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“We’ve got to fight,” Hugh Freeze said at his weekly news conference on Monday.
At 3-4 (1-3 SEC), the Rebels might be playing for pride now, and they’re going to need a heavy dose of it to stand up to the oncoming freight train that is Auburn running back Kamryn Pettway. The 6-foot, 240-pounder had 192 yards last week against Arkansas.
And that’s not good news for an Ole Miss defense that is the worst in the SEC at stopping the run.
Auburn is 1st in rushing offense (302.86 ypg). Ole Miss is last in rushing defense (allowing 226.9 ypg).
— OMRebelNation.com (@OMRebelNation) October 24, 2016
Offensive line hurting
Ole Miss may be without two starters along the offensive line on Saturday. Freeze said Rod Taylor (high ankle sprain) and Jordan Sims (ankle sprain) will both be considered questionable.
The snowball effect
For Freeze, the Ole Miss losses can be explained rather simply.
“We can’t afford to make some of the mistakes that we are making,” Freeze said. “Whether it’s defensively on a blown coverage, or whether it is a turnover because it’s a bad decision. We can’t afford to do those things, or a bad call by a coach.”
Freeze also pointed to the disappointment that festered after early season losses to Florida State and Alabama.
The tough September schedule could be at least one part of what’s beating Ole Miss right now.
Next year, Ole Miss opens against South Alabama, UT Martin and at Cal before a bye to get ready for Alabama. The young defense and offensive lines that the Rebels have this season could have used a couple of confidence builders like that to start this season. Instead, Ole Miss opened against a pair of top-5 teams in Florida State and Alabama, and the Ole Miss defense hasn’t recovered.
Your plans for Nov. 5
The SEC announced the start times for the first weekend in November, and you can go ahead and start that breakfast menu for the Georgia Southern game.
— SEC (@SEC) October 24, 2016
Too late to self-impose
If ever there was a good season for Ole Miss to accept a bowl ban, this would seem like the one.
The Rebels are currently projected by ESPN to go to either the Texas Bowl in Houston or the Liberty Bowl in Memphis. Neither sounds very exciting for a team that’s been to consecutive New Year’s Six bowls. Therefore, the hot topic of the moment is whether the Rebels should self-impose a bowl ban after the disappointing 3–4 start in hopes that the NCAA would be appeased and the cloud of the investigation would be lifted in time for National Signing Day.
Ole Miss should announce a bowl ban on Monday.
— Clay Travis (@ClayTravis) October 23, 2016
But the Rebels have waited too late for that, in my opinion. How genuine would a self-imposed bowl ban be at this point? Would the NCAA even consider a bowl ban a punishment now that the Rebels are candidates for such wonderful winter holiday destinations as Houston or Memphis, or possibly no bowl at all? If Ole Miss was going to self-impose a bowl ban, it probably should have done it earlier in the season.
Four-star linebacker Willie Gay added insult to injury for an Ole Miss coaching staff trying to stop the bleeding and desperate for help at linebacker.
— Willie3 (@WillieYRN) October 24, 2016
Gay is reportedly leaning toward Michigan now.
Gay is the latest in a string of high-profile linebackers who the Rebels have pursued only to be disappointed, and it’s a problem (see 2016 defense and 284 rushing yards for Leonard Fournette).
Elite high school linebackers don’t appear to like defensive coordinator Dave Wommack’s 4-2-5 scheme, which only employs two linebackers and a hybrid safety/linebacker at what would typically be the third linebacker position. In the eyes of a high school recruit, that’s just one less position available to play on the field.
If Freeze ultimately decides to go a different direction from Wommack, he would be wise to find a defensive coordinator that runs a more linebacker friendly 4-3-4 scheme with a history of recruiting and developing linebackers.
How to turn around a season
After a 1–2 start to the season, Auburn has turned its season around. There might be a lesson or two that Freeze could take from Auburn coach Gus Malzahn to get the Rebels back on track.
Auburn’s turnaround started after Malzahn relinquished play-calling to offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee. Since then the Tigers have won four straight, including a 56-3 demolition of Arkansas on Saturday.
Freeze is still heavily involved in the play-calling, especially when the Rebels are in tempo. While the play-calling has been on point in the first quarter, Ole Miss has struggled in the second half of games. It might be time for Freeze to think about letting that responsibility go.
That strategy has certainly worked for Malzahn.
The Ole Miss players could pick up a few pointers from Auburn, too. It’s about pride and shutting out the noise.
“Everybody in the locker room, even though we were 1-2, we all knew that we’re better than that and that we were going to get it right,” Auburn quarterback Sean White told ESPN. “We knew that we had a long season left, that we’d only played three games, and we knew that if we keep the faith in it, just keep going, we’ll turn it around.”
“As a team, we stayed together,” said running back Stanton Truitt. “We didn’t hear anything from the outside. We kept our heads down, stayed together and just thought about getting better each day, each week.”