WANTED: A defense

The time to act is now.

Ole Miss got whipped in every phase of the game in a 62-7 loss to Alabama and if you watched then you know the final score would have been much worse if Nick Saban hadn’t taken his pitch fork out of the Rebels’ throats shortly after halftime.

Many people will talk about how good Alabama is, and they would be correct, but the Rebels were embarrassed. The offense was completely shut down save the very first play of the game, and the defense might as well have been holding directional signs to the endzone.

SCORE ANOTHER TOUCHDOWN THIS WAY —->

Matt Luke and Wesley McGriff are really fortunate that Saban isn’t the type to try to humiliate an opposing coach (as if 49 unanswered points in the first half isn’t humiliating enough). Truly, Alabama could have scored 100 if it had wanted to do so, and I almost wish that it had just so the changes that need to be made can get underway without having to hear another coach talk about execution or focus.

Kent State is next. Nobody likes midseason coaching changes, but if ever there was an appropriate time for a midseason switch it’s now. The defense is in a tailspin and McGriff does not have the answers. With nine games to play, Ole Miss owes it to the players to give them a chance to improve.

These next two weeks would be the perfect time to make the transition. Otherwise, prepare for more of the same. LSU will not show any mercy on September 29. I can promise you that.

I’ll be the first to admit that it may be too late to see any improvement this season, but it’s worth a shot. Not doing something would be the equivalent of giving up.

Getting plowed under by every single offense the rest of the season is going to hurt recruiting, attendance and wins. Matt Luke’s tenure may not recover from it. Something has to be done.

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The Matchup to Watch

If you’re looking for a reason to believe the Rebels have a chance against No. 1 Alabama tonight, it’s in the matchup between NWO and the Crimson Tide’s inexperienced defensive backfield.

How legends are born

The scene has been set for the matchup between Ole Miss and No. 1 Alabama this Saturday.

  • Ole Miss’ exciting offense vs Alabama’s ferocious defense.
  • The Crimson Tide’s prodigious Tua Tagovailoa against the Rebels’ extremely penetrable defense.
  • A program still on the back end of probation versus a program trying to win yet another national championship.

Last year, Alabama beat Ole Miss 66-3 as the Rebels reeled from the Hugh Freeze scandal, the black cloud of the NCAA sanctions to come and the discovery that Shea Patterson and his daddy weren’t necessarily a great fit for Phil Longo’s offense.

Cue the scene where Jordan Ta’amu takes the reigns for an injured Patterson in the second half against LSU.

With each game last season, Ta’amu gained more and more confidence driving the turbo-charged machine that is Phil Longo’s offense. Not just anyone can. Just ask Patterson.

A full spring and off-season later, it’s Ta’amu’s team now and he’s got the gas pressed all the way to floor taking Longo’s baby to its absolute limits, demonstrating a long-range accuracy to those multiple rangy, fast-moving sure-handed targets that many consider the best receivers in the country. It’s an offense that that should scare any defense–even Alabama’s.

And yet, Ole Miss doesn’t stand a chance. Or does it?

The game sets up perfectly for the creation of college football legendry.

  • A defense nobody is giving a chance, and an offense that must overcome it.
  • Nick Saban and his robotic national champion algorithm versus a former offensive line coach that wasn’t necessarily at the top of his athletic director’s head coach candidate list before Thanksgiving last year.
  • Bright lights. National television. A home crowd wearing red and blue.

These are the environments that create the opportunity for legends to be born.

And make no mistake, if Ole Miss does knock off Alabama, or even give it a scare, a few guys wearing red and blue will become fixtures in Ole Miss lore.

So on Saturday, I’m not asking for much.

I just want it to be legendary.

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The Good News and Bad News about the Ole Miss Rebels

First, the good news.

The Ole Miss offense is awesome.

Jordan Ta’amu looks like a dang PlayStation QB brought to life. All he does is throw bombs, and all NWO does is catch them. It’s a sight to behold really. I would tune in to watch these guys play all season long.

Thanks to the balance added by Scottie Phillips, this may be the best offense in the country before all is said and done.

Unfortunately, it has to be.

Because the defense is one of the worst in the country…again.

You read that graphic right.

After playing a mediocre Big 12 team and an FCS school, the Ole Miss defense is No. 123 in the country.

These guys are bad.

And you might as well buckle up because they probably aren’t going to get better. There’s not an easy fix to what we witnessed on Saturday.

For Ole Miss to win SEC games this season, the Rebels will have to score 50+ points per game, and let’s just be honest for a second, that’s unlikely against teams like Alabama, LSU and Auburn.

But it might be possible against Arkansas and Vanderbilt.

Who gets the blame for the defense?

Is it really a talent issue?

I find it incredibly difficult to believe that Ole Miss doesn’t have good enough talent to be a Top 50 or Top 60 defense. There is something else going on here, and I don’t know what it is, but I’m so tired of hearing about getting “eyes right” and “fitting gaps” and “communicating”.

Ole Miss wins big, but don’t get distracted by the score…the defense is as ugly as ever

That’s a long headline, but I had to give you the whole story. Scoring 76 points in a game is usually fun, but when your defense allows 41 points and 629 yards to an FCS team the red alert/danger lights start to flash.

Short of a miraculous turnaround by the defense, this is going to be a loooong season.

Don’t get me wrong, Jordan Ta’amu and NWO will still be worth the price of admission, but they will need to score 80 points a game for Ole Miss to beat SEC teams, and that’s just not likely.

Frankly, I’m tired of the excuses on defense, and I think most of you are, too.

This is year two of trying to “fit gaps” and “get the eyes right” (year three if you count Wommack’s last season) and it’s still not happening.

