Notes and thoughts from Ole Miss’ 17-10 overtime loss to Mississippi State …
When I moved from the MSU beat to the Ole Miss beat in the spring of 2002, I recall that Ole Miss basketball coach Rod Barnes cringed at the constant comparisons of his program to Mississippi State.
Barnes believed that the Rebels should be judged on their own merit and should not have a level of worth assigned by, in part, what was happening with the other SEC program in Mississippi.
That sounds really good, but it’s not reality. That’s not how the community that coaches and players serve see this game — in any sport.
The administration at both schools understand that. It’s why Ole Miss fans were allowed a “controlled” rush of the field after the Rebels won 41-24 in Oxford last year.
For the next year it’s important that Hugh Freeze make the distinction that Barnes so valued.
Losing to the rival is never a good thing, and now MSU coach Dan Mullen has something big to take on recruiting trips where — according to the Rivals rankings with Ole Miss at 13 and MSU at 39 — he needs some help. Now Mullen can talk about beating the program perceived to be on the rise and having won the game four times in five years.
Both coaches say the recruiting boost for the winner is negligible, which is good news for the Rebels.
About last night.
This wasn’t about a bad call, a close play or unfortunate bounce. The MSU defense outplayed the Ole Miss offense. The Bulldogs took away Donte Moncrief, daring the Rebels to run the ball, and the Rebels could not.
After an impressive season of drastically improved ball-protection, Bo Wallace looked like a rookie with a couple of decisions. I haven’t seen a replay of the fumble, but I understand Nickoe Whitley gave him a pretty good hit as he was going into the end zone. Credit Whitley for making a play, but you have to be especially security conscious down there.
Ole Miss did not score an offensive touchdown, not even on that play, so now the Rebels’ offense that had a string of 500-yard games broken just last week against Missouri, now has scored only one touchdown in the last two games.
Former Ole Miss quarterback Romaro Miller had this to say on Twitter:
State deserved that game.
Indeed the Bulldogs did. They were the emotionally invested team.
Mullen manufactured some quarterback drama during the week by ruling Dak Prescott out of the game. It didn’t fool Freeze and Ole Miss defensive coordinator Dave Wommack, who prepared for the probability of seeing Prescott. It did create sense of “us against the world” for his team and fan base, perhaps increasing the emotional readiness of both parties.
The Ole Miss defense did its part with a splendid performance against the MSU run game, holding the Bulldogs to 70 rushing yards before Prescott entered the game with 11 minutes, 15 seconds left.
Dak Prescott is a good player, not brilliant, but sometimes players just catch passes for the other guy. One reason MSU receivers made a few more plays in the fourth quarter is that they were given more opportunities.
State threw 20 passes with Prescott, only 18 with freshman Damien Williams in his three-plus quarters.
Williams was 8-for-18 passing. The last pass he threw was a downfield heave intercepted by Cody Prewitt, the only forced turnover for Ole Miss, which gave up four.
Prescott was 11-for-20 passing. Most were on the mark, some were not and a couple were dropped.
There was a level of trust from Mullen with Prescott that did not exist with Williams. Ole Miss did what it needed to do defensively against Williams and did not take advantage of that superior play, because the Rebels couldn’t run the ball.
A little more from the run game, and the MSU secondary would have loosened up. Maybe there would have been some feeding of Moncrief.
The run game obviously had Freeze’s attention as he put Robert Nkemdiche in the backfield. It was effective, but there’s only so much you can do with that or you risk negating his defensive production where he had three tackles and a sack.
Where the Rebels will go for a bowl game and who they will face remains to be seen. Hopefully for Ole Miss it will be an opponent that is not particularly physical with its defensive front seven.
The larger body of work says that Bo Wallace will bounce back. He’s a fighter, and he’s embarrassed now.
Wallace needs a little help from the run game to be as effective as he can be, and the Rebels have reverted to the struggles they had against Alabama and Auburn. They were a little better against Texas A&M, though they would have won that game had they better exploited a weak Aggies defense on the ground.
Ole Miss rushed for 133 yards against Texas A&M, then 176 against LSU the following week. The momentum that followed — Remember there was a hiccup against Arkansas which held the Rebels to 103 yards on 38 carries — now clearly appears to be a product of the opposition, Idaho and Troy.
For now Freeze can point to progress along the journey with a 7-5 regular season. There is the indignation, however, of two straight losses to wind things up, and if Ole Miss loses a bowl game the Rebels will be right where they were in 2012 at 7-6.
There had been further progress made before the injuries this season. Injuries don’t really address the offensive line, which needs to be further addressed in recruiting.
This is where it’s important to focus inwardly and not be drawn into the rivalry comparisons and rhetoric. It’s important to remember what Freeze inherited, the expectations that were exceeded in 2012 and the progress that took place before injuries set in this season.
There’s still a chance to finish plus-1 in the journey discussion, but it will take a more emotionally invested team than the one that showed up in Starkville.