There was no questioning the competitive level of the Rebels at day's end of the 41-24 setback to number one LSU Saturday afternoon in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
But effectiveness was another matter.
The Rebels outgained the Tigers 466 to 396, had the ball about 50% of the game and did a lot of good things against the powerhouse from Baton Rouge, but the glaring, telltale sign was Red Zone efficiency and turnovers.
"LSU was 4-4 on us in the Red Zone," said Defensive Coordinator John Thompson, "and we didn't shake one dadgum turnover out of however many plays (65) they had on offense.
"The opening drive of the game, when they went 98 yards, and the opening drive of the second half, where they went 68 yards, were killers to me. We preach and preach being tuned in for the start of both halfs and yet we repeatedly give up points in those time slots. Disheartening. Maybe we preach it too much, I don't know. Those two drives and the last one - 46 yards in 2 plays - chap me. Bad deal. Good defenses shake the ball loose somewhere during a game. We did not.
"We have just got to find a way to come out of the locker room and be more effective."
J.T. had a hard time being totally down. The Rebel defenders were not "outmuscled." At times, out-executed, but not manhandled, by the top team in the country to date.
"I felt we physically lined up and played toe-to-toe with them. There were times when their speed hurt us and Jacob Hester, a tremendous football player, got some tough yards at times, but overall I felt we didn't get pushed around. We missed some tackles and missed a couple of assignments, but those were our doing, not from being outmanned," he continued. "We were adequate, but we made no big plays."
The Rebel defense faced a short field three times and LSU scored from 54 and 46 yards and got a field goal from another possession in Reb territory after a turnover, but Thompson was hearing none of that as an "excuse."
"It doesn't matter if you have to defend an inch or 100 yards, our job is to go in there and stop them. So what if it is a short field? Go play - go defend your turf," said Thompson. "We were able to get them in some long yardage downs and did OK in most of those. We got three sacks. We got some pressure with our front four with Greg Hardy and Viciente' DeLoach and Peria (Jerry) and Marcus Tillman. I thought Matt (Flynn) felt our pressure without using blitz much. We held them to 4-11 on third downs, which isn't terrible, but as I said, we did not shake the ball loose, we did not have an interception and we did not execute well in the Red Zone, short field or not."
Thompson had been "fretting" about Flynn most of the week and the Tiger signal-caller lived up to J.T.'s expectations.
"He's just so efficient. He doesn't make mistakes and he doesn't force things. He's got great weapons around him and he uses them very effectively. He has a lot of backs and a lot of receivers who can play the game - plain and simple. And Matt can also run when he needs to," Thompson added. "I tip my hat to him because he is an excellent field general, and that's the best term for him - a true field general. He's tough and very consistent.
"We did not give up the big play to him or those great receivers, but they took what was there and, again, we couldn't force a turnover or a mistake. Dadgummit, you have to do that."
Now, Thompson faces his first Egg Bowl, but having been around the SEC and at USM for several years, he knows the magnitude.
"You obviously don't know until you live it, but living in Mississippi and being around the SEC for a long time, this game is a big, big deal. I know that without having coached in one," he closed. "I'm already thinking about it - started thinking about it thirty minutes ago.
"I don't know a lot about MSU yet, but I have talked to some guys who have faced them and they try to get in two tight formations with that big back (Anthony Dixon) and run right at you, but the young QB they have is playing effectively when they need to put the ball up. They are playing well offensively and we will have our hands full. I anticipate them being more of a power team and coming right at us, but they also have a nice mix in their passing game."
On the offensive side of the ball, the number one question on the tongues of the media was what happened at the end of the first half when the Rebs - behind Brent Schaeffer - drove to the LSU 4 and then got a delay of game penalty. Schaeffer was taken out and Seth Adams was put back in. He promptly threw a pick in the back of the end zone to kill a good drive that would have tied the score at 14 at the half.
"Brent has not been playing a lot and he looked a little rattled and a little confused. The play we had called we had worked a bunch with Seth in practice and felt he knew the reads better than Brent," OC Dan Werner said, "but Seth made a bad decision. He said after the game he should have thrown it away. I agree."
