Notes and observations from the Rebels’ 39-0 win over Tulane. …
The game came at a good time on the schedule for Ole Miss. Between Texas and Alabama the Rebels needed a shot of confidence, a reminder of the good things they’d done in wins over Central Arkansas and UTEP to start the season.
There’s beatdown potential coming against Alabama, not because Ole Miss isn’t an improved football team, but because Alabama is playing at a level above the rest of the nation right now.
Or so it appears.
So before visiting Tuscaloosa, where the Rebels haven’t won since 1988, they did some good things and some not-so-good things against an overmatched opponent with a freshman quarterback making his first start.
Even defensive coordinator Dave Wommack, when asked if his cornerbacks played better, referenced the “different level of athlete” the Rebels faced in New Orleans.
So it’s hard to get a read on the success of the changes in the secondary. We’ll know more on that next week.
Elsewhere in the secondary, Trae Elston looked really good. He finished with only six tackles, but that was due to frequent substitution in the second half. Elston is a hitter and a good open-field tackler.
As far as other possible defensive moves, Channing Ward did not crack the starting lineup and honestly didn’t look as good as he did last week against Texas.
C.J. Johnson did not move from end to linebacker, at least not to start, though he did line up as a linebacker in some goalline situations.
Twice the Rebels kept Tulane off the scoreboard after the Green Wave had penetrated the 2, finally preserving the win with Chief Brown’s interception.
Getting the shutout was big. It’s a mental thing. A 39-0 score does much more for the defense than 39-7. Shutouts are rare, and the Rebels needed a pick-me-up after Texas put almost 700 yards on them.
The defense forced four turnovers, three of them interceptions, and one of those a really impressive pick by Dehendret Collins. Collins extended and made a diving catch. He could have missed that play and been OK. He wouldn’t have been dressed down in the meeting room. But that was the kind of play that winning SEC teams make. When the Rebels make a few more of those they’ll be getting out of the wilderness.
Wide receiver Collins Moore had a similar diving catch to keep a touchdown drive alive in the first-quarter scoring barrage.
Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze will wonder all season long if Moore’s shoulder will hold up, but as long as it does, he’s a big addition to the offense.
It appeared the Freeze was intent on spreading the ball around to receivers not named Donte Moncrief. Lots of guys got into the action with 10 different players having at least one catch, and only two players – Moore and Vincent Sanders – having as many as two.
I remain impressed by the Ole Miss backs. The Rebels rushed for 170 yards against a strong Texas defense, and added 304 rushing yards against a weak Tulane one. There’s depth at the position when Jaylen Walton and I’Tavius Mathers, your third and fourth backs, give you meaningful carries.
But the fumbles …
Six fumbles in a game is mind-boggling and unacceptable. It’s not like this was the first time either. The Rebels went into the game having fumbled six times on the year compared to four by their opponents.
Ole Miss has eight remaining games, all within the SEC, and in not a single one should they expect to fumble six times and win.
QB Bo Wallace was a repeat offender Saturday, and it wasn’t the first time he’s lost the handle on the ball. Wallace, unfortunately, has had the ball-protection issues through four games that plagued him in August camp. Whether by interception – He didn’t throw one at Tulane – or fumble, he’s had a turnover each game.
SEC teams will pounce on that.
Wallace injured his throwing shoulder early in the game but played through it. The shoulder started to stiffen up late, and Freeze said Wallace would receive medical attention soon after the return to Oxford, but Freeze didn’t think the injury was serious.
The Rebels’ can’t afford for it to be.
Barry Brunetti played well against Tulane, but it was Tulane, and while Brunetti will do good things this season, he still isn’t the guy who will involve the receivers like Wallace does.