It was another rough weekend for Ole Miss football, falling to Auburn 44-23 in Alabama. Despite being unable to score more than three points in the first half, head coach Matt Luke is keying in on the good rather than the bad.
“I really saw a lot of positives to pull from the game offensively,” Luke said. “I thought our tempo was the best it has been all year. The O-line played by far its best game. In turn, Shea Patterson looked much more comfortable. The biggest thing coming away from that game is we’ve got to finish in the red zone.”
Although the red zone efficiency was low, offensive production was high. Shea Patterson finished the game with 346 yards through the air and a pair of touchdowns, while on the receiving end, A.J. Brown reeled in 100 yards on 10 catches. However, the glaring struggle inside the 20-yard line overshadowed this production.
“We had some one-on-one opportunities that we’ve got to make,” Luke said. “The space gets tight down there, and we’ve just got to really focus on finishing when we get down there. A lot of positives to take away.”
By halftime, Auburn was up 35-3 with a lot of points off of big plays. Jarrett Stidham’s 75-yard touchdown pass to Ryan Davis in the first quarter was one of those, and the defense didn’t have an answer.
“Defensively, there were way too many explosive plays,” Luke said. “Too many chunk plays. It’s just us being a little bit out of position here and there. I thought at halftime they did a really good job of challenging those guys. They didn’t change anything schematically, but they came out much more focused and played better. Too many mental errors and alignment issues in the first half, and it cost us.”
While the defense played better and only surrendered nine points in the second half, it was too little, too late. Digging a hole too big for the offense to climb out of, Luke attributed the defensive struggle to the entire unit, not specific players, schemes or plays.
“It’s just focusing in and playing with the energy and the focus it takes to win in this league,” Luke said. “When we sat down and watched the whole tape together as a defense, it was one guy here, one guy there. You just can’t have those and expect to win on the road in this league. You’ve got to make them earn it all the way down the field.”
After three straight road games, Ole Miss is thrilled to be returning home. Saturday’s matchup against Vanderbilt will mark the first time the Rebels will play at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium since defeating UT Martin just over one month ago.
“We’re excited to get back in front of our fans,” Luke said. “Coming back, walking through the Grove, playing in Vaught-Hemingway, I think our players are excited about that. We’re going to build on the second half of Auburn. That’s going to be the turning point of our season. We’re excited to get back home three weeks in a row. We’re looking forward to this challenge.”
In last year’s 38-17 road loss, the Vanderbilt defense was able to shut down Shea Patterson and the offense, mixing up the schemes just enough to throw Ole Miss off balance. Coming into this weekend’s homecoming matchup, the defeat from a year ago is not something the coaching staff wants to harp on.
“We can’t focus on last year. We have to focus on this year,” Luke said. “Shea is a different player. They’re a different defense now. They did a good job at mixing up the looks on him, though. They had him not knowing where to go with the football. But we’ve got to focus on this year.”
The Rebels will square off against the Commodores at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, hoping to impress an anxious crowd that’s excited to see its team return to Oxford.