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OXFORD, Miss. — To put it simply, following a 62-7 loss to Alabama last weekend, Ole Miss needs to get back on track with a strong performance against Kent State this Saturday.
Hopes were high for the Rebels after offensive outbursts in the first two games of the season. Although the defense was a bit questionable after a tough first half against Southern Illinois two weeks ago, the overall consensus seemed to be that Ole Miss had a shot against the Tide if they could match Alabama score for score.
For 11 seconds, it seemed like we might be in for a shootout in the Vaught. Unfortunately, that was not the case, as the Tide rolled after the Rebels’ 75-yard touchdown to Ole Miss wide receiver D.K. Metcalf. Ole Miss only gained 173 more yards from scrimmage that night. The Tide scored four TDs in the 1st quarter and never looked back on their way to the convincing win. Nick Saban’s bunch showed they are, in fact, the best team in the land.
Enough about that, though. Let’s turn our attention to what the Rebels need to do before the September 29 game against LSU.
This week, the Rebels face the Kent State Golden Flashes, a MAC team Ole Miss has never faced before. This game will complete a three-game home stand for the Rebels before they hit the road and head to Death Valley to face Ed Orgeron and the No. 6 LSU Tigers at 8:30 PM.
The Golden Flashes are 1-2 on the year, with a 54-14 Week-2 win over Howard and losses in Weeks 1 and 3 to Illinois and Penn State. Kent State is averaging 395 yards per game, with 193 on the ground and 202 through the air. The balanced attack makes them a threat with multiple players, although there is no clear star on this offense.
If the Rebels are to snag a Week 4 win before hitting the road, there are some crucial things that must happen.
Here are my keys to a win over the Golden Flashes:
The Ole Miss defense needs to reassert itself this Saturday. The unit is giving up an average of 43.3 points-per-game, which, even with all of the Rebels’ offensive weapons, is still tough to overcome. The Rebs are giving up 338 passing yards per game and 205 rushing–and have allowed the 9th-most points this year in the FBS and Power 5.
Now, it is worth noting that these stats are a little skewed because two of the first opponents this season include Alabama–where the defense played against probably one of the best offenses in college football history–and Texas Tech, where the Rebels faced one of the nation’s top offenses. The Red Raiders are No. 1 in the nation in total yards per game–621–and are averaging 55.7 points per game.
Kent State, on the other hand, is ranked 86th in the country in total offense. On Saturday, the Ole Miss defense needs to eliminate big plays and get off the field on third down. Ole Miss’ offense is good, but it cannot be forced to outscore every team the Rebels play this year. It’s just that simple.
The benefit of playing a team like Alabama so early in the season is coaches and players, alike, get to see their strengths and weaknesses and make adjustments moving forward. The Ole Miss offense has all the weapons to be one of the best in the nation every single week. However, if the Rebels are to keep putting up great numbers and points, they’ll have to figure out, at times, how to produce without a big play.
Yes, big plays are great. A deep ball to A.J. Brown or a long run by Scottie Phillips is fantastic. But, that can’t be the only way the Rebels move the ball and score. Ole Miss has only scored two TDs this season shorter than 25 yards. It’s not as exciting, but a 12-yard catch here or an 8-yard run there is crucial. If teams are only scared of the big play, they can put a clamp on the rest of the offense.
In my opinion, I would like to see some offensive diversity from the Rebels against Kent State. In addition to the big plays, I’m dying for the offense to grind out some drives and maintain possession a little longer.
That will also help the defense too, because so far this year, Ole Miss has been dominated in time of possession. If the Rebs can give the defense more rest each week, then their performance should improve, too.
In my eyes, that’s all the Rebels need to do to shut down the Golden Flashes and get a big win in the Vaught. If the defense can work out some kinks and show some improvement, that will do wonders for Ole Miss heading into a big game against LSU the following weekend. If Jordan Ta’amu isn’t forced to score a TD every time he steps on the field, that will help the Rebels tenfold.
On the other side of the ball, I believe Ole Miss needs to add some clock-eating drives to its repertoire. Big plays are great, but a 10-play drive that turns into a TD can be a gut-shot to the other team. Gaining first down after first down and keeping your own defense on the sideline is huge, because as we all know, the best defense is the one on the sideline–particularly in the SEC.
Kickoff is at 11 a.m. (CT) at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. You can catch the game on TV on SEC Network.
Updates will be available on The Rebel Walk’s Twitter as well (@TheRebelWalk)
Jake, a 2021 graduate of Ole Miss with a degree in Integrated Marketing and Communications, is from Nashville, TN. Along with his work at The Rebel Walk, Jake hosts “The Flagship Football Show” podcast. He’s also a huge fan of the Rebels, Titans, Predators, and Braves.