Happy Monday, everybody, and welcome to the Ole Miss Wake-Up Call, your daily dose of Ole Miss sports every Monday through Friday.
The Ole Miss Rebels have bigger problems than just their 3-4 (1-3 SEC) record.
The Rebels are a team in danger of derailing for the first time in the Hugh Freeze era.
Two separate off-field disputes were caught by ESPN’s cameras during the 38-21 loss to LSU on Saturday night, and both signal that this team is growing increasingly frustrated after consecutive thumpings at the hands of SEC West foes.
In one incident, two Rebels defensive players were seen participating in a heated argument on the sideline, and late in the game linebacker Terry Caldwell was shown leaving the field early after causing a disturbance on the sideline. ESPN reported that coaches had sent Caldwell to the locker room.
That’s coming from a team that started the season at No. 11 in the AP Top 25 preseason poll and until just a couple weeks ago had College Football Playoff aspirations. Ole Miss will spend the rest of this season just fighting for bowl eligibility.
But first, the Rebels have to quit fighting each other.
Indeed, as LSU running back Leonard Fournette ran unchecked through the Ole Miss defense, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Houston Nutt’s 2011 squad and his helpless team’s 52-3 loss to the Tigers that November.
“This will test all of us,” a disappointed Freeze said Saturday in his postgame press conference. “I saw some things tonight that I wasn’t crazy about with certain kids. But we’re a family and we’ve got to fight.”
This team’s spirit hasn’t sunk to 2011 levels yet, but the season has taken a really negative turn, and it’s Freeze’s job to figure out how to get things going in the right direction again. Freeze now faces the monumental task of getting his team focused and on the same page in time for Saturday’s home game vs. Auburn. Otherwise this season could spiral out of control.
It’s a team-wide problem
You already know what Leonard Fournette did.
But while the spotlight was on the porous Ole Miss defense as Fournette ran for an absolutely ridiculous 284 yards on just 16 carries (17.8 yards per carry), the defensive problems were only magnified by offensive futility in the second half.
Ole Miss was held scoreless in the third and fourth quarters with drives ending as follows:
Do you remember when QB Chad Kelly and his vaunted receivers appeared to be unstoppable? That’s not the case anymore. Why? Where did the elite receivers go?
Ole Miss managed only 104 yards of offense in the second half against LSU.
Why can’t the Rebels move the football in the second half with the same aptitude and precision as displayed in the first 30 minutes?
These are questions that offensive coordinator Dan Werner and Freeze have to be asking themselves.
Kelly passed for just 209 yards against the Tigers, which isn’t near enough from an offense that struggles to run the football, and he also added 2 more interceptions to his season total. Kelly is regressing, and as he goes, so go the Rebels. Freeze and Werner have to figure out a way to keep Kelly’s production up in the second half of games or the losses are going to pile up.
The pressure is on Dave Wommack
As the Ole Miss defense continues to give up massive quantities of yards, the heat is turning up on defensive coordinator Dave Wommack, at least from the fans. Freeze was asked whether he thought Wommack could get the defense turned around in the post-game press conference.
“It’s been a battle,” Freeze told the Clarion Ledger. “Dave Wommack has been tremendous for me and I owe him a lot. We address staff issues every week, every single week and we’ll continue to do that. It’s a combination of things. One guy just does not all of a sudden become bad at what he does when he’s been good at it for a long time. We just got to continue to address the issues and man, keep fighting for the whole season.”
Note the last part of Freeze’s answer: “…the whole season.”
Don’t expect any changes at defensive coordinator any time soon.
A somber look ahead
The Auburn Tigers (5-2, 3-1 SEC) turned some heads with a 56-3 steamrolling of the Arkansas Razorbacks on Saturday night.
Auburn's 543 Rush yards are the most ever in an SEC conference regular season game and most in FBS this season for single game. pic.twitter.com/H2okDdgwB9
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) October 23, 2016
The Tigers have discovered their identity as a power-running football team, and that discovery couldn’t come at a worse time for Ole Miss, which surrendered 200 rushing yards to Arkansas and 311 to LSU.
The Rebels are so bad at stopping the run that Fournette had 171 yards on just six carries in the first half. They rank 113th out of 128 teams in FBS.
And though it may be difficult to fathom how the Ole Miss defense could get any worse against the run than that, things definitely could get worse against Auburn.
The Rebels are in serious danger of losing three in a row.
Fighting for bowl eligibility
At 3-4, the outlook for this season is getting darker by the game. Here are my updated predictions for the remainder of the season based on the Rebels’ performances to date:
Oct. 29 vs. Auburn: Loss
Nov. 5 vs. Georgia Southern: Win
Nov. 12 at Texas A&M: Loss
Nov. 19 at Vanderbilt: Win
Nov. 26 vs. Mississippi State: Win
Neither Vanderbilt nor Mississippi State are locks at this point, but the Rebels should be favored. If the season plays out this way, Ole Miss will be playing for bowl eligibility when it faces the Bulldogs. Nobody would have imagined that two weeks ago.
Out of the polls
To the surprise of no one, Ole Miss fell out of the AP Top 25 and the Amway Coaches Poll on Sunday.
Marquis Haynes continues to be one of the few bright spots for an otherwise struggling defense. This second quarter collision with LSU quarterback Danny Etling caused a fumble that gave the Rebels excellent field position at the Tigers’ 9-yard line, which Ole Miss was able to use to tie the score at 21-21 headed into halftime.
This could end up being the play of the game https://t.co/FenNbgggSF
— OMRebelNation.com (@OMRebelNation) October 23, 2016
It was not, however, the play of the game.
Mike Wallace enjoyed a solid performance against the New York Jets, catching 10 passes for 120 yards, including this beauty.
— NFL (@NFL) October 23, 2016
Eli Manning finished 24 of 37 for 196 yards as the New York Giants beat the L.A. Rams 17-10 in London.