The defensive line is really coming along
When Ole Miss signed Robert Nkemdiche, fans were quick to talk about the potential offensive line the Rebels could field. With CJ Johnson and Isaac Gross returning as proven defensive linemen, a slew of other capable returnees, and the #1 recruit in the country, the line was destined for greatness. When the Vandy game ended without a sack, many hopes were dashed. In that game, however, the defensive line was asked to contain Austyn Carta-Samuels and make him win with his arm, which he almost did. Then SEMO ran the option, making the defensive line focus on assignment discipline and not on making big plays. Texas chose to get the ball away quickly as well on passing plays, yielding just one sack from the Rebel defense.
But don't let that concern you too much. Would more sacks be nice? Yes. However, the defensive line looked entirely different against Texas. They stunted. They disrupted. This is the defensive line many were hoping to see. When the Rebels face a team that doesn't immediately get the ball away, the sacks will come.
I was particularly intrigued when the defensive line stunted between Isaac Gross and CJ Johnson. For those of you who don't know what a stunt is, here's a good explanation.
When CJ Johnson and Isaac Gross ran a stunt, it was beautiful football. The reason it works so well for Gross is that when he goes outside of the guard, the guard has become so used to being beat off the line by Gross that he has to assume Gross has simply gotten past him again. He commits to blocking Gross in an effort to stop him from getting in the backfield. Gross runs directly into the tackle. CJ Johnson comes through where the guard should have stayed, and there's no one there to block him. This resulted in two of Johnson's three tackles for loss against Texas. He came through the line untouched. I expect to see that a lot more as the year progresse, particularly now that he and Gross both look healthy.
The receivers blocked better than I've ever seen
A lot of people have touched on this, but it is worth repeating. The wide receivers were phenoms in their blocking assignments. They didn't have to do anything fancy, as they were able to simply muscle their way forward. The defensive backs who tried to shed those blocks were helpless as Donte Moncrief, Laquon Treadwell, Ja-Mes Logan, and Evan Engram simply dominated that area of the game.
Jeff Scott deserves a good bit of credit for the game he played, but he generally only got what was blocked for him. In this situation, that says nothing negative about Scott. When the first 8-10 yards are well-blocked, there are only so many opportunities to make a guy miss. Scott was exellent on several runs that weren't sprung by the receivers, but most of his yardage came on sweeps where Texas just couldn't handle the physicality out wide.
The offensive line dominated outside of two drives in the second quarter
If I had been paying attention to the offensive line in the first quarter, I wouldn't have gotten so nervous in the second. They were having their way with Texas, and it became clear that Ole Miss' offense could pretty much do what they wanted to against the Longhorns. Second quarter playcalling and some missed blocking assignments got the Rebels in a tough situation, but they went back to muscling their way to an impressive offensive showing, and it was easy.
Justin Bell was fantastic when pulling. The line was relatively solid across the board. Laremy Tunsil drew his first collegiate start at left tackle and didn't disappoint. A huge percentage of Rebel runs went to his side, and Tunsil was often tasked with evading a defensive lineman and getting out to the second level to block a linebacker. He generally did it. No one expected him to be flawless (he wasn't), but his footwork and movement was great. I imagine Emmanuel McCray is likely to move inside when he gets healthy. I like McCray a lot, but this team can't afford to keep Tunsil off the field.
Ole Miss' defense was afraid of the big play in the first half. They weren't in the second half.
In the first half, the corners played off their receivers, giving them huge cushions. Because of this, Case McCoy looked wonderful, throwing quick screen after quick screen. It's clear that the coaches weren't sure what to expect from their secondary and didn't want another fiasco like they faced against Jordan Matthews. Jaxon Shipley and Mike Davis are both very good receivers, and the coaches probably weren't sure whether the secondary could answer. In the second half, the coaches had the corners play up on their receivers and take away the quick looks. It made a huge difference.
Mike Hilton was surprisingly good in his first start at corner. He contained David relatively well and played heady football. I like his promise at the position and am happy to have seen another corner emerge.
Ole Miss played insanely basic defense in the second half. It worked.
Seriously. I'm not totally sure why this is the case, but once the Ole Miss defense stopped trying to be too interesting, they dominated. This can't really be overstated. The defense essentially played base defense for the entire half and just took the "maybe our talent is just better than theirs" approach. Somehow, it was. It doesn't really make sense that Texas is where it is offensively, but I'm not complaining.
The Rebels regularly manned up across the board and gave safety help over the top. With the emergence of the defensive line's push, Texas had no answer.
This game... I hesitate to say.... could have been a much bigger defeat. The final score doesn't show just how much Ole Miss destroyed Texas. Cody Prewitt (who I like a lot) dropped two interceptions. The offense got cute in the second half when they didn't need to. The defense was constantly waiting on a big play from Texas that never came. Had they played to stop the short gains from the beginning, Texas wasn't going to move the ball well.