Two weeks ago, the Rebels entered the half against #2 Alabama trailing 17-7, and seemed to still be in the game to as much of an extent as any team playing Alabama can be this season. Thirty football minutes later, the Rebs lost by a score of 52-7.
Last week, Ole Miss led #10 Arkansas by ten points at halftime, 7-17. In the second half, the Razorbacks came from behind and fought off a late Rebel comeback to win in Oxford by a 29-24 margin.
During yesterday's Rebel contest on the road against Auburn, Ole Miss was tied at 17 after two quarters. Auburn came out strong in the third quarter and easily put away the Rebels, 23-41.
What is it about this team that causes them to fall apart during the second half, especially the third quarter, of otherwise closely contested SEC matchups?
Against the seven FBS teams the Rebels have played thus far this season, Ole Miss is a paltry 1-6. The Rebels have been outscored 221-125 over those same seven games, meaning the defeats are to an average score of 32-18 (technically it's 17.9 to 31.6, but decimal points don't make it onto scoreboards). Looking at it from a big-picture, raw data type of angle, it's pretty clear that the Rebels are simply getting beat week-in and week-out. But, when looking at the breakdown of the Rebel performance by quarter, it is clear exactly when the Rebels are getting beat.
During the third quarter, Ole Miss is outscored by an average of ten points per game. Rebel opponents have scored 84 points total during these third quarters, whereas Ole Miss has only scored 14. That is bad, y'all. Flat-out bad.
For comparison, the Rebels are outscored on average by 2.1 points in the first quarter, 1.1 in the second, and a mere 0.4 in the fourth. Our first halves have been, on the whole, very close contests, and the Rebels seem to awaken during the fourth quarter from whatever it is that causes them to absolutely break down in the third.
This raises a lot of questions about these drastic third quarter slumps. What is it exactly that our coaches are doing - or not doing - during the half? What is it that our opposing coaches are doing? Why do we seem so absolutely awful during the first fifteen minutes of football which follow halftime? I doubt this is an easily answered question, as football is a complex game with innumerable factors playing into each win and loss. Things like schemes, playcalling, personnel matchups, depth, attitude, mental toughness, and a whole host of other vague intangibles are contributing factors to every game played, and Ole Miss can't seem to get any of them to coalesce during the second half of a football game.
Without diving further into this, I think it is safe to say that Ole Miss' third quarter woes are largely a symptom of the greater disease (yes, I feel all icky and Hogvillian to use such language) that is the overall lack of institutional control we have seen from our coaching staff. There are lots of reasons - 11 consecutive ones, to be precise - why Rebel fans should be unhappy with Houston Nutt, David Lee, Tyrone Nix and others, but the inability to field a competent SEC football team during the third quarter of a football game should be near the top of the list.