It was the best of teams, it was the worst of teams.
When Charles Dickens wrote “A Tale of Two Cities” in 1859, he wasn’t talking about Ole Miss football, but he probably could have been. We saw the best and worst of Ole Miss in the span of 60 minutes of football Saturday.
“Another tough loss,” Ole Miss interim head coach Matt Luke said. “I sound like a broken record.”
Luke’s Rebels jumped out to a 31-7 lead before turnovers and poor tackling boosted the Arkansas Razorbacks to a 38-37 win. The Razorbacks kicked a field goal with seven seconds remaining to give them the one-point advantage.
“We can’t turn the ball over to win football games in the SEC,” Luke said.
The Rebels’ turnover woes started late in the first half, when Octavious Cooley fumbled the football in Arkansas territory after catching a pass from Jordan Ta’amu. Ta’amu himself would throw an interception later in the second quarter. As a result, the Arkansas offense went on to score touchdowns on the ensuing possessions.
One of the most crucial turnovers, however, came late in the fourth quarter on an exchange between Ta’amu and running back Eric Swinney. The duo fumbled the ball, and the Razorbacks took it to the end zone to pull within two points of the Rebels.
“I think it was just miscommunication between us,” Ta’amu said. “It was supposed to be just a regular zone-read, and I take full responsibility of that.”
Jordan Ta’amu had an impressive outing in his first start as the Ole Miss quarterback, but the imperfect play by the offense revealed a glaring truth about this Rebel team. The mistakes seem to pile up for Ole Miss, and the Rebels don’t have the liberty of making them if they want to win ballgames. This defense has struggled to stop offenses all season, and the lifeblood of the Rebels is (and will continue to be) their offense.
Ole Miss has to outscore teams to win. As it turns out, a 24-point early advantage was not enough.
If Ole Miss is not near-perfect on offense, whether it be because of turnovers or just lack of production, it will struggle to win ballgames. This was the case Saturday. Perhaps D.K. Metcalf put it best when asked if Arkansas slowed down the Rebels late in the game.
“We slowed ourselves down,” he said.
Although the Ole Miss defense continued to struggle Saturday, the loss to Arkansas cannot be wholly blamed on it. The Rebels gave the Razorbacks opportunities to get back into the game and eventually gave them the opportunity to win. The Rebel defense will continue to struggle as the season winds down, but the blame for Saturday’s meltdown rests on the shoulders of the offense. Too many gifts were given to the Razorbacks — gifts upon which they gladly capitalized. Matt Luke agrees.
“It basically came down to our mistakes costing us the game,” Luke said.
Ole Miss will attempt to put another tough loss behind it this week as it prepares for a trip to Lexington to take on the 6-2 Kentucky Wildcats.