The Ole Miss football team sits at 2-1 after three weeks. With all of the turmoil and issues that athletic director Ross Bjork and head coach Matt Luke have had to manage, 2-1 is a welcome sight. However, losing 62-7 is never easy to move on from. Kent State, which is only a week removed from a 63-10 lashing by Penn State, gives the Rebels a chance to sweep the embarrassing home defeat by Alabama under the rug.
After the game started with a bang from the Rebel offense, the majority of the game versus Alabama was but a whimper. Jordan Ta’amu connected with D.K. Metcalf to open the game with a 75-yard touchdown play. Ta’amu would only complete six more passes the whole game. The trio of Metcalf, A.J. Brown and DaMarkus Lodge combined for a stat line of seven catches, one touchdown and 133 yards that — versus a different team — would be a normal game for any one of them. Scottie Phillips took a step back, only rushing for 44 yards. All parties involved with the offense are looking to clear the slate.
The Golden Flashes are allowing 468.7 yards per game on defense this season. The number of passing and rushing yards allowed per game is pretty evenly split, with Kent State allowing 255 yards through the air and 213.7 on the ground. The team’s defense has caused six turnovers, with three interceptions and three fumble recoveries.
The Kent State defense should allow Ole Miss to return this Saturday to the form it displayed versus Southern Illinois, as Penn State’s balanced offense is similar to what the Flashes will face against the Rebels. The Nittany Lions gained 667 yards on the way to scoring 63 points versus the Golden Flashes. Penn State was able to rack up 370 passing yards on just 14 completions, so look for the NWO to be targeted heavily.
All attention on the Ole Miss program, both nationally and locally, has shifted from its prolific offense to its porous defense. Defensive coordinator Wesley McGriff is constantly asked what adjustments need to be made or what problems have led to the astronomical yards and points allowed. According to Sports Reference, the last game in which Ole Miss held a team to less than 21 points was the fourth game of the 2016 season versus the Georgia Bulldogs.
The time period since then covers 23 games and includes opponents such as Louisiana-Lafayette, UT-Martin, South Alabama and Southern Illinois.
It seems that the skill level of the opponent has had little effect on the performance of Ole Miss’ defense. Top programs have accumulated points and yards, and smaller-division schools have done the same. The only difference in the outcomes of the games is that the Rebel offense can outscore the smaller schools. The current defensive staff has never held a team to under 21 points. The young core of Ole Miss defenders could gain a huge bump in confidence if they show out against Kent State.
A key member of the Rebel offense is set to make his season debut Saturday. After contracting mono, running back Eric Swinney missed the first three weeks of the season. He slots in on the depth chart just under breakout runner Phillips, and his presence creates much-needed depth at the position.
After a humbling defeat, the Ole Miss Rebels have a perfect opportunity to regain the confidence that the first two wins of the season gave them. Matchups against LSU, Auburn and several other SEC teams await. Recording an abundance of yards and points against a smaller program may be just what the doctor ordered.