Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze was bothered about fan expectations earlier this week, and rightfully so.
The unrealistic expectations of fans, however, is not new to college football, and it’s been a while since things have not been “right” with the Rebels.
Ole Miss is hitting a bit of adversity right now, and it’s up to Freeze to right the ship. It’s up to Freeze to find an answer for the running game as Alabama and Auburn have found ways to stop the Rebels on the perimeter, mostly by moving ends and linebackers wider in their defensive sets.
It’s not a great time to have adversity — when is, I suppose –as Johnny Manziel and No. 9 Texas A&M visits this weekend.
The most disturbing thing about the Auburn loss was that it was the first time under Freeze that the Rebels were out-performed by a team against which they were not decided underdogs. Looking back at the Texas A&M, Auburn, Arkansas, Mississippi State and Vanderbilt games last year. The Rebels didn’t win all those games, but they were right there at the end. It was anybody’s game with less than 2 minutes to play. That wasn’t the way it was at Auburn last week.
The positive to be taken from the plains is that as bad as it looked and felt, the Rebels had the ball near mid-field in the middle of the fourth quarter just a touchdown drive from taking the lead.
The trick now is to prove that a 30-22 loss at Auburn is an isolated incident and that untimely penalties, interceptions, poor run defense and tackling problems do not become a trend.
Nothing would set enthusiasm and expectation a blaze again like an upset of the Aggies.
I wouldn’t give the Ole Miss team that played last week much of a chance to pull off that upset, but I would if the offense that played most of the Vanderbilt and Texas games shows up.
The best defense against Manziel will be to keep him off the field. The larger body of work says the Rebels are capable of sustaining drives, scoring and doing just that, but there’s an alarming and more recent sample size that suggests just the opposite.
I think just getting the road games behind them and knowing they’re settling in for a long stretch of home games will take a great burden off the players. Location alone won’t win games, however, and the Rebels have to return to some efficiency on offense. They have to return to productivity in the run game, and that means having measurable success running from tackle to tackle and on first down. The Rebels faced 19 third downs at Auburn with an average “to go” yardage of 7.42. They can’t do that again.
The Aggies are giving up 214.8 yards a game, last in the SEC, and have lost a veteran down lineman. Remember, Auburn wasn’t that strong numerically either.
A good running game will lead to a good passing game.
I think the Rebels have both against Texas A&M.
Ole Miss players are embarrassed by their Auburn performance and eager to show they’re the team of the first three games of this season and not the last two.
The problem with Saturday night will be Johnny Manziel. He’s a better pocket passer, and his running, while called upon less, remains a scary threat.
Ole Miss has gotten settled down in the secondary some but may be about to voluntarily upset the apple cart if Dave Wommack and staff move Mike Hilton back to Huskie so he can do his 007 impersonation and “spy” on Manziel. That was effective for stretches of play last year. Hilton worked at Huskie and corner this week.
Freshman Derrick Jones brings, at 6-foot-3, brings an awful lot of potential to a matchup with the 6-5 Mike Evans, who is averaging almost 25 yards per reception. Coaches, though, love playing experience, and Jones brings almost none of that. He’s appeared only in the Alabama game but did manage to record four tackles. He could be used in certain situations.
At the end of the day, I think the offense shows up and has a better game. The defense will get some things done, but no other team has held the Fighting Johnnys to less than 42 points. I’m not sure the Rebels will score that much.
Prediction: Texas A&M 41, Ole Miss 30