You won’t win games against Southeastern Conference competition if that’s all the production you’ve got.
So Ole Miss fell in both games, to powerhouse and SEC contender Missouri and Thanksgiving night to a team battling to save its season in Mississippi State.
The Rebels’ offensive touchdown production this year against the Bulldogs was precisely the same as it was two seasons ago in a 31-3 loss on this same Scott Field to MSU. Because their one touchdown this year against State came on special teams.
“We had our chances to put it away, or put it to a two-score game several times,” said Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze. “And we did not get it done.”
Freeze said the offense hadn’t done well in the running game in a while and at times all season, depending on the competition.
“We’ve struggled to run it against really good fronts,” he said. “Losing Laremy (Tunsil) and losing Aaron Morris, that’s part of it that hurt us. Losing Evan Engram hurt us some. But (MSU) didn’t do anything real special. They stayed in a two-high shell where we couldn’t throw it down the field. They were able to stop the run with a six-man box most of the game.”
Quarterback Bo Wallace was 26-of-40 with three interceptions and a fumble. His 182 yards passing were fruitless in the scoring department.
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“I certainly never want to talk negatively about any of our kids, but everybody watched the game and knows he didn’t have his best game," Freeze said of Wallace. "In this league if you turn it over the number of times we did, it’s going to be difficult to win games.”
Wallace was about to put the ball into the end zone on a rush in overtime to potentially tie the game. But the ball was stripped and he fumbled. It was recovered by MSU, and the game was over.
“I couldn’t see it, but the coaches up top were screaming like he was scoring,” Freeze said. “I’m not sure what happened.”
Wallace said he was headed for the end zone and then he lost the football. Actually it appeared to be stripped by a Bulldog defender.
“It’s a blur,” Wallace said. “I kind of relaxed I guess. I don’t know. It opened up and I saw it and made a cut. I thought I was in there. It’s the craziest thing that’s ever happened to me. It’s a feeling I’ve never felt before.”
Freeze said Wallace’s interceptions were avoidable.
“Bad decisions totally,” Freeze said.
“A tipped ball, that’s going to happen,” Wallace said. “A ball floated on me. That was one bad decision. He can say what he wants. That was one bad decision. The rest is just football and stuff happens.”
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The Rebels didn’t have great field position much of the night. On two occasions they were called on two kickoff returns for holding, thus eliminating any decent field position. One of them was on the kickoff after the field goal late to tie it 10-10.
“We stayed pinned most of the night,” Freeze said.
The special teams blocked punt for a touchdown tied the score 7-7 right before halftime. Freeze felt that would be what his team needed for the second half to be more successful.
“That was a huge lift,” he said. “Thought that was what we needed to get kick started to win the game. We missed a field goal early in the game, and that obviously would have played a role in the end of it also. We didn’t make some plays that would have made it a two-score game.”
The Rebels’ running game netted 117 yards, but that isn‘t indicative of a winning performance needed against SEC competition.
“If we’re struggling to run the ball, it’s very difficult for us to be successful,” Freeze said.
“We’re a lot better than we showed tonight, I know that,” Wallace said. “It was really frustrating. We’ve got to go in and get to work and come out in a bowl game, put up some numbers and score some points. We can’t have this anymore.”
One offensive touchdown in two games. Defenses doing anything differently?
“The last couple of weeks they game-planned different for us. They showed some looks we didn’t see,” Wallace said. “That’s happened two weeks straight. A lot of teams, just the way we play offense, they’re going to play us differently. So we kind of have to adjust on the fly, and tonight we didn’t do a very good job of that.”
The Rebels didn’t get the job done offensively, and that was the bottom line.
“This one stings,” Freeze said, “and we’ll have to put it behind us and get ready for the blessing of a bowl game.”
And between now and then find themselves on offense again.