The Rebel offense opted to spread things out against one of the best defenses in the country and take advantage of Schaeffer's mercurial feet and strong arm.
Brent responded with 94 yards rushing - including a 38-yard TD run - and 208 yards passing - including a 33-yard TD to Shay Hodge. But - and here's the rub - he also threw two interceptions.
"There were a lot of positives with him in there. We put in some spread stuff to negate LSU's power in their front seven and it worked well for the most part. We didn't feel like we could just line up and hammer them, so we spread them out and got them to chase us. The dive read (take option) worked well with Brent keeping it some and giving it to the back some, depending on his read," Dan continued. "We were pretty effective going up and down the field, but we were not efficient in the Red Zone, again. 1-3 will not get it done in many games, especially one of this magnitude.
"We were having some issues with communication with Brent in the first half. He hasn't played much this year, but he calmed down in the second half and did a lot of good things."
Werner felt his guys battled hard the whole game, but efficiency is what did them in.
"I can't ask them to play any harder. I can ask them to play better, but not harder. They never got down when they got behind or when we made a mistake. They just kept coming back and kept trying," he explained. "If we just hadn't had as many rough spots - turnovers and penalties - as we did. . . I don't know if we would have won the game, but it would have been a lot, lot closer.
"We did move the football, but there's more to it than that. It was no fluke that we got 466 yards against one of the top defenses in the country, but what is discouraging is that it should have been well over 500 yards. We didn't finish the deal we started and that's been our M.O. most of the year. I've done my job when we score enough points to win and when we score all the points that are out there to get - that we have an opportunity to score. We haven't been doing that."
Where does that leave the Rebels going into next week at quarterback?
"Coach O and I will sit down and discuss who gives us the best chance to win against MSU and that will be that," he responded. "Brent causes defenses so many problems. He can be so electric, but he can also have periods when he's not consistent or he tries to force things. We can't have him being feast or famine."
While it was little consolation from a team standpoint, Werner wanted to congratulate BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who with his 53 yards on just 12 carries against LSU went over the 1,000-yard mark for the second year in a row.
"BenJarvus has meant so much to us and he's so deserving of whatever praise he gets. I'm happy for him. And the thing about him is that I know in his heart he'd trade every yard he's gained for a bunch of wins, which makes it more gratifying for me to see him break that barrier," Dan noted. "He's unselfish and a total team player who gets the job done week-in and week-out. He plays hurt and you always get his best, regardless."
The Rebels have a short week getting ready for State, but Dan said that's not a problem from his perspective.
"As long as they (State) are on a short week too, that's not a major problem. We just won't take tomorrow off," he closed. "You just do it and go get ready.
"I think State will be multiple on defense and they are very physical up front. They will get after us and we will have to be prepared for that."
OM Spirit Top Stories
Freeze Frames: Players Meeting and MoreOle Miss head coach Hugh Freeze met the media Wednesday to preview Auburn, as well as discuss the recent players-only meeting, the development of Charles Wiley and more.
OM Spirit4:21 PM
Watch: Ole Miss QB commit is a playmakerOle Miss quarterback commit Alex Faniel shows why he is one of the premier quarterbacks in the East Region in his early senior highlights.
Scout Football12:00 PM
No 10 OLB Proctor Sets SEC, ACC, Big Ten OVsIndian Head (Md.) Lackey's Nathan Proctor, the No. 10 outside linebacker in the 2017 class, set three official visits.
Scout Football9:51 AM
Wednesday Ole Miss Recruiting RoundupOle Miss has handed out another offer, while a top linebacker target is set to visit in January. All the latest in today's recruiting tidbits.
OM Spirit8:47 AM
Defense Trying to End TailspinThe Ole Miss defense has been in a tailspin recently, it goes without saying. Defensive Coordinator Dave Wommack is as frustrated as anyone over the results thus far and is working…
OM Spirit4:56 AM