Ole Miss isn’t getting its money’s worth from defensive coordinator Wesley McGriff. One of the country’s highest paid coordinators is about to give us a second consecutive season of fielding one of the country’s worst defenses. If I pay top dollar for something I expect results. Surely to goodness Ross Bjork feels the same way.

Something has to give or we are about to watch Ole Miss get steamrolled by 8 straight SEC teams.

It’s a darn shame, too, because as bad as the defense is, the offense is the same amount of amazing. With just a regular ol’ below average defense, Ole Miss could score enough points to beat almost anybody.

But this defense is so far below average that it’s not even funny.

An FCS team scored 38 points on the Rebels in a single half. It’s punter forgot how to kick before he ever saw the field. The Salukis rushed for 241 yards and passed for 388 more.

That’s atrocious against a Power Five conference team, much less a school from the Missouri Valley Conference. This will go down as the best FCS offensive performance against an SEC team ever. That’s right, the Ole Miss defense is historically bad.

And on this night, Ole Miss was completely unprepared.

Here’s what McGriff was expecting in Saturday’s game:

Wrong.

While it may have appeared that way based on the 295 yards that Southern Illinois gained against Murray State a week ago, just a modicum of research on the Salukis would have shown McGriff that Southern Illinois had a good, experienced quarterback with a history of 300-yard games. I saw it myself in the Salukis pregame notes, and I even pondered it in my pregame blog.

The Ole Miss defense looked like a deer trapped in the headlights in the first half. They were completely unprepared for a passing offense, and that falls squarely on McGriff and the other coaches.

Fortunately for all of us, Southern Illinois ran out of gas in the 2nd half, and fortunately for us, Jordan Ta’amu looks like a video game quarterback out there.

But Ole Miss won’t escape SEC teams with a defense like that.

Get ready for Southern Illinois

You can also listen to my expectations for the Southern Illinois game in the podcast

Appalachian State beat Michigan that time. Ole Miss lost to Jacksonville State that other time.

There. I said it. The goal here is to win big and decisively, but nothing is guaranteed and anything can happen (and all that jazz).

Now that all the cliche’s are out of the way, here’s a Top 5 list of things I want to see when Ole Miss hosts Southern Illinois on Saturday:

  1. The Ole Miss defense completely smother the Southern Illinois offense. This may seem like a given to you, since the Salukis are a directional Illinois FCS opponent, but the Salukis rushed for 295 yards last weekend. They will try to run right at the Rebels, and while I have a good feeling that Ole Miss will stop them, 200 yards rushing by Southern Illinois would not be a good sign for what’s to come later this season against SEC competition. I want to see a complete shutdown of the Saluki running game.
  2. Scottie Phillips find a rhythm. We know Phillips is a playmaker after watching him run for 204 yards last week, but I’d like to see him get five or six yards a carry on a consistent basis instead of relying on the big play. I think Matt Luke wants to see the same thing. Then, after a good quarter or two of work, I want him to Phillips sit and get rested and healthy for Alabama.
  3. Isaiah Woullard, Tylan Knight and Armani Litton get carries. Phillips needs a reliable backup. As of right now we don’t know who that is. These inexperienced backs need some work. Running back is a dangerous position, and I don’t feel comfortable having just one.
  4. Jordan Ta’amu lead a few touchdown drives, and by that I mean DRIVES wherein the Rebels don’t score in 2 plays and sit. Ole Miss needs a little work with just staying on the field and getting first downs and scoring in the red zone. After that, I just want Ta’amu to stay healthy and sit. It would be fun to see what Matt Corral can do, too.
  5. NWO stay healthy. These guys have nothing to prove. Just please don’t get hurt. I want a big lead and a lot of Braylon Sanders, Elijah Moore, Miles Battle, etc. It would also be good to see the tight ends get a little more involved.
  6. Okay, I know this was supposed to be a Top 5 list, but it just occurred to me that the Rebels need to find a replacement for Jaylon Jones on kick returns and at corner, and to feel good about that situation really fast in light of, you know, Alabama coming to town next weekend.

Some Southern Illinois facts:

  • The Salukis are 1-0 after trashing Murray State 49-10 last week.
  • S. Illinois is 0-4 all-time against SEC opponents, including losses to Ole Miss in 1994 and 2011.
  • The starting QB does have experience, which makes me wonder if the Salukis will toss the ball around a little more than their 295 yards rushing against Murray State lets on. Sam Straub has five 300-yard passing games and has been a starter since 2016. Maybe Murray State was just a decoy.
  • D.J. Davis had 19 carries for 127 yards in the win over Murray State.

Do the Rebels stack up?

We know Ole Miss is a pretty good football team after watching the Rebels handle Texas Tech 47-27 on Saturday. But exactly how good are they?

I conducted a Twitter poll, and a number of those who responded expect wins over at least one or two SEC teams currently in the Top 25.

One college football writer thinks the Rebels belong in that mix, too.

As for me, I could see the Rebels knocking off any one of Auburn, LSU, Mississippi State or South Carolina, but the sample pool is still a little too small for me to think the Ole Miss defense will be able to stop an SEC opponent on a consistent basis. I’m not saying the Rebels can’t do it, I just need to see more.

Saturday’s win was a nice start, as the Rebels held Texas Tech to 164 yards rushing. This is a definite improvement over the 245 rushing yards per game that Ole Miss allowed last year, but the Red Raiders never fully committed to running the football (39 rushing attempts, 56 passing attempts) and still managed 4.2 yards per carry. That’s a little worrisome in light of the offensive lines and running backs to come.

All that said, I’m thankful to be here on the backside of Week 1, thinking Ole Miss has a chance against Top 25 competition. It means the Rebels won, and we’re 1-0, and that is so much more fun than being 0-1.

Since I work in an office full of Tennessee fans, I can personally attest to that.