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No, Ole Miss shouldn’t panic over its 1-2 start, but it needs to learn from it

We predicted the Rebs starting 1-2, but there’s still work to be done.

NCAA Football: Alabama at Mississippi Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

Whatever the gamut of emotions that ran through Oxford Saturday against Alabama, Ole Miss fans should know that a 48-43 loss to RollTide isn’t cause for immediate and irreversible self-immolation. This is still a potent football team. Red Cup’s staff even projected the Rebs to go 1-2 through this stretch of the season, where the team is currently averaging 38.3 points per game.

Jason Kirk’s way-too-early bowl projections still have Ole Miss in the Sugar Bowl against Baylor. 10-2 or 9-3 is still not out of the question in 2016, but some serious game-plan concerns have been exposed in the early going.

Two second-half collapses against major schedule opponents with 20+ point leads in hand are inexcusable and awful. If your foot is on Nick Saban’s (or Jimbo Fisher’s) neck, you keep it there firmly and violently and without question. Steve Spurrier knew this, as does Urban Meyer and Bobby Petrino.

With the depleted secondary and sketchy offensive line available to Ole Miss at the moment, dump points on anyone who crosses your path and hope that 60 minutes expires with the score in your favor. The defense is good, but they need offensive drives to last. Eat yards. Eat touchdowns. Screw sensibilities and conventional game management. Sitting on leads is right out this season; going full throttle with leads is the path to conference wins.

Conservatism in play calling — notably when Ole Miss is leading — needs to be scrapped until the defense proves capable of staving off comebacks. Third and long against Dave Wommack’s shop this year is often a convertible down. The secondary’s ability to contain top-blowing plays remains questionable. The defensive line is very, very good, but only when Bama and FSU aren’t ripping off eight minute drives in between Rebel three-and-outs.

1-2 after Week 3 wasn’t unexpected, though.

It certainly stings like all hell to lose two games after leading by 20 or more in the second quarter. That offense looks good. But let’s peruse the rest of the schedule. The remaining big road games are at Arkansas, LSU and Texas A&M. The latter two of that group — especially LSU — can’t score with anywhere near the electricity that Chad Kelly’s offense has shown to date this season.

Arkansas actually has legit contender moxie thus far, so that trip to Fayetteville will be an important test. Still, the Rebs are aided by their bye week coming in the lead up to BERT, who hosts none other than Alabama the week prior.

As for the rest of the schedule? Georgia has underperformed two weeks in a row. Hold your breath against Memphis, as always, but at least that game’s in Oxford this year. Auburn? Trash. Vanderbilt? Also bad. Mississippi State? Please. The remainder of the Rebels’ schedule involves a high winnability factor in every meeting — save for Arkansas — and two big-time failures on the national stage teach you a lot about yourselves.

And anyway, no less a team than Oklahoma is also 1-2 right now. The Sooners’ early schedule cachet carries just as much national currency as Ole Miss’ does, and pundits seem to have an idiopathic disorder for Oklahoma apologias. It’ll be unsurprising if Ole Miss drops out of the AP Top 25 this week (the Rebs dropped to No. 22 in the Coaches Poll), but their remaining schedule holds a clear path to regaining a national ranking and New Year’s Six bowl, even if there’s no chance to play in Atlanta.