Notes and thoughts from Ole Miss’ 27-26 loss to Vanderbilt …
Ole Miss fans won’t only look at Texas A&M as the game that got away now. They can look at Vanderbilt too as an SEC win that vanished when a number of opportunities were there to lock it up.
A touchdown pass by Vanderbilt’s Jordan Rodgers leaves Ole Miss still in search of one win to qualify for a bowl game with two chances remaining.
It’s hard to imagine this Ole Miss team going on the road and winning at LSU. Assuming it does not, that leaves the Rebels with one chance, the final regular season game at home against Mississippi State to try and secure bowl-eligibility. A bowl bid is something few, if any, people thought the Rebels would be angling for at this point in the season. Looking back, maybe leading Ole Miss to five wins in eight games was an even more impressive feat by Hugh Freeze than thought just a few weeks ago.
The fact is, the zone read that was so successful early on has been taken away by defenses, and the Rebels haven’t been able to land a counterpunch.
Being one-dimensional on offense makes it really hard to win football games. Defenses have adjusted, and it’s time for Ole Miss to adjust, but this is where the personnel comes in. The offensive line is not physical enough to control the line of scrimmage, and there isn’t a dominant between-the-tackles runner among the backs.
There’s a reason Freeze spent the off-season talking about the wilderness.
LSU’s defense, rated No.3 overall and much stronger statistically against the run than Vanderbilt’s, will be a matchup problem as the Rebels try to revive the run game.
Freeze told us last night it’s really not about the run game, that it’s about taking what the defense gives you. He said, “I love to run the ball, people know that, but after every game if we have 458 yards because of something they (opponent) were doing … It’s hard to bang your head against the wall if they’re going to bring a field blitz and a boundary blitz. I don’t know. Sometimes I wish I’d have thrown it more.”
Quarterback Bo Wallace, though, talked about the need to run the ball, particularly in the red zone where the Rebels settled for three field goals of less than 30 yards.
Vanderbilt coach James Franklin credited Ole Miss for its play-action passing, but play-action is much less of a threat if the run game doesn’t produce a little bit.
Considering that Ole Miss couldn’t run the ball what Wallace accomplished against a Commodores defense ranked in the top 10 against the pass was very impressive. Wallace passed for 403 yards, the fifth-best single-game total in school history, and led an offense that played turnover-free for only the second time this year. He completed 31-of-49 passes, and there were a few drops in there.
Defensively, the Rebels were also good against the run, holding Vanderbilt to 104 yards and 2.9 yards per carry. The Commodores had a big loss, though, when Zac Stacy, the SEC’s fifth-leading rusher, left the game injured on the opening possession of the first quarter.
Rodgers didn’t light up the Ole Miss secondary the way Georgia’s Aaron Murray did, but he made the plays at the right time. He found a rhythm in the second half when the Commodores were 6-for-10 on third-down conversions.
For Ole Miss, Louis Covington, a walk-on who joined the program as a walk-on in the summer and was awarded a scholarship shortly after, started at cornerback and recorded four tackles and two pass break-ups. Senquez Golson, who missed the Georgia game after sustaining a concussion against Arkansas, played extensively too.
The defense will need to up its level of play if the Rebels aren’t able to possess the ball and sustain drives on offense, which is something they weren’t able to do with several three-and-out series in the second half.