First, don't kid yourself into thinking otherwise; Missouri has a great football team. James Franklin is a versatile quarterback, Maty Mauk is SEC-ready despite his youth, Missouri's skill players are all capable and their lines and big and powerful. I knew that Missouri would play well in the trenches, but there were moments where they absolutely stopped us dead cold. I think their game against the Aggies this week will be a close one, but they'll be favored to win with good reason.
Ole Miss is a good football team, but far from great. I really like this team, and think we have some very talented players. I also think the coaching staff - while young and far from perfect - does as good a job of getting their team ready for gameday as any coaching staff at Ole Miss in the past 20 years. That said, there are some significant deficiencies that we cannot yet overcome in year two of the Hugh Freeze era, namely in depth on the offensive and defensive fronts. The injury bug has hurt this team's push on both sides of the trench for most of the season. Just consider how much more adept this team would be at run blocking with Aaron Morris healthy at guard, a guy who many of us would have called our best offensive lineman in the preseason. And losing CJ Johnson, last year's sack leader and emotional mainstay up front on defense, has hurt this team's pass rush tremendously.
We also have some issues with consistency. For every few gutsy, "how'd-they-do-that" plays our quarterbacks and receivers pull of, they toss in an inexplicable drop or awful ball control. Or course I don't expect this team to be mistake free, but it's really surprising and, frankly, frustrating to see dropped passes and easily avoidable interceptions. Dr. Bo is, as all capable physicians should be, a reckless gunslinger, which is both exciting and excruciating to watch as a fan.
Still, I think Bo Wallace is fantastic. He'll be remembered as one of the Rebel greats for a long, long time in Oxford. I think the same can be said for guys like Donte Moncrief and Laquon Treadwell, guys who have been so consistent at times that, when they do make mistakes, we're left reacting to it probably more poorly than we should.
Ugh, I'm sorry. Just, forget me trying to explain the game as something more nuanced or subtle than it was. It's simple, really - Mizzou is talented, experienced, deep, and finally healthy. Ole Miss is also talented, but we're not that deep, we're young, and we're dealing with injuries. That's just the reality of our situation. Hugh Freeze likes to talk about the "journey" that is leading a football program, and we fans should keep that metaphor in mind. We have a goal, a place we want to be; we're simply not there yet. We're much farther along at this point than we thought we'd be, but we've still got a ways to go.
Okay, the game aside, here are some other observations from the weekend in Oxford:
- The crowd was dead. I get that it was cold, and the Thanksgiving break is upon us, and that the weather leading up to the weekend was wet and unpleasant, but a top-10 team was playing against our top-25 team and, even then, Vaught-Hemingway had some empty seats, particularly in the southwest corner of the end zone. Part of me thinks that a lot of Ole Miss fans didn't respect Mizzou before Saturday, hence tampering the excitement they probably felt for Texas A&M and LSU to come into town. Well, I hope that's changed.
- Missouri fans are alright, I guess. I mean, at least they're not State fans, right guys? #HATEWEEK
- Red Tent Rebellion went really well, and meeting you all was, as always, a real treat. It's wonderful to put real names to screen names, and I can't help but be blown away by how dynamic, interesting, and clever a group of people we have reading this here corner of the internet.
- Those of you who I didn't get to see this weekend, I'm truly sorry. I know I missed a lot of y'all because, frankly, there just aren't enough hours in the day. I'll see y'all at the bowl game or something, I promise.
- Tamale pie is the bomb. I don't know why I haven't been making them for a long time now.
- Big Bad Breakfast and Old Taylor are still very much worth the wait.
- I don't know how it's possible, but Oxford is even better a place to be than when I was in school. It's growing really quickly, and I hope the town is preparing to handle the strains of this growth, but much of the new developments I've noticed have been fantastic. New businesses, updated infrastructure, the O.U.T. public transportation system, the newly discovered emphasis on cultivating and celebrating local history, arts, and food? Really, I'd put Oxford up against any college town in the country as far as aesthetics, atmosphere, and amenities. We really are lucky to have such a great place to call our own - so let's take damn good care of it, alright?