Ole Miss traveled to Columbia, Mo. for the first time since 2006, and fell to Missouri 38-27 on Saturday night. When push came to shove, the reverberating bass notes of the Cotton Eyed Joe were nearly as unrelenting as the insurmountable Missouri offense.
Unsure of the quarterback situation entering the weekend, it was John Rhys Plumlee who took the field for the Rebels’ opening drive. A quick three-and-out emphasized the impressive Tiger defense, which entered the game as the nation’s second-ranked total defense.
The momentum quickly changed when the Missouri punt-returner muffed the kick. Freshman A.J. Finley hopped on the loose ball, recovered his second special teams fumble of the season, and gave great field position to the Ole Miss offense.
The second possession was far more successful for Plumlee, who quickly carried the ball into the red zone. The run-first playmaker sang a different tune on third-and-13 and found Scottie Phillips on a brilliant wheel route for the first points of the game.
John Rhys Plumlee with a 21 yard TD to Scottie Phillips!!pic.twitter.com/Pd2ABblBIv— #BusinessIsSuspended (@FTBeard11) October 13, 2019
For the Tigers, quarterback Kelly Bryant took a low hit late in the game against Troy last week, and forced him to exit early. Despite the appearance of an injury that would require significant missed time, he suited up in a knee brace against the Rebels and went to work.
As the scouting report predicted, the key to beating Missouri would be stopping Bryant.
The Rebels did push back on Bryant’s initial advances and forced a red zone field goal. In fact, the Landshark defense kept the Tigers out of the end zone until Bryant diced up the secondary to begin the second quarter.
On the Missouri touchdown drive, Bryant completed four pass attempts for 44 yards and set up a 17-yard screen for six. He would hand the ball to running back Larry Rountree later in the half, and the Tigers rode the hot hand sixty yards to take a 12-7 lead on a field goal.
Plumlee had a blazing fast 57-yard touchdown run called back for an unnecessary and questionable holding call that would have put Ole Miss up 14-3, but he couldn’t quite find a spark otherwise.
As a result, with 4:38 remaining in the first half, Matt Corral led the offense on to the field and drove 74-yards to the goal line. On his first play from scrimmage since week four against California Berkeley, Corral found Dontario Drummond on a 12-yard buttonhook and reminded everyone that the Nasty Wideouts still exist.
As the air-first effort continued down the field, he hit Elijah Moore to set up a first-and-goal.
Matt Corral can still throw the ball hard. And he hasn't really missed any chemistry with Elijah Moore.— Nick Suss (@nicksuss) October 13, 2019
Snoop Conner bowled his way to the 1-yard-line, and Matt Luke faced a not-so-harrowing decision on fourth down. For probably the first time in his coaching tenure, the man who really really loves Ole Miss played without reservation and left the offense on the field.
As is tradition, disappointment ensued.
Conner was stopped (some part of the ball probably crossed the goal line at some point somewhere, but the video review was inconclusive) inside the 1-yard-line on the effort, and the Rebels went to the half down 12-7.
Missouri came out of the locker room and built a lead that all but put the game away. It was not a pretty showing from the Ole Miss defense, and the Rebels were down 35-14 after 45 minutes of play.
The Rebels ran a tag-team quarterback system in the fourth quarter, and it seemed to work... enough. Both Corral and Plumlee split time in each drive and the offense put up 143 yards and 13 points with both guys at the helm.
Plumlee led the scoring attack with a touchdown through the air, and followed it up with probably the world record, blazing fast, most speedy 40-yard dash ever known to man.
Ole Miss still hanging around! John Rhys Plumlee 40 yards to the house!!pic.twitter.com/EJgAorFhSG— #BusinessIsSuspended (@FTBeard11) October 13, 2019
Despite the late offensive rhythm, the lead was unconquerable and the comeback fell short.
Ole Miss is now 3-4, still needing wins against three of their next five opponents. With Texas A&M, Auburn and a top-five LSU on the horizon, Ole Miss will have to upset one of the three, as well as beat New Mexico State and Mississippi State.
There is a hill to climb, and questions to be answered, but there were moments against Missouri that showed it’s not impossible.
It’s not impossible.