Each week, The Rebel Walk’s Jeff Tetrick takes a look at the Ole Miss Postgame Points, examining the top five takeaways from the Rebels’ most recent football game. Here are the Postgame Points from the opening win over South Alabama.
1. A Promising Start
Ole Miss kicked off the 2017 football campaign with an impressive 47-27 win over South Alabama on Saturday night. The Rebels got the season off to a promising start in Matt Luke’s first game at the helm of the Ole Miss program. A positive beginning to the year was much-needed to build some momentum and to energize the fan base. The Rebels were able to accomplish both feats in the season opener.
Ole Miss turned in a solid performance, and there are many positives to build upon after this victory. Yet, there is a lot of room for improvement on both sides of the ball. The offense performed at a very high level in the passing game, while the running game has to get better as the season progresses and the competition gets tougher.
The Rebels netted 102 yards and averaged 3.5 yards per rush against the Jaguars. Consider that 41 rushing yards came on the final pair of drives to end the game, and it is easy to see that Ole Miss has to find a way to run the ball effectively in SEC play to win games and to allow Shea Patterson to thrive as a passer.
The defense has a way to go, but the effort was commendable on Saturday night. The Rebels missed too many tackles, gave up a lot of yards, and did not create a turnover. However, Ole Miss was breaking in several new players and gave up just 13 points in the three quarters that decided the outcome.
The most encouraging piece of improvement I saw from the defense was that they played faster than last year. Why is that important? It tells me that Wesley McGriff has simplified the defense to allow players to play on instinct. A year ago, the Rebels seemed to overthink and be confused in the defensive scheme. If McGriff lets his guys play fast and react instinctively, this unit will improve a lot as they get used to the new scheme.
2. Explosive Receiving Corps
The talented group of pass-catchers stood out in the season opener, with seven different Rebels hauling in a pass.
Ole Miss’ explosive receiving corps is the reason this team has a chance to win any game on the schedule. Fans knew this unit would be the strength of the team, and the wideouts delivered in a big way versus South Alabama.
A. J. Brown had a career-night with 8 catches, 2 touchdowns, and a school-record 233 receiving yards. D. K. Metcalf looked strong in his first game since early 2016 by grabbing 8 balls for 84 yards. DaMarkus Lodge made the most of his 5 receptions, taking 2 of them to the house for scores. Jordan Wilkins, Van Jefferson, Ty Quick, and D’Vaughn Pennamon contributed to the effort, too. As a unit, Rebel receivers accounted for 28 catches, 429 yards, and 4 touchdowns on the night.
3. A Poised Young Leader
Shea Patterson made a dazzling debut in the 2017 season opener. The sophomore quarterback has transformed into a poised young leader for Ole Miss. Patterson gave fans a glimpse of his potential last fall when pressed into action late in the season. On Saturday night, he showed that he is going to be one of the top quarterbacks in the SEC and a special player for Ole Miss these next 2 seasons.
Patterson connected on 28 of 35 pass attempts for a career-high 429 yards and 4 scores. When a quarterback completes 80 percent of his passes against any opponent, it is an indication of a special player.
Patterson took care of the football and made good decisions. Even when forced from the pocket, he kept his eyes downfield and found open receivers. Further, Patterson made plays with his legs when necessary. Keeping this talented star healthy is a must for the Rebels’ success this autumn.
4. Third-Down Conversions
I preach about the importance of third-down conversions every year. Successful conversions keep drives alive, give the potent offense more chances to score, and let the defense get much-needed rest on the sidelines.
The Ole Miss offense executed its playbook with precision on third-down attempts against South Alabama. The Rebels converted 6 of 10 attempts in the game. Drives where Ole Miss converted on third down resulted in 2 touchdowns and 2 field goals for 20 points, the exact margin of victory in this game. The Rebels had only one conversion on the ground. That has to improve going forward, but this is a good start.
Defensively, Ole Miss limited South Alabama to just 1 of 10 conversions on third down. It is worth noting that the Jaguars gained 23 of their 25 first downs on either first-down or second-down situations. Yet, it remains impressive that when the defense needed to get off the field on third-down plays, they were able to do so throughout the game.
5. Kickoff Returns
It is rare to see kickoff returns mentioned as a postgame point, but the 97-yard kickoff return touchdown by sophomore Jaylon Jones is worthy of a headline. Jones’ touchdown put the Rebels up 33-13 and shut the door on any hope the Jaguars had of a comeback. It is the first time the Rebels have returned a kickoff for a score since the 2012 Texas game.
For the game, Ole Miss returned 3 kickoffs for 164 yards. Sophomore D’Vaughn Pennamon had a nice 46-yard return in the fourth quarter that contributed to the Rebels averaging 54.7 yards-per-return against the Jaguars. Talented underclassmen that provide big plays on special teams can be difference-makers that give the Rebels an advantage over most opponents.
Ole Miss has a great opportunity to get reps for young players and build on the momentum established in this game when they play host to UT Martin next Saturday at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. The Rebels can work on areas that need improvement before they have to go on the road to face Cal the following weekend.
(Feature image credit: Dan Anderson, The Rebel Walk)