A few thoughts from the early aftermath of the 23-10 victory over Ole Miss:
- After the thumping we received in Columbia, I imagine we will take a win any way we can get it at this point, but admittedly it was an ugly performance. Never underestimate the importance of getting a victory, even if it had the aesthetic value of an episode of Roseanne, and surely Ohio State and Nebraska would have given anything to have just won ugly yesterday. Nevertheless, if your standard is to play to a high level and play like a legitimate national championship contender, we fell far short of that standard last night.
- The defense was noticeably improved against Ole Miss looking at the raw statistics, holding the top scoring offense in the SEC to only 243 total yards of offense and 10 points. Good end result, if nothing else. Having said that, what does it really mean? This was the first semi-competent defense that Ole Miss has faced all season, and as Nick Saban is fond of saying, on a lot of plays we did not defend them but they simply did not make them. A drop on a wide open slant pass prevented a big touchdown pass on the opening drive of the game, and Jeremiah Masoli badly missed an easy touchdown pass in the flats, among other mistakes. We generally stopped Colonel Reb, but we were consistently assisted along the way by the opposition.
- Most frustrating of all on defense? In the second half we still could not get a stop on third and long. Six times in the second half Ole Miss converted a third down of six yards or longer, and three times they converted a third down of ten yards or longer. In effect, Ole Miss converted third and long situations at about a 75% clip in the second half. That extended the game and allowed Ole Miss to hang around far longer than they should have, and until our defense can find a way to consistently force stops on third and Northport, we're going to be ripe for the picking against opposing offenses.
- The play of the game? Undoubtedly the 85-yard touchdown to Trent Richardson on the screen pass. Houston Nutt and company will surely have to resist the great urge to jump out the window while watching that screen pass in film review. When you call a screen to the tailback on third and Oakman, as an offense you are just looking to avoid the big negative play and give your punter some more room. And when it goes for 80+ yards for a touchdown? That's a defensive breakdown the entire way, and one that changed the entire complexion of the game. That score extended the lead to 23-3, and Ole Miss went 71 yards for a touchdown on the following drive. Take away that screen to Richardson and we're probably in a 16-10 game late in the third quarter and in the middle of a meltdown. More than anything else, that single play broke the back of Ole Miss.
- Despite the big play to Richardson, all told the passing game was more of the same. We still had no vertical threat whatsoever -- McElroy finished something like 2-8 on throws of ten yards or longer -- and McElroy was sacked four times. That is to say nothing of the dropped pick-six by Joel Kight. If you factor out the screen to Richardson and add in the yards lost on the sacks, we had roughly 28 passing attempts that gained a combined 118 yards. And when you are averaging 4.2 yards per passing attempt, what more even needs to be said? For better or for worse, McElroy seems relatively secure in his starting job, but it's hard to imagine how the passing game could get much worse than this if A.J. McCarron went into the game.