“We’ve got to really, really look at ourselves hard — coaches and players — and figure out why we’re not putting together complete games.”
This quote from Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze after dropping a road battle to LSU 38-21, is beginning to sound all too familiar to Rebel fans. Plagued by inconsistent play on offense and a shaky defense all season long, the Rebels now fall to 3-4 and 1-3 in the SEC, leaving any hope of a road to Atlanta all but gone and dreams of a New Year’s Six Bowl dashed.
Ten unanswered points to start the game had the Rebels looking like a rejuvenated bunch coming off a road loss to Arkansas the week before. But from there on out, it was clear who the more motivated team was.
Coming into the game, Ole Miss was last in the SEC in total defense and didn’t do anything in this game to flip that script. Allowing 515 total yards to LSU, with 311 of those yards coming on the ground, the Tigers were able to run an efficient offense and strike at will with big plays. Leading the way for LSU was Leonard Fournette, who put up video-game style numbers with 16 carries for 284 yards and three touchdowns. LSU’s offense line was able to overpower the Rebels defense to prove huge holes for the star running back, who’s shortest touchdown run of the night went for 59 yards. On the rare occasion that a Rebel defender came near Fournette, he kindly showed them to the ground with the help of a lowered shoulder.
After a busted coverage leading to a 40-yard Danny Etling TD pass, the Rebels pass defense wasn’t challenged much by the LSU offense, due to their continued success on the ground. For the second straight week, the lack of adjustments throughout the game on the defensive side was clearly a factor. Dave Wommack’s defense has now given up just under 3,200 total yards this season, which places them last in the SEC and 107th in the nation. While many are calling for changes to be made, Freeze’s comments after the game don’t sound like a man ready to shake things up.
“It’s been a battle,” Freeze said. “Dave Wommack has been tremendous for me, and I owe him a lot. It’s a combination of things. One guy just does not all of a sudden become bad at what he does when he’s been good at it for a long time. We just got to continue to address the issues and, man, keep fighting for the whole season.”
Able to force an interception and two fumbles, one of which lead to a touchdown right before halftime that looked to give Ole Miss the momentum heading into the locker room, the Rebels were able to win the turnover battle 3:2. The two turnovers for the Rebels came in the form of Chad Kelly interceptions. The first one occurred immediately after the defense recovered a fumble deep in LSU territory. With a chance to put points on the board, and build on a lead this type of costly turnover was a huge shift in the flow of the game.
Once again, Kelly was asked to be everything for the Rebel offense, which couldn’t get anything going on the ground. Kelly lead all Rebels on the ground with 56 yards; Akeem Judd was the leading back with just 39 yards. Unable to get outside or develop a push in the middle of the line, the Rebels rushing attack failed to garner any attention from the Tiger defense, leaving the Rebel offense one-dimensional for the second straight week. The play calling for the Rebels was head scratching throughout the second half. Playing like a team with a 10-point lead, rather than a team down 10, the Rebels didn’t continue to stretch the field or look to any imaginative ways to run the ball, instead opting for quick passes and inside handoffs.
The Rebels have now lost two in a row, and have looked uninspired in both games. One team that has played inspired football after a rough start is the Auburn Tigers, who are coming to town this Saturday. The Tigers embarrassed Arkansas 56-3 on Saturday while putting up 543 yards on the ground. The defense played just as well, completely shutting down an offense that moved the ball with ease against the Rebel defense just one week ago. The Rebels have major issues on both sides of the ball if they hope to fair any better than the Razorbacks did against an Auburn team that has turned their season around.
With four remaining SEC match-ups, the defending Sugar Bowl champions have an uphill battle to make it to just six wins based on the effort shown in these last two weeks, and a quality team coming to town this weekend. Ole Miss will take on Auburn this weekend here in Oxford with kickoff set for 6:15 p.m. on the SEC Network.
Steven Gagliano is a writer for HottyToddy.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.