REBEL NATION REWIND – The Cal Game

By Jason Scarborough
Contributing Writer

The Ole Miss Rebels suffered their first loss of the season Saturday night on the West Coast to a California Bears team that took every gift the Rebels were willing to give them.

Ole Miss fell to Cal 27-16 late Saturday night/early Sunday morning. The Rebels offense lost their super sophomore WR AJ Brown for the game. Sophomore starting center Sean Rawlings left with an ankle injury that he’ll now have surgery to repair. Junior defensive end Victor Evans has a strained MCL and may not be back for the Alabama game on the 30th, and even kicker Gary Wunderlich had to leave the game with an injury. To say they were dropping like flies out in Cali Saturday night is an understatement. But there’s more.

Dare I say it because for some reason, there’s a large contingent of Ole Miss fans thinking we’re still in the honeymoon stages of this new coaching staff. We’re not. Ole Miss plays in the toughest division and conference in the entire nation. So let me say it: Ole Miss was outcoached Saturday night. In every facet of the game. And if you watched the same game we all watched, it’s not that hard to agree with me. Granted, when you lose your starting center and best offensive weapon, it affects everything offensively from cadence, comfort, and execution. So, I get it to a degree why the offense struggled as it did. But to be THAT lost when those things happen and not have an answer for it after halftime, it does make one wonder what adjustments-if any-were made at the half.

Photo by Ezra Shaw – Getty Images

“3 THINGS”
FIRST THING
The Rebels eclipsed 400 yards of total offense, and scored 16 points in the 1st half thanks to two long TD catches by DK Metcalf and DaMarkus Lodge. But after halftime, it seemed as though the Rebels were gun shy to continue taking shots down the field. I don’t know if you noticed, but there was A LOT of play action in the 2nd half, which had me scratching my head.

When you finish the game with only 53 rushing yards (1.8 yards per carry Saturday night) that tells me you didn’t run the ball well. So, if you don’t run the ball well, seems to me that your opponent isn’t really going to bite on any type of play fake. So, explain to me WHY we saw a play action on every other play call? They KNOW you’re not going to beat them running the football. I don’t know, call it a crazy idea, but maybe spread the field and dare a Cal defense that’s never seen the likes of the “nWo” Group and take your chances.

Even minus Brown, you still have deep threats in Metcalf and Lodge (as proven in their 70+ catch and runs for TD’s in the game) as well as Jefferson, Pack, and heck even Tre Nixon.

The bottom line is this: Ole Miss coaches needs to make peace with the fact their personnel isn’t going to lend at ANY TIME this season to a balanced offensive attack. You have the best wide receiver corps in the nation (yes, I said it because it’s the truth) and you won’t give them a chance to win you games? That’s beyond insanity, and borderline silly. Yes, Shea Patterson at times looked lost and played his worst game probably in his entire life, and that will probably be much of the reasoning in why there weren’t more shots taken downfield in the 2nd half. But you have to take the frustrating with what makes Patterson so much fun to watch, and that is his skill to improvise and create. Instead of forcing him to make tight throws on button hooks and out routes to the sidelines, let’s put it in the air and take our chances on any defensive secondary in the land stopping the “nWo.” If you’re not gonna use them, then what are you doing on offense?

SECOND THING
Defensively, the Rebels played well enough to win. They were on the field for too much of the game and still played fairly well. They held the Cal Bears to 399 yards of total offense and did have two interceptions on the night. To go on the road in that environment with your body still trying to adjust to the time change in the land of safe spaces, the Rebel defense played well enough to win the game. They held the Bears to seven points in the 1st half of play and were covering well, flying to the ball, and get this: wrapping up on tackles. Senior linebacker DeMarquis Gates again led the team in tackles with 14 total tackles and junior free safety CJ Moore, as we referenced earlier, had two picks. So, on a night when you don’t allow a running back to go over the century mark in yards or a quarterback to hit 300 yards passing, you should win the game, right? The Rebel defense did their part Saturday night and showed marked improvement. Hopefully, that continues.LAST THING
It’s never fun to lose (Captain Obvious statement), but we all knew this Rebel team wasn’t going undefeated this season.

So, now what? For Matt Luke and his staff, its back to the drawing board and hopefully getting some guys healthy, working on getting the penalties cleaned up, and focusing on the next game –which happens to be against the Crimson Tide of Alabama.

The good news is the Rebels have this week off, so there is time to do all of those mentioned above. The bad news is, you still have to play Alabama, at their place, and at 8 pm on Sept. 30th.

The silver lining is two-fold. First, no one expects Ole Miss to beat Alabama this year. Even though the Rebels have proven it’s not a one-way street anymore in this series, and even though the coaches will carry that confidence into this game, there isn’t an “expert” out there that gives Ole Miss a chance to win.

The second tier of the silver lining is that could play right into the Rebels’ hands, because this year’s Tide isn’t as scary, especially that Crimson Tide defense. They aren’t nearly as rock solid as they’ve been and allowed more points against Colorado State AT HOME than many would’ve imagined. If anything in this off week, the Rebels put all of their energy into proving everyone wrong again vs. the Tide, because unfortunately for this Ole Miss football team, this entire season is about just that. – RN