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Ole Miss’ talented offense shouldn’t be this bad against good defenses

The window to capitalize on the talents of A.J. Brown, Greg Little and DaMarkus Lodge is closing quickly.

It’s hard to fault A.J. Brown for his momentary outburst on Saturday afternoon. The star Ole Miss wideout had just toasted an Auburn DB on a slant route at the goal line, putting himself in position for an easy touchdown catch that would have cut the Tigers lead to five points midway through the third quarter. Instead, Rebels quarterback Jordan Ta’amu elected the run portion of the run-pass option, handing to halfback Scottie Phillips for no gain.

Ta’amu was sacked the next play and Ole Miss settled for a field goal. Auburn scored two touchdowns in its next seven offensive plays to put the game away.

So yea, we feel this, A.J.

It’s hard to assign blame for that play—Ta’amu had already read the weak-side defensive end and handed it off by the time Brown was making his cut. Perhaps Ta’amu should have seen something pre-snap. Perhaps offensive coordinator Phil Longo should have noticed that Brown broke free on the exact same call the play before.

The specifics of that particular play aren’t the point. Brown’s agitation mirrors a mounting frustration among Ole Miss fans that a deep and talented Rebel offense loaded with three probable first-round NFL Draft picks is failing to capitalize on a rapidly shrinking window of opportunity.

To be fair, there were only two probable first-rounders on the field against Auburn after wideout D.K. Metcalf’s season-ending neck injury against Arkansas. But he, along with Brown and star left tackle Greg Little, were playing when the Rebels’ offense sputtered in blowout losses to Alabama and LSU. As prolific as Longo’s offense has been for most of the season, it has looked completely lost against the SEC West’s best defenses.

In losses to Alabama, LSU and Auburn, all of which rank in the top 20 of defensive S&P+, the Rebels were outscored 138-39 and averaged just 4.8 yards per play.

2018 Ole Miss offensive production

Opponent Points/game* Yards/play Yards/rush Yards/pass
Opponent Points/game* Yards/play Yards/rush Yards/pass
vs. Bama, LSU, Auburn 13 4.8 3.6 5.9
vs. everyone else 49.4 9.5 6.5 12.4
*Excludes defensive and special teams touchdowns

Ole Miss was outscored 150-50 by that same trio in 2017. Prior to that, the last time the Rebels lost by at least 75 combined points to any three opponents was Houston Nutt’s final season.

But the offensive talent on this year’s team is far superior to anything Nutt could have dreamed of. Even without Metcalf, Ole Miss has one of the deepest receiving corps in the nation. The offensive line, which returned all five starters from 2017, is one of the most experienced and talented in school history. Ta’amu is a top-five quarterback in the SEC (he’s second in both yards per attempt and touchdowns) and running back Scottie Phillips is the only player in the conference averaging over six yards per carry on at least 80 attempts.

Put bluntly, this offense is far too talented to be struggling the way it is against good defenses.

The window for capitalizing is closing quickly. Brown, Metcalf and Little will be playing pro ball next year, as will senior receiver DaMarkus Lodge. At least two of the other O-line starters will be gone. Ta’amu will be graduated. The replacements, including star quarterback recruit Matt Corral, are talented but green. If the offense can’t produce against top defenses with its current crop of talent, its hard to believe they’ll improve after those guys leave.

So yes, Brown has every reason to be agitated. He certainly did his part against Auburn, racking up 10 grabs for 155 yards and the Rebels’ only touchdown. He had nine catches for 72 yards against LSU. He was held to a season-low 34 yards against Bama, but the Tide’s secondary has allowed more than 68 yards to a single receiver just twice all season (one of which is Metcalf).

Honestly, Brown’s holding it together better than the rest of us.