In a recent interview, Aaron Rodgers told fans of the Green Bay Packers something, and I think the Rebel fan base needs to hear it as well: R.E.L.A.X. Relax.
After falling to LSU Saturday night in Baton Rouge, Ole Miss nows sits at 7-1. As a general, and relatively unrelated note, if the ghost of Manning’s past (or whatever the hell an Ole Miss football ghost were to be named if we had one) comes to me before the season and says: “SJ, here’s the deal. You can play your season out. Or, you can start it 7-1 and barely lose to LSU on the road on College GameDay’s game of the week in a controversial end. What’ll it be?” Give me that – albeit heartbreaking – loss in Tigerland, please.
To start, let’s briefly recap the loss: Ole Miss did not do the things they needed to do to win the game. It’s that simple. We did not execute at opportune times. When the offense was backed up deep in their own territory they moved the ball, got a few first downs and stalled out. Yet, a group that usually thrives on short fields, especially off turnovers, went three-and-out twice after receiving the ball in their own territory. The offense couldn’t stay on the field when they needed to, and the defense couldn’t get off when it needed to, which led to the 12 minute lapse in time of possession for Hugh Freeze’s bunch.
The knock on Bo Wallace is that he turns it over too much. Well, sans the final play of the game – which I agreed with, as far as having the time to run another play goes, maybe not the throw itself – he played turnover free football, again. He actually threw for 30 more yards than LSU’s Anthony Jennings. Despite allowing a season-high 264 rushing yards, the defense still performed well enough to keep the team in the game. I mean, 10 points.
LSU had four turnovers to the Rebels’ zero going into the last drive. FOUR. Logic should tell you: that doesn’t win games . . . but, crazy things happen in Death Valley.
So, I suppose when push comes to shove, it’s on the offense. Note, I said the offense as a whole, not just Bo Wallace. A majority of the issues I have can be found in the running game.
Issue number one: Wallace was the leading rusher, with 40 yards. I love Bo’s mobility, and the offense is way better with him being able to move the sticks with his legs, but someone else has to step up. He’s the quarterback, and that yardage total included yards lost to sacks.
Issue number two: WR Cody Core was more effective (one rush for 30 yards) than was Jaylen Walton, who got the majority of the carries (12 rushes for 29 yards). Mathers was a little better with his 8 rushes for 35 yards.
Issue number three: Jordan Wilkins had more passing attempts than rushing attempts. Wilkins, I understand, is not the featured back. But, for a team, apart from Jeremy Liggins (who I think should have seen another few snaps), that struggles to run between the tackles, Wilkins is one of the more downhill guys we have. This struggle was made evident by converting on just a third of their fourth down chances. Oh, and he only had one passing attempt, that was kind of supposed to be funny(ish).
All that aside, here was the problem: It’s hard to play poorly, in comparison to how Ole Miss has been playing, in Death Valley and win. And as bad as that game was to watch from a Rebel perspective, it was a three point loss. As a wise high school baseball coach use to always tell me: “Nothing is ever as good as it seems; nothing is ever as bad as it seems, but somewhere in the middle, reality lies.”
That’s where Ole Miss is now. Maybe not as good as the national media would have led us to believe. The lack of consistency, at least offensively, is a reoccurring problem. Conversely, this bunch is certainly not as bad as we played in Baton Rouge.
Maybe a loss isn’t the worst thing. Not long ago a one loss Florida team lost to an Ole Miss team that struggled early in the season, but really showed their colors as the season went on – similar to LSU of this season – and went on to run the table.
Also, like an onion ring on a burger, adding any Tim Tebow speech to an article makes it a better article.
As Rebel DE C.J. Johnson tweeted, this certainly is a step-back, a knockdown if you will – but it certainly is not a knockout. There is football left to be played in Oxford – and that’s one of the most important things: it will be played in Oxford.
Three of the last four games will be played in the friendly confines of Vaught Hemingway Stadium, starting with Auburn this weekend. The lone road game against Arkansas is a seemingly winnable game as well. The timing of the LSU loss doesn’t sting as bad as a later one (IE: Mississippi State or Auburn) would have because there are still obvious chances to move back up in the polls.
Sitting at No. 7 now, the Rebels will have statement opportunities against not only MSU and Auburn, but also the SEC Championship game, should the loss column only indicate one L come the season’s end. Ole Miss would hold the tie-breaker over a one loss Alabama if it comes down to the two. A two loss Ole Miss team would be all but eliminated from the College Football Playoff, but not necessarily the SEC Championship. Alabama defeating Mississippi State, but losing to Auburn would put the Tide at two losses. A Mississippi State loss to Ole Miss and Alabama would put the Dawgs at two losses, and an Auburn loss to either Alabama or Ole Miss would put them at two losses. Not to mention some of those teams still have to deal with LSU and Texas A&M.
As you can see, this could play out a number of different ways.
All that matters now is taking one game at a time starting with Auburn, and trying to get back to full strength for this weekend. Cody Prewitt, Leremey Tunsil and Robert Nkemdiche, three of the Rebels’ most important pieces, are all listed as day-to-day after being banged up Saturday in Tiger Stadium. Robert’s brother LB Denzel Nkemdiche, suffered a more serious injury as the veteran is likely out for the season with a broken ankle. Losing Deznel is a big loss, but the linebacking corps is relatively deep – as is the entire defense – and should be able to patch things up barring no more serious blows.
The LSU game is over, the season is far from being so. It starts this weekend with Nick Marshall and the No. 4 Auburn Tigers coming into Oxford. Get your Tommy Tubberville hate-gear ready.
*Section Photo credit to Michael Chang, Getty Images; Featured Photo (above) credit to Crystal LoGiudice, USA Today Sports