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The Cage Dive: Ole Miss can’t get out of its own way

Oy Vey.

Mississippi v Missouri Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

Ole Miss football couldn’t surmount a third quarter deficit and lost 38-27 to Missouri on Saturday. The Rebels didn’t necessarily need a win against the Tigers, but the loss was destructive on the quest to 6-6 and bowl eligibility.

Here are the five major takeaways from a game that could have gone the other way:

The quarterback carousel continues to turn.

The biggest storyline revolved around the quarterback for a third consecutive week. Matt Corral got injured against California Berkeley, John Rhys Plumlee was electric in his absence, and how the position would be handled moving forward was under wraps.

In the first 25 minutes and 32 seconds, it was all the true freshman from Hattiesburg. The offense went three-and-out on its first possession, but took advantage of a fumble shortly after. Dancing around defenders to the edges, Plumlee did his thing and brought the Rebels to the red zone.

On third-and-13, he threw a great ball to Scottie Phillips for the first score of the game. Phillips ran a great wheel route to get open, but Plumlee put it where it needed to be.

Two drives later, he broke a 57-yard fake reverse down the sideline and seemingly put the Rebels up 13-3. However, Miles Battle was (dubiously) called for holding on a play where Plumlee had already blown by him and would not have been caught. He was gone.

That was it from Plumlee in the first half. Outside of a couple drive-extending scrambles, he struggled to move the ball on the Missouri defense and went 6-of-14 passing.

Alas, head coach Matt Luke turned to Matt Corral for the final drive of the first half. The California gunslinger answered the call and led the Rebels 74 yards through the air. The drive stalled at the goal line, but Corral did everything he could to push Snoop Conner into the end zone on fourth down. Where a lot of quarterbacks would stay out of the pile, especially in the first half, he showed grit.

Corral started the second half, but struggled his first two possessions. Then Plumlee came back in and threw a 21-yard touchdown to cap off a 75-yard drive.

For the final three drives, it was a tag-team between the two. Corral and Plumlee split time on each drive, with clear emphasis on each quarterback playing to his strength. Corral threw the ball more than he ran, while Plumlee yanged his ying. Plumlee led the team in rushing with 143 yards on 23 attempts, and Corral led the two with 133 yards on 10-of-16 passing.

It wasn’t the smoothest of systems, but they found a groove and put points on the board— mostly on the legs of Plumlee, who may quietly be the fastest player on the field. By a lot.

The quarterback situation is in constant motion. Round and round, and round it goes.

Sometimes Corral looked good, sometimes he looked bad.

Round and round, and round it goes.

Sometimes Plumlee looked good, sometimes he looked bad.

Round and round, and round it goes. Where it stops? Nobody knows. Grant Tisdale anyone?

No pressure makes diamonds.

Missouri quarterback Kelly Bryant suffered what appeared to be a season-ending injury against Troy in week five. Instead, he strapped his knee in a brace and shined against the Rebels. Throwing for 329 yards on 23 completions, the Clemson transfer quarterback had a field day with the Ole Miss secondary.

Coming into the week, it was no secret that the Rebel defensive backs had their struggles. Bryant was going to make throws and burn them deep. To counter that, the pass rush needed to make him uncomfortable and force bad throws. It did not.

Of the 22 players who saw defensive reps, only Sam Williams recorded a sack, Lakia Henry joined him in being the only players with a tackle for loss, and Donta Evans had the only quarterback hit. When Benito Jones did get in the backfield early in the second half, Bryant was able to escape the solo presence and move out to the edges, where his offensive line had created space. There was no pressure on Bryant at any point in the evening, and it allowed him to sit in the pocket and pick apart the downfield defense.

The run defense was apace with the pass rush, and couldn’t penetrate the Missouri front. A result, running back Larry Rountree sparkled with 126 yards on the ground.

Had the Ole Miss defense been able to get up field on the line of scrimmage, or make a tackle, this game may have played out differently. Instead, the Tigers moved the ball with ease en route to 38 points.

Elijah Moore is the truth.

Good things happen when the quarterbacks throw to a receiver on the Biletnikoff award watch list. Who woulda thunk?

After recording just seven total catches in the games against Alabama and Vanderbilt, Elijah Moore recorded eight catches for over 100 yards (his third 100+ yard game this season) against Missouri. Plumlee turned to Moore for consistent targets early, and both quarterbacks found him open in space late.

It is no secret that the sophomore receiver is an elite talent and should have the ball in his hands whenever possible. It was Plumlee who found him for the 28-yard score in the second half.

He is only getting better with every repetition, and can take a game and turn it on its head. With Corral getting back in the mix behind center, expect Moore to see an increased workload similar to the start of the year. If he doesn’t get additional touches, it’d be a crime.

Dagnabbit.

Plumlee broke a 57-yard touchdown run that was called back for holding. Conner came inches short of the end zone (he honestly may have scored) before the half. Missouri was backed up on its own goal line, the defense jumped offside and the drive resulted in points. Jacquez Jones and Tariqious Tisdale were ejected for targeting. The team committed seven penalties for 75 yards. Corral overthrew Moore on a touchdown that would have made it a one-score game late in the fourth quarter.

Who knows what would have happened, but the Rebels had chances to win the game.

Missed opportunities killed those chances.

Look good, feel good, play not so good.

Win or lose, these kits are seductive.

Mississippi v Missouri Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images