The rebuilding process is underway under first-year head coach Hugh Freeze at the University of Mississippi. He has been able to really make some noticeable improvements in the program in a short amount of time.
Make no mistake, this game was a setback defensively, as the Rebels were thoroughly beaten, 66-31. There is no other way to describe Week 3 of the season. Texas came in with a point to prove to the SEC and to their own fans, who made a great effort to follow the team to Oxford, Mississippi and support their team.
While the Rebels have exceeded my expectations during the first two weeks of the season, you have to be prepared for some mistakes when the competition ratchets up against a Top 15 team. (Post game quotes from Hugh Freeze)
I will say I was not disappointed with Ole Miss offense. The unit as a whole faced a big-time front seven along the defensive front and after a shaky start held their own and responded time after time. Even though the contest was decided early on, (perhaps even before halftime) Bo Wallace and the offense never gave up.
The defensive side of the ball, however; has some major problems. And I’m not sure if Ole Miss has the personnel to rectify some of this issues Texas exposed.
Week 3’s grade: C-minus
The Rebels have a lot of deficiencies and the linebackers are going to be a weakness all year long against a power running team. Defensive coordinator Dave Wommack's first order of business was to defend the run against a Texas team with a strong tandem of running backs.
The idea is to stop the run and make an unproven sophomore QB in David Ash beat you with the pass. Obviously the Rebels were beaten on defense by both plans of attack by the Horns. The defensive front gave up 350 yards on the ground and Ash had no problem completing passes over the top, as he completed 19 of 23 attempts for 326 yards through the air.
The Rebels gave up an average of over 6 yards per carry. While the defensive front shares the blame here, the linebackers and secondary players are riding running backs to the ground and not pushing runners back on tackles.
Bo Wallace faced the best competition of the season so far, and it was apparent early that he was not quite ready. The Rebels tried to get some big plays early in the first few possessions and Bo held the ball too long and took some unnecessary sacks.
The Texas defensive ends are excellent and the Ole Miss offensive line has not seen anything like them in the first two weeks.
The good news is Bo Wallace stepped up his game by releasing the ball quicker and making better decisions as the game went on.
Even Barry Brunetti stepped his game up and in the face of intense competition (and a potential injury to Wallace) came off the bench and led the team down the field for a field goal.
Defensive Backs: D
Can we just say the Rebel cornerbacks had a bad day? I have never seen a group of players get more beaten down and frustrated, as a complete unit.
This game is a good reminder that this team had a serious lack of discipline last year, on the field and off. It is natural to revert back to that mindset once a few bad things occur.
It was difficult to watch these defensive backs, because everything they tried to do failed. David Ash is not a good QB, but Ole Miss made him look like Brett Favre. When Ash short-arms a pass, the defender would overrun the play. A jump ball situation occurs and the the defender falls down.
I can’t say how this unit is being coached, but it appears, based on what I saw, the defense is playing the player and not watching the ball. They had many opportunities for easy interceptions if they could just stay focused and play fundamentally sound.
Once the ball started bouncing in Texas’ direction, the cornerbacks panicked, started getting sloppy and the game snowballed. I would further describe the majority of David Ash’s passes as jump balls but they were absolutely effective against Ole Miss Saturday night.
Running Backs: B
I continue to be impressed with the production of the running backs this year. With a little room to run, Ole Miss has at least 4 very solid ball carriers (Scott, Mackey, Walton and Mathers). Power back Nick Parker is not seeing a lot of touches and Ole Miss does need a more forceful back, but so far you have to be happy with the multiple talents at this position.
Wide Receivers: B
Consider me sold on Donte Moncreif. The guy is an absolute beast and was only stopped by the out-of-bounds lines on Saturday night. Had Wallace and Moncreif started their connection earlier in the game, this could have been a much closer score.
The unit had a good night finishing with 229 total yards, with Moncreif accounting for 144 of that total with an average of 20 yards per catch.
I think the rest of the country is officially on notice that Moncreif is a serious talent that will have to be the focus of the defensive game plan.
The Big Picture
Ole Miss enjoyed a great “preseason” in the first two weeks as they shook off the negatives of the two-win season from a year ago.
A lot of momentum was built up by the Rebels headed into the Texas game as it was thought Ole Miss had a legitimate shot at winning this game.
The fact that they were exposed so badly on defense should be tempered with the fact that the team as a whole did not give up, and they would have a year ago.
Progress is being made and mistakes can be fixed. Ole Miss will learn a lot from this game.