Self-inflicted miscues haunt Rebels in road loss at Missouri

PHOTO CREDIT: Joshua McCoy — Ole Miss Athletics
  • Story by SportsTalk Mississippi Ole Miss Beat Reporter Brian Scott Rippee 

COLUMBIA, MO — A disastrous but telling third quarter, and a handful of impactful snaps comprised the chasm between victory and defeat for a young Ole Miss team learning the rigors of the Southeastern Conference.

The Rebels fell 38-27 to the Tigers at Memorial Stadium on Saturday evening. An offense led by two signal-callers was let down by its defense, a unit that gave up 24 points and 271 yards in a third quarter that saw the contest spiral away from Ole Miss’. The Rebels gave up 264 yards for the game in a win over Vanderbilt last week, seven fewer yards than they allowed in the 15-minute period that sealed their fate. Missouri scored on all four possessions with three touchdowns and a field goal. A defense that had been sturdy against the run allowed touchdown rushes of 41 and 54 yards to Missouri backs Larry Roundtree and Dawson Downing. Ole Miss had alignment issues it did not suffer from in its previous six games. It tackled like the 2018 defense, a group that cratered to the 11th-worst defense in the FBS.

“Missed fits, didn’t tackle poorly and played poorly,” a visibly agitated Mike MacIntyre said, “really, really poorly.

“I don’t know what happened tonight. We have to work with them as coaches and the kids have to commit to tackling better. We did not line up right, which we have been against the exact same sets. That is the coaches’ fault. We have to coach them harder and better.”

MacIntyre didn’t mince words about the performance. He was particularly perturbed about the tackling of the secondary, a unit he oversees closer than any other.

“They ran through some tackles, particularly when they bounced outside,” he exclaimed. “Our secondary tackled really poorly. Our secondary is our Achilles heel. We have to work at it and get better. They have played good at times, but when they’ve played bad, we’ve played bad.”

The penultimate quarter and the ensuing undoing came after a costly final first-half drive from the Ole Miss offense — one that ended less than a yard from the end zone, resulted in no points and began the substitution cycle between Matt Corral and John Rhys Plumlee.

Plumlee manned the first five drives of the game. He threw a touchdown pass on Ole Miss’ second possession following a Missouri muffed punt but did little through the air on the next four drives. He was effective with his feet, but the Tigers largely contained him, aside from a 57-yard touchdown rush that was negated by a Miles Battle holding penalty. Plumlee fumbled a couple plays later.

“When you go on the road in this league, you cannot make this many mistakes,” head coach Matt Luke said. “Too many missed opportunities.”

Corral entered the game on the Rebels’ final drive of the first half, trailing 12-7. It was his first action in three weeks since exiting a home loss to Cal with bruised ribs on September 28. He sparked an offense that had netted two punts and a turnover on its previous three drives. Corral went 4-of-6 as the offense marched, connecting three times with Elijah Moore and once with Dontario Drummond. Ole Miss had second and goal at the three yard line with under a minute to play in the first half. Snoop Conner was stuffed three times and the Rebels turned the football over on downs with eight seconds remaining in the first half.

“To not score form the one yard line is ridiculous,” Rich Rodriguez said. “You can’t win on the road if you can’t punch it in from there. I have to look to see what I can do better and we can do better.”

Rodriguez gave thought to re-inserting the fleet-footed Plumlee for the fourth-down play but elected against it.

Ole Miss entered the halftime locker room trailing 12-7 instead of up 14-12. The wretched third quarter cemented the result. Missouri averaged 5.4 yards per rush. The Rebels defense entered the game yielding just 3.2 yards per carry. Roundtree, who toted the football 21 times for 126 yards and two scores, is the first back to run for over 100 yards against the unit since the season-opener at Memphis, when Patrick Taylor ran for 126 yards.

“They said it was going to be a street fight and it was,” outside linebacker Sam Williams said. “We beat ourselves. Not hitting the right gap, shooting the gap wrong, it is just a mindset of execution. We didn’t execute.”

Corral played the first two series of the third quarter and netted two punts. Plumlee commanded the third drive that resulted in a 28-yard touchdown pass to Moore. Ole Miss trailed 28-14. Rodriguez began to interchange the two between plays in the fourth quarter, and it worked. Plumlee ran for 62 yards and two scores in the final quarter without attempting a pass. Corral threw for 57 yards and ran for 16. It was effective, but the Rebels were chasing the game by that point, behind by multiple scores.

“It may be unconventional, but it is how I do it in practice and have done this in the past,” Rodriguez said. “I thought the kids handled it pretty well.”

Ole Miss trailed 35-21 and had the football in Tigers territory with eight minutes remaining thanks to a Williams interception of Kelly Bryant that afforded the Rebels the prime field position and the opportunity to get back into the game.

The ensuing sequence surmised the game better than any other. Plumlee rushed twice for three yards and threw an incompletion to Moore, setting up a fourth down and four. Corral entered the game and missed the sophomore slot receiver on a deep ball — that would’ve been a touchdown — by a matter of inches. Missouri took over on downs. The Rebels had opportunities but squandered them by a variety of margins.

“You have to find ways to win football games,” Luke said. “The missed opportunities make it harder. The fourth-and-one play, having a touchdown called back, the targeting penalties, all the little things that happen add up on the road.”

Ole Miss played like a young football team, learning the hard way about the small margin of error between victory and defeat in this league. It committed costly penalties, like the second half targeting fouls on Jacquez Jones and Tariqious Tisdale. Each backed Missouri out of the shadow of its own goal line. It allowed too many chunk plays. Bryant was 23-of-35 for 329 and a score. Roundtree averaged six yards per touch.

The Rebels have questions to answer across the board. What is the solution at quarterback? Or did they inadvertently stumble upon that answer with the dual-usage in the fourth quarter? How does the defense shore up its deficiencies against the run and how long will the secondary remain the weak point?

The foundation Matt Luke has laid is visible with the youth littered across the field on both sides. But the Rebels have more building to do before the results come, and results are the only thing that will allow Luke to see that foundation come to fruition.

Catch Brian Scott Rippee’s postgame chat:

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