Rebels struggle to contain Tiger ground game, drop 3rd SEC game

Posted on Oct 23 2017 - 8:00am by Josh Gollihar

Shea Patterson walks with Aubrey Wilson during the Walk of Champions prior to the game against LSU. Photo by Billy Schuerman

In a game accentuated by poor run defense, Ole Miss lost the Magnolia Bowl and its starting quarterback Saturday night. With more than 64,000 fans in attendance for the first nighttime home game of the season, tensions between the two sides were high, and Vaught-Hemingway Stadium was booming. However, after trailing by just seven late in the third quarter, the Rebels were ultimately unable to handle the Tiger rushing attack and fell 40-24. Adding to the disappointment in Oxford, it was announced Sunday morning that quarterback Shea Patterson will miss the remainder of the season due to a knee injury he suffered before halftime.

The Ole Miss offense could not get into a rhythm in the game’s first half. While their running game produced 100 yards, the Rebels’ aerial attack could only muster up 56. Injuring his right knee on a non-contact play, Patterson limped to the sideline and went into the medical tent for evaluation before heading to the locker room early. Backup quarterback Jordan Ta’amu replaced Patterson and led an impressive half-ending drive that resulted in a field goal.

Shea Patterson tries to throw the ball to receiver A.J. Brown in the Rebels’ 40-24 loss to LSU on Saturday night. Photo by Billy Schuerman

Patterson returned in the second half with a brace on his right knee, and head coach Matt Luke would later speculate that it was a sprain. Following the game, an MRI revealed Patterson tore his right PCL and will miss the remainder of the season. At halftime, however, Luke and the training staff felt it was something he could continue to play through.

“(The trainers) looked at (the knee) at halftime,” Luke said. “He was able to run around when they braced it, and we felt that he was going to give us the best chance to win. We were told there would not be any further damage.”

On the other side of the ball, the Rebels struggled to contain LSU running backs Derrius Guice and Darrel Williams, who combined for 379 all-purpose yards on the day. Williams made LSU’s only big play through the air, taking a screen pass for 63 yards. Though the Tigers ran all over the field, the Rebels’ red-zone defense was effective, forcing two field goals.

When LSU had to pass, the Ole Miss secondary covered well enough for the defensive line to get pressure on quarterback Danny Etling. Breeland Speaks was credited with two sacks, while Marquis Haynes added one of his own.

On offense, the Rebels were balanced in yardage. Patterson and Ta’amu combined for 194 yards, while the backs ran for 153 yards, led by Jordan Wilkins’ 86. Wilkins broke away for a 28-yard score late in the third quarter, lowering the deficit to seven, but the Rebel momentum seemed to dwindle with a plethora of dropped passes. Add to that Patterson’s three interceptions, and the Rebels’ passing woes were clear.

A bright spot moving forward was tight end Dawson Knox’s growing role in the passing game. Knox led the Rebels with five catches and 72 yards, including a 40-yard reception. Knox said the connection was built with Shea this week in practice.

“There were a couple routes (in practice) that were right on the money,” Knox said. “We showed that on the field. (In this offense) there is a chance every weekend to get the ball as much as I did.”

Ole Miss receiver Braylon Sanders picks up a first down inside the red zone against LSU in the Rebels’ 40-24 loss on Saturday night. Photo by Billy Schuerman

While Knox played one of the best games of his career, LSU’s Guice stole the show Saturday night. Of LSU’s astonishing number of rushing yards, Guice contributed 276. The Rebels continued to have no answer for the run, and the Tiger offense moved the ball at will when Etling handed it off to No. 5, who had a day reminiscent of Leonard Fournette’s performance in Baton Rouge last year.

The Tigers’ success on the ground also led to opportunistic passing. Early in the fourth quarter, Danny Etling faked a handoff to Guice and threw to Foster Moreau, who was untouched en route to a 60-yard touchdown. Etling finished the game with more passing yards than Patterson, out-gaining him 200 to 116.

In total, the Tigers gained 593 yards of total offense and ran for 393 of those yards. Guice became the first player in SEC history to assemble three games with at least 250 yards rushing per game. Defensive coordinator Wesley McGriff focused on Guice in preparation for this matchup, but the LSU running back still gashed the Rebel defense.

“We knew going in (what LSU would do),” McGriff said. “(Guice) is a Sunday player. They executed their game plan. We did not execute ours.”

The Rebels now fall to 3-4 with an SEC record of 1-3. Up next, the Arkansas Razorbacks come to town Saturday for another conference matchup.