After traveling just more than 2,000 miles across the country to Berkeley, California, the Rebels fell to the Cal Golden Bears by a final score of 27-16 in a unique Pac-12-after-dark matchup. A combination of penalties, injuries and a lack of sustained offense led to the Rebels’ demise.
Shea Patterson and the Rebel offense came out firing on all cylinders early, but they could not put together consecutive scoring drives. A connection from Patterson to D.K. Metcalf for 42 yards setup a Gary Wunderlich field goal on the opening drive. But on the following drive, Patterson had a tipped pass intercepted. His answer when he got the ball back was a 72-yard touchdown pass to Damarkus Lodge.
The Ole Miss offense, struggling to find a constant rhythm, repeated the sequence of a Patterson interception, followed by a long touchdown. Patterson’s second touchdown of the first half was a 71-yard strike to Metcalf. The Rebels held onto a 16-7 lead over Cal at halftime.
The Rebel defense was a bright spot in the first half. The missed tackles that plagued the defense in the first two games seemed to be solved. Led by DeMarquis Gates’ six tackles and C.J. Moore’s two interceptions, the Rebels limited the Golden Bears to 198 total yards in the first half.
However, the Rebels eventually settled back into their old habits.
Missed tackles became the norm once again when the Rebel defense was forced to be on the field for extended periods of time as Cal dominated time of possession through the remainder of the game. Cal went from having 72 yards on the ground in the first half to adding almost 100 more in the second.
After building a nine-point lead in the first half, a completely different Rebel team emerged for the second half. Mental errors plagued both the offense and defense. The team committed 16 penalties for 113 yards, the big plays that led to points early on disappeared and Patterson’s play was less than sharp. Patterson committed an intentional grounding foul and threw a pick six at the end of the game, thwarting a chance to mount a comeback and leaving the Rebels shut out in the second half and out-gained by 70 yards. Head coach Matt Luke was not pleased with his team’s performance.
“That is a tough loss,” Luke said. “We really struggled offensively in the second half with turnovers and penalties.”
The struggles for the Rebels were ugly but overshadowed by key injuries. On Shea Patterson’s first interception, A.J. Brown was hit in the leg by a defender. Brown walked off the field of his own power, but he needed to have an X-ray. He was diagnosed with a bone bruise and did not return to the game. Kicker Gary Wunderlich suffered a pulled hamstring attempting an extra point that kept him out for the rest of the game, which led to a shanked field goal attempt by his walk-on freshman predecessor. The biggest loss may have been center Sean Rawlings, who left the game in the first half with an ankle injury. Rawlings did not return to the game. Rawlings’ injury had a large effect on the game, but Luke does not want to use that as an excuse.
“Sean is very important, but when he goes down, it has to be next man up,” Luke said. “The same thing goes with A.J. You must get your job done. Injuries are a part of football.”
The injury that most impacted the team was clearly the loss of Rawlings. Luke was forced to shuffle his offensive line, playing both Alex Givens and Javon Patterson at center. After the injury, the offensive line struggled to protect Shea, the centers found trouble getting the snap in Rawlings’ place and the group collectively committed penalties that killed offensive momentum.
“Their defense played well in the second half,” Shea Patterson said regarding his offense’s struggle. “The defenders were bailing (in coverage), and the linebackers were sitting on everything.”
The Rebels faced a trying week dealing with the COI hearing in Kentucky and traveling to California for only the second time in school history to play the Golden Bears. With the bye week ahead, Matt Luke and the Ole Miss football program look to focus on getting healthy and on execution with the Crimson Tide up next on the schedule.
“We have to rebound and get back into the flow of things,” Patterson said on moving forward. “We have two weeks to prepare for the best team in the country.”