Thoughts and observations from the Rebels’ 31-13 win over Southeast Missouri State …
It wasn’t the Jacksonville State debacle of three years ago, but there were frightening similarities as Ole Miss raced to a 31-0 lead then watched the Redhawks chip away at it.
SEMO wasn’t good enough to close the deal, and Hugh Freeze never had to reinsert starting quarterback Bo Wallace.
He was able to get a look at the reserves he wanted, and what he saw was an alarming picture at quarterback. Barry Brunetti struggled and was unable to close out an FCS foe in the expected manner.
Freeze said he was very close to playing one of the freshman quarterbacks. He didn’t call Devante Kincade by name, but that’s who it would have been. Much more was invested in Kincade in camp than in fellow freshman Ryan Buchanan.
In retrospect, it might have been better for Freeze to go ahead and play Kincade and get him some game experience. Get him some snaps and find a role for him, because if something happens to Wallace he would be farther along already, and last night — as Brunetti was pulled in favor of former walk-on Robert Ratliff — made it pretty clear that Kincade will lose his redshirt if something happens to Wallace.
Freeze expressed disappointment in depth across the board, but the look and feel of last night’s game is very different if Brunetti scores on a couple of drives. Even with his turnovers, then you’re looking at something like 45-13 — I predicted 42-13 by the way — and it’s a much more confident feeling in the postgame.
DL coach Chris Kiffin last week told he he was pretty proud of how his guys played at Vanderbilt, and Kiffin will have reason to be pleased again. Nose tackle Woodrow Hamilton had five stops, and freshman end Robert Nkemdiche had five tackles plus two tackles for loss. Backup end Channing Ward had the Rebels’ only sack.
Pass defense remains a problem.
“We haven’t found the answer there,” Freeze said.
Time is running out to find that answer. There aren’t any new bodies to put back there. Now it’s a matter of getting better play from the ones you’ve got. Hopefully there’s a healthy Charles Sawyer to help achieve that this week at Texas. Sawyer was held out of last night’s game.
Defensive coordinator Dave Wommack credited his run defense, and it was strong for the second-straight week, but teams will quickly learn that they don’t have to run against the Rebels to move the football.
In replacing All-SEC linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche, Serderius Bryant looked focused and displayed that Freeze felt was missing from many of the reserves. Bryant had 15 tackles and a tackle for loss.
It’s a nice improvement from the end of 2011 to be able to criticize a win for lack of style points, but this program has won four straight now and has moved past that level of praise.
Last year’s Texas game was a key measuring stick to show Ole Miss where it stood and how far it had to go. The Rebels are better prepared to face the Longhorns in the rematch but not fully prepared.
Texas gave up almost 700 yards in its 40-21 loss at BYU last night, and if Ole Miss executes on offense it could have similar success.
Offense really wasn’t the problem against Texas last year as the Longhorns gained 600-plus yards and scored 66 points.
The Rebels shot at winning the game will hinge on consistency with an offense whose starters have yet to give away the football and improvement during the week from a secondary that’s surrendering too many yards and points.