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The Cage Dive: Ole Miss sleepwalked through Southeastern Louisiana

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It will do.

NCAA Football: Southeastern Louisiana at Mississippi Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Ole Miss’ week three matchup against Southeastern Louisiana ended in a serviceable 11-point victory, putting them at 2-1 prior to welcoming in Pac-12’s California Golden Bears.

The Rebels opened the year with a pair of relevant football conference matchups in Memphis and Arkansas. Saturday, that was not the case.

SELA, out of the Southland Conference, was one of two opponents that could be all but penciled in as an Ole Miss victory before the year began.

With a win under their belts in week one, and a postponed game in week two, the Lions had two full weeks to prepare for the Rebels. Though the result did not swing in their favor, it was not for lack of trying, and the Lions put up a fight.

Here are the five major takeaways from a game that should not have been as close as it was:

Stick the stamp and lick the seal, this one was mailed in.

The Rebels have one primary goal this season— to make a bowl game. And to reach bowl eligibility, a team needs six wins. If you looked at the Ole Miss schedule prior to the season, six wins were hard to come by on paper, outside of New Mexico State and Southeastern.

Between this virtually guaranteed victory, a desolate Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, the Mississippi mugginess, and a false positive from a win a week ago, Ole Miss just didn’t get up. From the tunnel run-out on, it was apparent that the team was more-or-less just going through the motions. The sideline was indifferent, the energy was lacking, and the dreariness was echoed in the play.

In fairness, every Power 5 team gets one slack-off game per year. Maybe this was it?

Jerrion Ealy is good at football.

The highly-touted, two-sport, former five-star running back from Jackson Prep announced his presence in a big way. After just eight carries for nine yards and two 25-yard kick returns in the first two weeks, Ealy exploded for 273 all-purpose yards on Saturday.

Early in the second quarter, he took a first down carry for 52 yards before being chased out of bounds. On the next play, Ealy bolted up the gut for 30 yards and the touchdown, his first rushing touchdown as a Rebel.

While his solo scoring drive was impressive, the highlight of the evening came on a kickoff return in the first quarter. Ealy fielded the kick on the right side of the field, cut left, and went 94-yards for six. He outran everybody.

With his impressive night, Ealy set an Ole Miss single-game freshman record for all-purpose yards, passing a mark set by Dexter McCluster.

Welcome to Oxford, son. It’s nice to have you.

The secondary struggled.

Beginning the year with Memphis and Arkansas, Ole Miss allowed a total of 32 points to its opponents. On Saturday, Southeastern scored 29, which is not quite what the Landshark defense was looking for.

In their only game of 2019, the Lions threw for 238 yards and ran for 146 yards. Against the Rebels, it was a different story. Quarterback Chason Virgil completed over 65 percent of his passes for 309 yards, while the Lion backs ran for just 66 yards.

The numbers point out a glaring issue for the Rebels, and it was not the front seven. Throughout the entire game, the secondary could not find an answer for the deep ball, or for throws to the sideline. All credit to Virgil, who evaded some pressure and put the ball on the money, but it doesn’t change the fact that the Rebel defensive backs were exposed. Four Southeastern receivers had catches of 15 yards or more, and eight different receivers recorded a catch.

It seemed as though every time Virgil looked to the sideline, the Ole Miss defender was a step late, out of position, or just unable to make a play. Defensive coordinator Mike MacIntyre, who has been praised for his work with secondary defenders, will need to have a pow-wow with his guys on Monday. The good thing is, it’s nothing that can’t be fixed.

Despite the problems in coverage, the group still recorded a pair of picks, and linebacker Jon Haynes got one of his own.

OUT CAME THE SHARK-TOOTH NECKLACE!!

Along with Haynes’ interception, the linebackers led the way with three of the top-five leading tacklers. Among them was Jacquez Jones, who left this poor fella for dead.

It could have been a worse evening.

Rich Rod, whatcha doing?

Throughout all four quarters, there was a consistent theme to the offense:

From the first snap, it was clear that offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez was looking to establish a run game. Now, there’s nothing wrong with that, so long as it comes with caveats and unpredictability. The problem was, there was no creativity, and the option plays that are a staple in Rodriguez’s offense, were put on the back-burner. In their place, came frequent up-the-middle handoffs.

It was less concerning, as it was confusing. Where did Rich Rod go?

Early downs saw Matt Corral give the ball off to Scottie Phillips, while third down situations tried to convert through the air. Over, and over, and over, and over again.

On one drive late in the third quarter, Corral found three different receivers for 15+ yards and set up a 1st-and-goal at the seven-yard-line. Rodriguez called Snoop Conner’s number for the first attempt, and he gained two yards. Then, it was Phillips’ turn to punch it in, but he was stopped without a yard. On third down, Corral kept it for no gain. The Rebels settled for a field goal.

Why this was the goal line sequence is unsure, but it can’t (and won’t) continue.

Even with the questionable play-calling, Phillips eclipsed the 100-yard mark, Corral averaged eight yards-per-completion on 21 completions without an interception, Elijah Moore averaged more than 12 yards-per-catch, and 10 different receivers hit the stat-sheet.

40 points was expected, but there could have been more. Oh well.

It was a nice night in the end.

Ole Miss had not one, but two 69-yard drives.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