Many fans of the Ole Miss Rebels are probably asking that question I used for the title as the Rebels dropped to 1-2 on the season following a loss to the Vanderbilt Commodores, widely seen as the SEC's worst football team. Why did this team go from possible national championship contention in 2009 to as of right now the SEC's worst football team? This year's team on paper was going to at least have a decent offense with Masoli at the helm, and a good perhaps great defense. Plus, they scheduled winnable non-conference games, scheduled the three worst SEC East teams, and the hardest teams they face are coming from their own division.
I felt they could have been undefeated by the time they played Alabama on October 16th. Instead, they are 1-2 with one loss coming to FCS Jacksonville State Gamecocks. What are the reasons for Ole Miss's lackluster play, and why they are standing with this losing record?
1. Lack of Focus- This has got to be one of the team's biggest concerns right now. This problem showed in blowing three touchdown leads against the Gamecocks and the Tulane Green Wave. The Vanderbilt game was no different as the Rebels dropped two touchdown passes, missed a field goal, and lost a key fumble that set up Vanderbilt's last touchdown.
This problem starts with the coaching staff. Why as it seems did they not have the players ready to go for this game? Nutt should be well aware that you can not make crucial mistakes and not take advantage of opportunities in SEC play, or you will go winless. This game was very important for Ole Miss as a win would have given the Rebels precious momentum going into next week's game versus Fresno State and the following week versus Kentucky. Houston Nutt needs to address this issue this week because if this lack of focus continues Ole Miss might be sitting at home during the holidays.
2. Too Much Conservative play-calling: It seems like Ole Miss is playing not to lose instead of playing to win in the most important moments of the game. The offense has almost become different shades of the I-formation, and the Rebels have almost abandoned the Wild Rebel offense entirely. The result is the offense either gets shutdown when it matter most or makes a critical mistake when they don't need to. Houston Nutt has some talented receivers that he needs to take advantage of like Markeith Summers, Jesse Grandy, Ja-Mes Logan,among others. Why is he not using them, plus Jeremiah Masoli's ability to create plays out of nothing?
It is not very smart for a team to continue running the ball up the middle when the run lanes are being plugged up for most of the game. I understand trying to establish the run, but do not keep trying it when it isn't working.
3. Horrible Third-Down Conversion Rate- In this game, the Rebels managed to only convert 5 of 18 third-down opportunities. That is only a 28 percent conversion rate, and not what will win you games in the always- tough SEC.This is a by-product of the conservative play-calling, not calling the right plays on third down so the Rebels could get sustained drives that would keep Vandy's offense off the field. If this does not improve by the next game and here after, Ole Miss could find themselves out of a lot of games early.
4. Too Many Big Plays- Other than the lack of focus, this is my only complaint against the defense. The Rebel defense did not allow Vandy's offense to outgain their offense, but big plays are the reason Ole Miss registered a loss yesterday. They allowed an 80-yard touchdown run by Warren Norman on Vandy's first play from scrimmage!!! This came after Ole Miss tied the score at 14-14. They allowed a 35 yard touchdown run by Norman's backup Zac Stacy, and Masoli threw a pick-six to Eddie Foster.
It doesn't matter if you hold a quarterback to just 73 yards passing, if a team can get big plays then it doesn't matter what they have gained offensively.It did not matter that Ole Miss outgained Vandy 385-300. Vanderbilt got 3 of their 4 touchdowns from big plays, and that was enough to win the game.
This Ole Miss team has a lot of things to fix before they play Fresno State next Saturday night. If Ole Miss can play like a more disciplined football team, show a little imagination in offensive play-calling, be able to make third-down conversions, and cut down big plays they will beat Fresno State and maybe beat them convincingly. If not, the Vandy game may be a precursor to an awful season for the Ole Miss Rebels. My next article will be scouting the Fresno State Bulldogs and what Ole Miss has to do to beat them.
Until next time Rebel Nation,