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The Cage Dive: Ole Miss took care of business against a bad team

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Nothing more than what was needed.

NCAA Football: New Mexico State at Mississippi Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

There was no doubt that Ole Miss would beat New Mexico State coming into the season, and there was no doubt at any point on Saturday.

The Aggies, who are now 0-9 are bad. The Rebels could have slept walked through the entire afternoon and come out on top. Between the gaping talent gap, and overall program prominence, it was a win before it began. The freshman run game shined, while the defense did more than enough to let the pine riders get some playing time at home late.

Ole Miss is now 4-6 and needs to beat both soon-to-be No. 1 LSU at home and Mississippi State in Starkville to reach bowl eligibility. For that to happen would take supernatural occurrence. But hey, someone has to win the lottery.

Here are the five major (read: minor) takeaways from a win over a far inferior opponent:

Bad teams are bad.

After Saturday, FBS independent New Mexico State remains winless at 0-9 on the year. At the 2:08 mark in the first half, the Aggies had missed 10 tackles. At the end of the game, they finished with less than 200 yards offense and three points. They’re really bad.

On the flipside, the Rebels took advantage of the Aggies inability and lack of size. Ole Miss finished with 41 points from 606 yards of total offense (447 of which came on the ground) and a 62 percent third down conversion rate. Everyone on both sides of the ball ate, and the defense recorded four sacks, five tackles for loss, and had 25 different tacklers. It was a good night.

If this performance came against... almost anyone else... it could be framed as a definitive win against an inferior opponent. That being said, New Mexico State is so bad, it can just be considered a fine win. 41 points isn’t all that much comparatively, but it was comfortable.

Against the three 2019 opponents with losing records, Ole Miss has been lights out. In those three games against Arkansas, Vanderbilt and New Mexico State, the offense has averaged 533 yards of total offense, 365 yards rushing and 34 points per game, while the defense has held those opponents to an average of 272 yards and 8.66 points per game.

The Rebels play hard-nosed, confident football against opponents they should beat.

Snoop Doggy Dogg.

With starting senior running back Scottie Phillips sitting out with an ankle injury, the ground game was to be handled by freshman Snoop Conner and Jerrion Ealy, alongside John Rhys Plumlee. Together the Rebels ran for 477 yards, which was the fifth most all-time, and most since 1962.

Plumlee led the charge with 177 yards rushing to break the freshman rushing yards record, and broke the freshman record for touchdowns in a season with his sixth and seventh on Saturday. One of three players averaging over 100 rushing yards per game in the SEC, his day brought him to 777 yards in seven games.

Ealy, who has shown his athleticism as a speedy direction-changer, made his mark with 5.1 yards per carry and a touchdown. Ironically, he bowled over a linebacker en route to the end zone, but mostly stayed true to his identity by making people miss in space.

Conner, the third member of a freshman trio, announced his presence and had himself a coming out party. The freshman from Hattiesburg averaged 8.4 yards per carry, and bulldozed his way up the middle for the first 100 yard game of his collegiate career.

Not only did he power his way between the tackles, midway through the first quarter, he showed some shiftiness for the first touchdown of the game. He appeared to be stopped in the backfield, reversed field out of danger, got a crack-back block from Plumlee, and outran the defense from thirty yards out.

Take a bow, Snoop. We see you.

Is it the end of Matty Ice as we know it?

The quarterback situation has been discussed at nauseam throughout the season, and there is no telling when the confusion will turn to clarity. Plumlee, who finished two yards short of the Ole Miss single game rushing record, played the vast majority of the game. He got the start, and took every snap through the first 43 minutes, while Matt Corral stayed ready on the sideline.

The two-quarterback system was nonexistent, and Plumlee was asked to throw the ball. He completed 11 of his 17 attempts for 124 yards, and after consistently being knocked for his inability to throw the ball downfield, showed promise on a few of his throws. He even thread a needle through three Aggie defenders to find Elijah Moore for a completion that easily could have been intercepted. However, outside of that instance, the velocity was slow off the hand, and the accuracy was “where it needed to be” not “on the mark,” per say.

With just over a minute left in the third quarter, Plumlee broke a nice run up the gut and cut back toward the sideline. After he was tackled, he came up gimpy and was quickly brought to the sideline. The run-first quarterback was seen getting taped up by the medical tent, while Corral entered in his absence for the final 16 minutes.

Corral primarily handed the ball off, and finished 2-for-2 passing with 3 yards rushing. He didn’t get a shot to strut his stuff, but didn’t completely blow it on limited snaps. The highlight of his night came on his first drive, and the first drive of the fourth quarter. Corral looked left, went through his progressions, and threw into a tight window for Jason Pellerin. Pellerin, a converted quarterback himself, made a grown-man play to set up first-and-goal from the 1.

The bottom line is this: the jury is not out on who is the better quarterback, but Corral has the better arm, and there is a case to be made for him to return to the starting role. Plumlee committed to Ole Miss understanding that Corral was the guy, but on the caveat that he would not be moved to another position and have a chance to compete in his own packages. Obviously, the season did not play out that way.

The question now is at what point is it time to go back to the more complete athlete, and use Plumlee as a Swiss-Army knife at quarterback, in the slot, at tailback, everywhere. The options are endless, but asking him to compete against the top SEC defenses just won’t work if he can’t sure up his passing.

After the Rebels’ fourth win on Saturday, both offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez and head coach Matt Luke praised both quarterbacks, and offered the idea that a two-quarterback system is very much in play going forward.

It is curious as to the amount of truth in those statements, and how much could be a tactic to keep Corral in Oxford.

The two quarterbacks have been nothing but supportive of one another, and Corral’s moral has not wavered on a public scale. That being said, there is no telling how he really feels, and being frustrated would be very reasonable. If the opportunity to compete as a starting quarterback is not an option at Ole Miss, and Plumlee continues to play as much as he did on Saturday, can you blame Corral for leaving?

Don’t be surprised, or hostile online, if he does choose to pursue what is best for him.

Luke Logan struggles.

Ole Miss special teams is the most fun group in Oxford. Mac Brown is absolutely crushing it, and the chemistry amongst the group is all you can ask for.

However, placekicker Luke Logan has struggled in 2019 and missed seven of his 18 attempts this season.

The junior from Hattiesburg has proven his ability to hit field goals on a consistent basis in seasons prior, and the position is particularly volatile across the NCAA and NFL this season. That is still no excuse for a 60 percent clip, and at least one miss in each game with two or more attempts.

This season has been unacceptable in a lot of regards, and field goal kicking is one of them. Logan has to get his leg right as points become a premium in the final two games, and the team begins to look to 2020.

Kicking aside, his love for his Big Uglies is special.

Logan is the guy this year and next, and though his struggles are not necessarily a glaring concern, they are something that cannot go unmentioned.

He will get it fixed. He has to.

Curtain call for No. 24.