Ole Miss has proven its one of the top passing teams in the nation.
The problem for the Rebels they need to improve in just about every other aspect.
Ole Miss (2-0) is undefeated through the season’s first two weeks and that’s a welcome respite for a program dealing with an NCAA infractions case and a sudden coaching change. The only issue is those wins have come against South Alabama and UT Martin – not exactly titans of the college football world – and the Rebels have shown some glaring weaknesses in both games.
“You never begrudge a win, but you certainly have to look at some of the missed opportunities and plays,” Ole Miss defensive coordinator Wesley McGriff said.
The biggest problems for Ole Miss both have to do with the running game. On offense, the Rebels can’t move the ball. On defense, the Rebels can’t stop it.
Those haven’t been fatal flaws against lesser opponents. But things get tougher for Ole Miss on Saturday when it travels to face California (2-0), which already has a quality win over North Carolina.
“When you play against a team that capitalizes on your mistakes, you make it a long day if you can’t stop the run,” McGriff said. “We certainly have to get better at stopping the run and containing the running backs.”
South Alabama and UT Martin have outgained Ole Miss on the ground 389 yards to 156 through the first two games. UT Martin’s Ladarius Galloway torched the Rebels for 188 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries last weekend.
Missed tackles were an issue for the Rebels. McGriff also was concerned about “mental errors.”
“Tackling, at the end of the day, is want. You really just have to want to tackle and get him down,” Ole Miss defensive end Victor Evans said. “You can practice it on it all day, and practicing helps, but at the end of the day, you have to want to get him down.”
While the defense works on the stopping the run, the Ole Miss offense is busy figuring out how to move the ball on the ground effectively.
The fact that Ole Miss has just 156 yards rushing this season isn’t that big of a deal since the passing game is among the best in the nation thanks to quarterback Shea Patterson and group of gifted receivers. But the Rebels are gaining just 3.3 yards per carry.
Ole Miss starting running back Jordan Wilkins – who missed all of last season with an academic issue – has 65 yards rushing and is averaging 3.8 yards per carry. Backups D'Vaughn Pennamon and Eric Swinney have had good moments, but nobody has stood out.
Ole Miss offensive coordinator Phil Longo didn’t seem overly concerned with the ground game. He said his offense will continue to take when the defense is giving and right now, there’s plenty of room to work through the air.
“If they put everyone over on the right side, we are going to throw on the left side,” Longo said. “If they put everybody deep, we are going to do something underneath, whether its run or pass. I’m not trying to over-simplify it, but that’s how we approach it with the players.
“That’s how we want them to understand it.”
Ole Miss at California
When: 9:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: California Memorial Stadium, Berkeley, Calif.
Radio: 103.1 FM