The 2017 Ole Miss Rebels kicked off their season with a 47-27 win against the South Alabama Jaguars. This was also Matt Luke‘s debut as Ole Miss’s interim head coach. With new coaches and contributors throughout the Ole Miss program, this game would serve as a measuring stick to how the Rebels would look in 2017.
The Ole Miss offense was never in question heading into this season. The Rebels proved that Saturday afternoon. Quarterback Shea Patterson hit wide receiver AJ Brown in the endzone on the first drive of the day. After a slow second quarter, the score was 13-10 heading into halftime. The Rebels exploded in the third quarter scoring 27 points. Ole Miss only scored 44 points in the third quarter through 12 games last season. While Patterson was sharp, the real super star was Brown. The sophomore receiver caught eight passes for 233 yards (a school record) and hauled in two scores. Receivers DK Metcalf and Demarkus Lodge combined for 13 catches, 135 yards, with Lodge hauling in two scores. Patterson was an efficient 28-35 for 429 yards and four touchdown passes.
The offensive line looked very average considering the expectations they entered the season with. Ole Miss ran the ball 29 times and only averaged 3.5 yards per carry. That has to improve if the Rebels are to compete with SEC opponents. The leading rusher for the Rebels was sophomore D’Vaughn Pennamon (seven attempts for 34 yards).
The first thing that jumped out when watching the Ole Miss defense was how much more aggressive they were than in years past. The Rebels blitzed early and often. While the playcalling was very different than it was the past five years, the defense was still very sloppy at times. Missed tackles were a huge problem for the Rebels. South Alabama ran a 19-play drive that took up more than eight minutes of the game clock. Several times during that drive, Ole Miss defenders would be in the right place at the right time but simply would not make the tackle. Because of these issues, the Jaguars rushed for 170 yards and averaged over five yards per carry (not counting sacks).
The pass defense was somewhat of a bright spot for the Rebels. While South Alabama’s stats in the passing game aren’t bad at all, most of their yards came late in the game when the Rebels had a big lead and had subbed in second and third string players.
Some of Ole Miss’s key contributors defensively were CJ Moore (eight tackles), Josiah Coatney (two TFL’s), and Zedrick Woods (three tackles and two passes defended).
Another bright spot for Ole Miss was third down defense. South Alabama finished 1-10 on third downs which is about as good as it gets for a defense.
This week in practice, the Rebels will undoubtably put an emphasis on form tackling and forcing turnovers.
Ole Miss’s special team units did exactly the opposite of what you would expect. The Rebels had a couple of explosive plays in the return game but struggled with place kicking.
Jaylon Jones ran a kickoff back 97 yards for a touchdown. This was the first time Ole Miss scored on a kickoff since 2012. D’Vaughn Pennamon also had a 46-yard return on a kickoff.
Gary Wunderlich, a Lou Groza Award candidate, wasn’t his usual self Saturday. He missed a 40-yard kick (well within his range) and also missed an extra point. Expect to him to get these issues cleaned up and perform like the elite kicker he is the rest of this season.
The Rebels started out very fast with a three-and-out on defense and then reached the endzone for their first offensive possession. The Ole Miss offense lost its rhythm, however, in the second quarter after South Alabama had a long, time-consuming drive wrought with missed tackles. The Rebels came out in the second half much more efficient and polished and created explosive plays that eventually gave them a very comfortable lead. This allowed plenty of second and third team defensive players who desperately need to improve to see the field. Ole Miss should be able to work on some of their problems this week and will have what will most likely be a tune-up game against UT Martin this weekend.