Sorry for my tardiness Cuppers, I had a tough day getting the interwebz to properly function, so I come to you a day late and a dollar short. Ole Miss defeated the Salukis 42-24 in a game that was a bit tighter in the second half than I would have liked. However, with the score at 35-24 in the fourth quarter, the Rebels closed the game out on a fourth quarter drive that capped off the scoring. My thoughts below the jump.
The Good: Jeff Scott is unbelievable. I know it was a lower tier opponent and all that, but his whopping 210 all-purpose-yards was impressive nonetheless. The Rebels looked good early, pouncing on SIU 28-3. We looked especially solid in the first quarter, and came out with drive and passion. I was especially pleased with Devin Thomas on that last drive. When the game was somewhat tight, Thomas took the game on his shoulders, rushing for most of his 42 yards on the final offensive drive, which he capped off with a solid touchdown run. Also, Ja-Mes Logan is looking more and more like an SEC receiver every day. He may not have one particular talent that jumps out at you, but he has a knack for making important catches, finding daylight, and holding onto the ball when he gets his hands on it.
I'm not going to go into the QB situation because that will be analyzed in the comment thread and in the upcoming week, but obviously I don't like this rotating shit. Find a guy and stick with him. "If you have two quarterbacks, you have no quarterbacks" was a phrase I heard from some suited talking head and it resonated with me. Let me know what y'all think about the QB situation, who should be playing, what should/shouldn't we be doing etc. Personally, I thought Zack Stoudt looked adequate and Randall Mackey didn't look turble, but neither impressed. I didn't see too much that hurt us from the QBs, but the biggest thing I could say is that we have been pretty bad on third down (3-9 against SIU). If our D isn't planning on keeping any offenses off the field, our offense will have to do their part to stay on the field.
Our defensive backs performed pretty well (considering the issues I'll address below). We limited a team that was throwing a lot to 197 yards passing and a less-than-50% completion rate. Were it not for the defense's 4 picks, two of those on our side of the field, I don't know if the Rebels even win this game. Considering how awful the Rebs were at creating turnovers last year, especially interceptions, it was good to see so many players going after the ball.
The Bad: We gave up 420 yards of offense to an FCS opponent. We were up 28-3 at one point and let the game get within 11 points. The reason I said our DBs performed well despite giving up almost 200 yards passing was that our front line was getting gashed for a lot of rushing yards and our safeties were essentially having to play run-first. Our defensive line, that is pock-marked with 4-star recruits and what we thought were "SEC" lineman, gave up 223 yards on the ground. I harped on this before and after the BYU game and before this game. If we're giving up 5+ yard runs on first down, our defense is going to spend a lot of time on the field. You can't expect to get many three-and-outs when teams are converting on 2nd and 3 or 3rd and 1 (SIU was also 3-3 on 4th down attempts). Our linebackers have to do a better job of finding the lane that the RB is going to and stuffing it. Saturday, I realized that we are indeed sacrificing run support by playing this 4-2-5 hybrid. All too often, we'd have six guys in the box while SIU had six on the line and a RB in the backfield. Our D was asking to get gashed again, especially against Tyrone Nix's kryptonite, the read-option.
The Ugly: Why can't we just close a game out in normal fashion? Up 35-10 with 10 minutes to go in the third, the Rebels could have buried the game on any subsequent drive by going up 42-10 (that's a psychologically defeating score if you have 10). However, by allowing SIU to hang around, I had to keep watching the game and crossing my fingers that we weren't about to let this slip away. I don't know what it is about late game situations-Ghost touched on it his TLV article this week, go read it-but we don't seem to have that killer instinct. LSU was up on Northwestern LA. 28-3 at one point...and won 49-3. That is the kind of result we should have against FCS opponents. Not because they aren't solid programs that are well coached--SIU was ranked in the top 20 of FCS squads and has the third most wins in their division over the last 6 or so years--but we should be curb-stomping these teams. There shouldn't be a need for me to watch in the second half when we get up 21-0 in the first quarter.