Contributing Writer

If you watched the 1st half of the Ole Miss-Auburn game Saturday, you had little to no hope for the rest of the season. The Rebs looked out of touch again defensively and lost when it came to how to operate in the red zone on offense.

The Auburn Tigers ran the most basic offense known to mankind Saturday, gashing the Ole Miss defense with simple dive plays right at the heart of the Rebel defense. There was actually one play where an Auburn running back ran straight up the middle and ran right AT the Ole Miss linebackers, almost like he was begging them to tackle him. Instead, they greeted him in the end zone after he had already scored.

The effort was putrid at best defensively in the 1st half, to put it bluntly. Auburn scored on five straight possessions in the 1st half, and I am willing to bet they had more resistance in their practices last week than they did from the Rebel defense in the 1st half Saturday.

Offensively, the Rebs moved the ball up and down the field between the 20’s but couldn’t capitalize, and settled for field goal attempts when they should have scored touchdowns. Ole Miss took the opening possession and drove it right to the Auburn 26 before missing a field goal. Auburn then scores on their first possession of the game, and the Rebs are down a touchdown just like that.

Ole Miss came right back down the field but stalled at the 10-yd line and had to settle for a field goal. The remaining five possessions Ole Miss had the football ended miserably, thanks to head-scratching drops by the “NWO” wide receivers corps that’s supposed to be one of the elites of college football; as well as several overthrown passes on wide open routes from Patterson.

AJ BROWN – Photo by Petre Thomas, Ole Miss Athletics

If you watched the 2nd half, the Rebels seemed to wake up (not sure what took so long). The defense only allowed 9 points in the 2nd half and seemed to play with more urgency, fire, and purpose. You could say that Auburn was running a more vanilla version of their offense compared to the 1st half of play, but even so, the Rebels played sharper on defense in the 2nd half. Offensively, Ole Miss scored touchdowns on three of their five 2nd half possessions and finally began cashing in on some of the missed opportunities from the 1st half.

All in all, the 2nd half awakening COULD be a turning point for this team for the rest of the season in how hard both sides played in the until the final horn sounded. Also, the good news about the Ole Miss-Auburn game on Saturday is that the month-long road swing has now come to a close. The Rebels have not played at home since Sept. 9th, and it will be great to finally “Lock the Vaught” again on Saturday for a SEC game.

Although the game was in hand in the second half, don’t underestimate the effort the Rebels made in half number two. Luke said in his press conference Monday that he challenged the team and the sideline in the 2nd half and that the team “looked like it is supposed to look.” The team really seemed to “get it” at the half, and the kids responded. Shea Patterson obviously plays better when the tempo is fast, and slowing it down seems to handcuff his momentum when he has made a good play.

Offensively, the Rebels have to keep it fast, keep the tempo up. This particular group seems to lose the edge they have when they have to slow it down. I think we will see the tempo turned up a notch or two as the season progresses because when it is, the Rebel offense has the advantage.

Photo by Petre Thomas, Ole Miss Athletics

For the defense, it has to be satisfying to hold an explosive offense like Auburn’s to only nine points in the 2nd half. Now, granted, the Tigers were probably using a handful of plays from their playbook in an attempt to shorten the game and get out of there with an injury free SEC win. Even so, for this Ole Miss defense, you take any positives you can moving forward. They tackled better, looked to be in better position, and just the overall effort looked to be much better. They looked uninspired and not interested in the first half, and looked like they had a nice little chat with McGriff and staff at halftime. Hopefully, this Rebel defense can put together a complete game where the effort is there for both halves of the game.

All of us in the media and even the couch coaches have plenty to critique with this team, and I have been guilty of being a little harsh on the team and some of the coaching decisions at times. It is part of it I guess. Having said that; a home game Saturday comes at a pretty good time for the Rebels.

Think about not playing a home game for a solid month at any level of football. That is almost unheard of. I am willing to bet there’s never been a season where Alabama has had to play an entire month away from home (another discussion for another day).

To think the offseason noise and massive changes on the coaching staff combined with a month away from your home crowd does not take a toll on a young team is idiotic at best. These kids have already been battled-tested for the rest of the season with the first several weeks of 2017, and finally get to play in front of a friendly crowd at home against Vandy on Saturday. The Commodores will play Ole Miss like they do every year – like it is their Super Bowl. The Rebels will need their home crowd loud and supportive come Saturday to grab their first SEC win of the year. – RN

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