Notes and thoughts from Ole Miss’ 59-14 win over Idaho …
The primary objective was to win the game and avoid further injury. It looks like the Rebels were able to do that. Hugh Freeze told us that Charles Sawyer had some sort of lower-body strain when he walked off the field slowly in the third quarter.
There was no immediate word on the severity of Sawyer’s injury, but Freeze didn’t think it was too bad.
Here’s Bo Wallace sporting a fashionable winter hat in the postgame:
The Rebels need to start getting some of the wounded back in the lineup — guys like Robert Nkemdiche and Mike Hilton specifically — and maybe the open date will allow for that.
Jeff Scott should find his way back too, and that will raise an interesting question at running back. I felt all along that running back was a very deep position on this team, but with Scott playing so well early on it was hard for Jaylen Walton and I’Tavius Mathers to get on the field.
They are better inside runners, though, and they’ve really shown their skill and value to this team during Scott’s absence. One reason the outside run game began to suffer was because teams could cheat to the edge. Ole Miss wasn’t getting anything done on the inside. That’s changed now, and I suspect Scott will hit some big plays on the edge because of that.
Freeze told us he wanted to stress focus and intensity to his team last week, but the Rebels looked only slightly better than in their first buyout game of the year, Southeast Missouri State. They did come out and hit some big plays to get off to the fast lead starting with Bo Wallace’s 37-yard pass to Ja-Mes Logan. They also benefitted from Paul Petrino’s decision to go four a first down on fourth-and-5 from his 40 in a game that was only 7-0.
I understand trying to be fearless and show confidence in your team when it’s overmatched and playing on the road, but I didn’t think that was a good decision. After Vandals QB Taylor Davis threw incomplete, Walton capitalized with a 40-yard run up the middle on the next play.
Freeze didn’t come out pounding the ball, though, and Ole Miss didn’t immediately control the game and the clock. Too many dropped passes — one by Mathers and one by Donte Moncrief come to mind — penalties and a couple of fumbles early on.
The difference in the SEMO and Idaho games was that last night’s game did get better in the second half. Play was cleaner, and the lead grew. Ole Miss starters played a little longer than some might have thought would be necessary going into the game, but they were able to get to the bench in the third quarter, and a lot of young guys got a lot of playing time.
Idaho was simply overmatched on the lines and didn’t have enough good skill players to off-set that. The Vandals did make some plays that were good examples of coaching with Petrino managing to hit where the Rebels weren’t on first touchdown drive. Idaho found a lot of green space on the crossing pattern to deep across the 50 and the 2-yard run by Davis a few plays later. That was set up by running left twice, and when Davis faked left and kept right he was wide open.
Among the young players who were impressive in rare playing time were running back Mark Dodson (7-57 rushing, 30-yard receiving TD) and defensive end Temario Strong (4 tackles, TFL). DE Channing Ward was credited with four pressures.
Like most buy-out games this was about get past it, and refocus on the next big challenge. Fortunately for Ole Miss that comes in two weeks not one when the Rebels face Arkansas at home with a chance to lock down bowl eligibility. The Razorbacks have struggled lately, and Ole Miss will be favored to do just that.
So much can be accomplished by Ole Miss taking care of business against the Hogs, most notably getting that sixth win to under score that the program is continuing along the journey that Freeze likes to talk about. A second-straight bowl trip would consistency in the journey. Winning seven, eight or more in the regular season would show that the journey — like many believed after last year’s 7-6 finish — is ahead of schedule.
You can’t win No. 7 before you win No. 6, and a loss to an Arkansas team that has allowed 104 points in its last two games and is presently 0-4 in the SEC would be deflating.
I suspect the focus and concentration Freeze had hoped to see wire-to-wire last night will be there against Arkansas.