Three Takeaways from the Rebels’ 35-27 win over Tulsa
OXFORD, Miss. — It wasn’t necessarily pretty, but Ole Miss moved to 4-0 after knocking off Tulsa at home Saturday. The Rebels have now concluded the 2022 non-conference slate and will prepare for the rigors of the SEC portion of the schedule.
There’s a lot to talk about after the 35-27 win over the Golden Hurricane, so let’s get to it.
Much like the first three weeks of the season, don’t jump to conclusions regarding the game Saturday because, frankly, Tulsa does not compare to the level of competition the Rebs will face the rest of the season which makes it hard to judge where the team actually stands.
Besides, as we all know, many teams around the country who were large favorites have found themselves in similar positions, where they either escaped with a narrow win — or outright lost. Fortunately, Ole Miss won and now sits at 4-0.
It is worth noting that Kentucky, the Rebels’ upcoming opponent, also had a scare Saturday, hanging on to beat Northern Illinois by just eight points at home — and Tulsa is a much better team than Northern Illinois.
Georgia only beat Kent State 39-22, and I don’t think anyone actually believes Georgia is only 17 points better than Kent State.
Tulsa is definitely the best team the Rebels have faced to this point in the season, and for a while Ole Miss handled them the way they should have. The best way I can describe the game is that it was just ‘weird.’
Tulsa quarterback Davis Brin started out the game hot, and while the Rebel defense struggled with him at first, they began to settle in and make his life much more difficult in the second quarter.
But about the time Ole Miss had some success defensively, Brin left the game with an injury and was replaced by Braylon Braxton — who brought an entirely different skill-set to the table that seemed to catch the Rebels off guard.
Brin is a pocket passer without a lot of mobility, and Ole Miss spent the week preparing for him. Braxton, however, is more of a scrambling type of quarterback, and a pretty good one.
He was slippery, and his entry into the game made Tulsa adjust its offensive game plan to fit his style. It just seemed as if Ole Miss was not quite prepared for that.
Had Brin stayed in the game, likely the result would have been different. The quarterback change altered the contest enough to help give Tulsa the success they enjoyed.
Give the Golden Hurricane credit as they refused to quit and made Ole Miss play them until the end.
The Rebels had a number of key players absent for this game, and in addition, Otis Reese was ejected for targeting. That hurt the defense as he was causing major problems for Tulsa before the penalty.
The atmosphere was sort of dead. I don’t blame anyone for the lack of attendance but, nonetheless, the empty seats and energy added to the weirdness of the game. The overall aura of the game, at least to me, was strange, and I think we should just be happy to have escaped with a win and go into SEC play 4-0.
Tackling was an issue
Tackling had been a strength of this defense in the last two games prior to Tulsa. Against the Golden Hurricane, however, the Rebels experienced a subpar day when it came to bringing down ball carriers, and the entrance of Braylon Braxton into the game allowed that aspect to be exposed throughout the second half.
According to PFF, Ole Miss finished with 11 missed tackles against Tulsa. The Rebs had four against Georgia Tech, nine vs. Central Arkansas and 15 against Troy.
All that being said, it could prove to be a good thing the defense had some struggles before one of the most important games of the season.
Ole Miss can now head into a week of practice having identified some clear issues to fix, and that’s probably going to be more productive than what the upcoming week would have been like had Ole Miss blown out yet another opponent.
The close game with the Golden Hurricane could be a wake-up call for this team to ignore all the good press they’ve been hearing about themselves. There’s a pretty good chance we will all look back at this game and see it as something Ole Miss needed to happen.
Offensive line needs improvement
Let’s wait and see what the offensive line does against a really good Kentucky defensive front before we criticize the unit too hard, but the o-line will need to play better than they have over the course of the first four weeks of the year if Ole Miss wants to make some noise in the league.
Against Tulsa, PFF rated the Rebels’ offensive line performance as the team’s worst of the season. In pass blocking, the unit finished with a 56.6 score, while run blocking was a 51.4.
In comparison, the O-line finished with a 77.1 rating for pass blocking against Georgia Tech and a 72.1 rating for run blocking against the Yellow Jackets. So that’s a significant drop from last weekend.
Granted, it is also fair to add that the unit had players switching from one spot on the line to another Saturday, as well as integrating some other players into the group. Center Caleb Warren was injured during the Tulsa game and Eli Acker moved over to his spot. That creates a domino-effect that can make it tough.
But regardless of who is on the offensive line and in what spot, the Rebels need success running the ball to get where they would like to be offensively this season. To compete against SEC defensive fronts, the Ole Miss big men up front will need to improve from Saturday’s game.
It’s also critical for the line to give sophomore quarterback Jaxson Dart time in the pocket. He’s still growing and learning the system, so there are going to naturally be some mistakes, especially if he’s flushed out of the pocket regularly. He’s already taking too many shots when he runs the ball, and he will be banged up in no time if he’s not protected.
In conclusion, there is little doubt Coach Kiffin and staff will have the players watching film this week and learning from their mistakes. It will, no doubt, motivate the team to improve as they begin league play against the No. 7 Kentucky Wildcats Saturday in the Vaught.
(Feature image credit: Josh McCoy, Ole Miss)
Dillon is from Yazoo City, Ms. He is a senior journalism major pursuing a career in sportswriting. He grew up an Ole Miss fan and has always followed Ole Miss sports as well as the Dallas Cowboys and Atlanta Braves. He played football and basketball in high school and enjoys spending time with friends and family.