Finally, after all of the heart-stopping action, the Ole Miss game is in the books, and we are now 5-2 on the season. And now that you're through ducking all of those bottles and cups, let's wrap up the Ole Miss game...
All in all, it wasn't a particularly bad day for the offense, but it wasn't a particularly good day either for the ticket-sellers. The final number -- 27 points -- looks pretty good, but of course you have to go much deeper than that to truly evaluate their performance as a unit.
Now, if you look closer at things, our performance this week against Ole Miss was in fact very, very similar to our performance last week against Houston. Early on in the game, the offense played very well, racking up over 200 yards in offense on the way to scoring 17 points on our first three possessions of the game. The fourth possession went well too, but it ultimately turned fruitless when Leigh Tiffin missed a short field goal to end the half. In the second half, though, much like in the final three quarters last week against Houston, essentially fell apart. The first five possessions of the second half ended as follows: fumble, interception, punt, punt, punt. And that about sums it up.
Of course I know that some of you are probably saying right now, "Well yes they struggled a bit for a little while, but they did rally us to ten fourth quarter points to win." In reality, though, that's not quite right. We, i.e. not just the offense, scored ten points in the final quarter to rally from behind, but those points came as the result of a long punt return by Javier Arenas and a great interception by Zeke Knight. The offense took advantage of the help from the defense and the punt return unit to put those ten points on the board, but it wasn't they did anything great. All told, on those two scoring drives, the offense went eight plays for nineteen yards. Again -- and I hope you understand I'm not trying to criticize the offense here -- the credit for the fourth quarter rally should go to the defense and the punt return unit, and not to the offense.
Moreover, the offense really left a lot of points on the table in this one. It started early, as we marched down the field and had it 1st and goal just outside the 4 yard line. At that point, we could have likely pounded the ball in-between the tackles for a touchdown, but as we line up for the first down play Andre Smith flinches, and suddenly it's first and goal near the ten, and it's a completely different strategy. We settle for a field goal instead of getting seven. Later in the third quarter, Glen Coffee picks up a first down inside the Ole Miss five, but fumbles in the process. We again leave seven points on the board. Moving on to the fourth quarter, after Zeke Knight's interception we have it first and goal at the Ole Miss five, and we pick up negative two yards in four plays, so we have to settle for the field goal. The following possession after the second big return from Arenas (plus the additional fifteen yards for the Ole Miss personal foul penalty), we have it first down in Ole Miss territory with the opportunity to win the game for good. Unfortunately, the offense craps out again and we have to settle for a field goal try, which wouldn't have done us very much good in that situation, so we go for the fake and fail on that front.
All told, as best as I can tell, we left somewhere about 18-22 points on the table, and that's not counting the missed field goal to end the first half, which of course is counted as a special teams breakdown. If you recall the Ole Miss preview, I wrote that theoretically speaking we should cruise to a relatively easy win on the heels of our offense tearing up their defense, but that in reality the game was likely to be much closer than it should be due to struggles from our offense. And what you know? I'm not trying to toot my own horn here, but that's exactly how it worked out. We had several opportunities to put this game away, but due to a few various bouts with incompetence, we couldn't get it done.
John Parker Wilson, though, actually played pretty well. In that sense, he very much looked like the "old" Wilson, and that's a nice foundation to hopefully build from.
Unfortunately, the offense was still pretty dink and dunk. Even with D.J. Hall -- who basically rules -- we still have no real big play capability. Hall can do it, but he is constantly facing double coverage, and that generally takes away his ability to do so. As a result, the passing game struggles to generate very many big plays, and the running game simply cannot do it either. We have some good backs, but none of them are game-breakers, and it shows. In the last three games our tailbacks have gotten 89 carries, but only twice did they go for more than 20 yards (both of which were 22 yard runs).
All in all, it wasn't that bad of a day for the offense, but it wasn't very good either. We were facing what is easily the worst defense in the SEC, and mid-way through the fourth quarter -- i.e. before the defense and special teams essentially gave us ten points -- we had a grand total of 17 points on the scoreboard.
Bottom line, we'll still got a very long way to go on offense.
The guys on defense, however, are another story.
The truth is, Ole Miss has a pretty good offense, as I noted in the preview. They are generally pretty efficient in the passing game, they can run the ball well, and they can stretch the field vertically quite well. And, well, that's basically what they did against us on Saturday.
As a whole, we really struggled to stop the Rebels all day, until finally we got it together in the fourth quarter. And that should come as no surprise.
The harsh truth of the matter is that we have effectively no depth, and honestly we have very little talent on the defensive side of the ball. You have to love how hard our defensive players are playing, but truthfully we have several guys getting a lot of playing time that likely wouldn't be playing on a lot of SEC teams. Moreover, that problem is compounded by the fact that some of the players that really show promise -- guys like Rolando McClain, Kareem Jackson, etc. -- are essentially wholly inexperienced. And as a result of all of that, teams that can do it all -- i.e. throw it efficiently, run it effectively, and stretch the field vertically -- are going to give us a lot of problems, and Ole Miss did just that.
Unfortunately, there's probably not a whole lot that we can about that in the short-term. In the long-term, with a major upgrade in both overall quantity and quality, we'll be great on defense with the Nicktator at the helm, but at the moment, we're just going to have to do the best we can with what we have. And at times, that's going to involve giving up a pretty high number of points and a good deal of yards. That's essentially what happened to us with Ole Miss this past Saturday.
It was certainly frustrating watching the Rebels march up and down the field, but as I said earlier, we have almost no depth, not a whole lot of talent, and a lot of inexperienced players. Until those three things change -- and there's really nothing we can do to change them in the interim -- we're going to give up a good number of points to potent offenses. You just aren't going to shut good opposing offenses down when you have all of that stacked against you.
All that said, though, you have to give the defense a lot of credit. Trailing by seven late, they really stepped it up and shut down Johnny Reb. Without that, we would be sitting at 4-3.
All in All
Putting it all together, we have to be happy with a win. I said in the preview that this game could go either way, and that we should be happy with a win, regardless of the circumstances in which it occurred. And it was a heart-stopping game, and I knew we were beat, but we pulled through. All should be pleased with the W.
The offense is a concern still, obviously. They struggled to score points -- again -- this time against the worst defense in the SEC. The defense had a long day for the most part, but in reality it was just the harsh uncovering of the shortcomings that we all knew were there all along. Those guys played hard and played a major role, combined with the punt return unit, in getting us the victory.
For the future, we're 5-2 and tied for first in the SEC West. That said, it's obvious that we still have a long way to go, and we've got a lot of improvement to make if we plan on upsetting any or all of Tennessee, LSU, and Auburn.
All in all, you take the win, you're excited that we're 5-2, but realize that we have a lot of improvement to make in a relatively short period of time if we are going to get to where we want to go.