlled the line of scrimmage throughout the contest. "They played hard, but it had the feel of being our day from the opening minutes."
Wicker gave the Ole Miss perspective of that spin.
"We came in here feeling too good about ourselves and forgot we had a game to play," he noted astutely.
What was almost easy on offense a week ago, simply was not there against Missouri - the running game, and from there the Rebels seemed to have nowhere to go.
When the Rebs couldn't get anything that made the Tigers -using just six defenders in the box most of the day - fret going in the run game, they tried the short passing game. With five men in coverage most of the day, the Tiger defense seemed to have an answer for that too. Reb QB Brent Schaeffer, slick and effective in the opener, saw nothing but Black and Gold all day and ended up throwing three interceptions and completing only 13 of 29 aerials for a paltry 90 yards. Couple that with only 72 yards rushing and you've got yourself an offensive day that even a mother would want to forget, and mothers can find good in anything.
On defense, Rebel Coach Ed Orgeron knew going into the game - and had muttered under his breath kind of semi-privately - there was a chance it would be a long day.
With LEO Chris Bowers and NT Jeremy Garrett out with injuries, the Rebs were already ultra-thin up front. He moved DE Peria Jerry - who didn't practice all week due to injuries - inside to DT and switched DT Hayward Howard to NT. He was forced to start freshman Marcus Tillman and journeyman Viciente DeLoach, who gave way to freshman DE Greg Hardy, on the ends and go to war with - at best - a makeshift DL with little experience.
He felt his linebackers and secondary might be able to shoulder some of the extra burden to make up the difference, but Missouri spread them out and ate them up, with the exception being MLB Patrick Willis, who played another stellar game but simply had little help in stopping the Tiger onslaught.
On the inside, most believed Missouri would score. 34 wasn't wasn't the target number, for sure, but the expectations were in the 20s by most. What wasn't expected was the lack of production from the offense. If my notes are correct, the Rebs' only big threat was when they recovered a fumbled punt in Mizzou territory and scored from 30 yards out on a Schaeffer to Marshay Green screen that broke open on the first play after the Tiger miscue.
The rest of the time, well, it was an exercise in futility. Missouri had their number and the Rebs could never get enough going to flip the poor field position they played with most of the game.
"I didn't anticipate that," said Coach O. "I didn't see that coming."
The bottom line is that nobody saw it coming and wasn't prepared for a determined, tuned-in Missouri squad on a mission.
"A lesson learned, I hope," continued Wicker. "Our young players, and our old ones, have to realize that every game is a dogfight and last week doesn't mean anything. We have the potential to be good, but we aren't good enough to feel invincible."
In short, there's a fine line in being confident and forgetting what earned them their first sweet taste of success. The Rebs had fire in their bellies against the first set of Tigers. They had intensity and focus.
Yesterday, they didn't. Ah, the trappings of youth.
Hopefully, this will be an eye-opener for the Rebels and just another step, albeit a painful one, in the maturation process.
A Few Notes:
* Late in the game, the Rebs went with another freshman DE - Kentrell Lockett - to see what he can do to help an ailing DL. Kentrell has been nicked up but is now healthy. He showed good speed off the edge in his brief appearance.
* We saw WR Carlos Suggs in the game on special teams. We believe that is the first action of the year for him after coming off a summer collarbone break and surgery.
* Dexter McCluster lit up Memphis, but only had two catches for 37 yards against Missouri due to the Tigers being very aware of #22's prowess and super coming out party against Memphis. The Rebs picked up on that and switched gears some to Marshay Green, who responded with four catches for 49 yards and the lone Rebel TB, a 30-yard catch-and-run on a bubble screen.
* While standing on the Missouri sidelines for a brief look from that perspective in the third quarter, I overheard four Tiger fans talking about Patrick Willis. "He's the best I have ever seen," said one. "If you want to find the ball, just watch their #49." Something we've known for a long time.
* Punter Rob Park was a busy man yesterday, with 10 boots for a 40.5 average. Not a good sign when your punter gets double-digit looks.
* Obviously, the Rebs don't like to face the spread offense. In two games against it, they have given up 59 points and roughly 800 yards of total offense. I never thought I'd say this, but it makes you yearn for the straight-at-you offenses more predominant in the SEC.
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