Tavius Robinson/JJ Pegues: A
Though the trenches are not usually a strength, Robinson and Pegues deserve shoutouts for playing especially well not only today, but all season.
Robinson has been a consistent EDGE presence all season, and was especially noticeable against Texas Tech as he recorded a couple of sacks and a pair of huge forced fumbles. Robinson has accepted an invitation to the Senior Bowl, and will declare for the draft in the near future.
Pegues transferred in from Auburn this year and quickly established himself as a strong force in the middle of the Rebels’ defense. Against Texas Tech he consistently occupied blockers and made some plays behind the line of scrimmage. If Ole Miss decides to move to a four defensive lineman pass rush, Pegues will be unleashed as a dominant force.
Offensive Line: D
The front five failed to consistently open holes, give quarterback Jaxson Dart time or keep the pocket clean.
It felt like every fourth down conversion was stuffed in the backfield before Zach Evans or Quinshon Judkins could gather enough steam to make something happen. On passing plays, Dart was often running for his life from at least one Red Raider set loose in the backfield.
The offensive line looked like swiss cheese, and that was against a Texas Tech front missing future first round pick Tyree Wilson.
Football is a game won or lost in the trenches. You can point fingers at the box score all you want, but the truth is that the success of skill players is rooted from tackle to tackle.
I hate pointing fingers at the refs, but this game was a melting pot of missed calls and terrible targeting ejections.
Evans was dragged down by his facemask and there was no flag. Watkins was held in the endzone and there was no penalty called. Texas Tech quarterback Tyler Shough is late on a slide and gets hit which resulted in a targeting penalty and an ejection for Ole Miss linebacker Troy Brown. The Texas Tech punt returner tried to make a return and got hit. The officials decided that he was a defenseless player and another Ole Miss player was ejected for targeting.
I’m not sure these calls fully changed the outcome of the game, but they certainly did their part.
Ball Security: F
Ole Miss threw three interceptions, fumbled twice and lost the ball five times on downs for a total of nine turnovers (the second interception was on fourth down).
That is unreal.
I genuinely am not certain a team has ever won a game with that many turnovers. Yes, the picks and fumbles are painful, but to me, the issue remains with Lane Kiffin’s inability to diagnose when it is right to go for it on fourth down.
I understand the devotion to the culture and the reward that CAN come from converting a well timed fourth down conversion, but Kiffin treats these plays as if punting is a taboo aspect of the game that has not been fully explored by science yet.
Painfully often, the risk Kiffin takes on these conversions is significantly higher than the potential reward. This inattention to detail made itself clear against Texas Tech, but one instance in particular stands out from the rest.
It was early in the game, and Ole Miss had a fourth-and-one from its own 11-yard line. Kiffin decided to go for it and failed, giving the Red Raiders the ball deep inside Rebel territory.
Had he succeeded, Ole Miss still would have had the ball on their own 15-yard line, with 85 yards left to drive.
My point is that converting leaves you roughly in the same position, while failing sets up the opponent in prime scoring position. Reserve your niche play calling for conversions in no-man’s land (the 10 yard gap between field goal and punting range).
For what it’s worth…
Dart remains a good option at quarterback. The kid has his bad plays, yes but overall, he is exactly the kind of player you want under center.
Dart plays football like a marine. He is willing to fight for every inch, scrap for every yard and claw for every first down. His toughness and attitude were on full display in the bowl game.
The Texas Tech defensive line was getting a number of clear hits on Dart, and he was standing in the pocket and doing his best to deliver the ball. He would take a painful shot one play, then lower his shoulder for a first down the next.
Every quarterback on a disappointing team is easy to blame, but if you zoom out it becomes clear that Dart is certainly not high on the Rebels list of issues. He still possesses an elite arm and has shown his ability to make high-level throws.
Anyone wanting a quarterback replacement now is getting ahead of themself.
He is not 20 yet and has yet to go through a full offseason with starter reps. I fully expect Dart to return next year as a much more polished player and take Ole Miss to another 10-win season.