Ole Miss has 10 days left in its season and will play two football games in that timeframe, beginning with Vanderbilt in Nashville on Saturday night. Matt Luke addressed the media at his weekly Monday press conference. Here are some quick hits.
— Scottie Phillips is day-to-day with a sprained ankle. Phillips left the game against Texas A&M in the first quarter after rolling his ankle on while being tackled and did not return. Luke said they’ll know more on his status later in the week, but Phil Longo said Armani Linton will move back to running back to “provide a third option.” The staff did not explicitly say that Phillips won’t play, but moving Linton to the backfield again seems to speak to the likelihood of Phillips suiting up this week.
— Markel Winters will practice this week. Luke wasn’t ready to say that Winters will play, but left the possibility open. Ole Miss has struggled to generate a pass rush off the edge and Winters’ presence would be helpful in solving that issue.
— Braylon Sanders was unable to play against Texas A&M after spraining his ankle against South Carolina. Sanders suited up and went through warm ups but was unable to push off the ankle enough to be effective. Luke expects Sanders to play this week against Vanderbilt.
Ole Miss was awful on third down in the loss to Texas A&M. It did not have third down conversion until midway through the fourth quarter and was 1-for-11 in the game. It caused a short-handed defense to play nearly 2/3 of the football game, which ultimately proved to be the Rebels’ demise in the fourth quarter.
“I am taking this personally,” Longo said. “We need to do a better job on third down and that is my job. There are things we need to do as a staff and things we need to do as players on a key, money down like third down to execute better. Some of the stuff we did from a game plan standpoint we liked, but we have to do it better and be sharper.”
The abysmal mark on third down coupled with futility in the red zone led to the team scoring just 17 offensive points with no touchdowns in the second half. This Ole Miss as constructed is not going to win games with those sort of offensive numbers in critical areas.
“Sometimes a plan looks good on paper, but if you can’t execute it you have to take a different approach,” Longo said. “With each play that we come up with on third down, we are going to make sure it is schematically sound and we are going to make sure in practice that we can execute it on Saturday. That will be what we address this week for sure.”
McGriff addresses defensive performance:
A limited Ole Miss defense played well for as long as it could, but eventually ran out of gas after being on the field for the majority of the third quarter. The unit played over 37 minutes in the game.
There are areas where this group is improving. Mohamed Sanogo has developed into the most consistent linebacker on the team. But overall, the group is still not playing at a high enough level to win in the SEC. Ole Miss still gave up 38 points and 500 yards of offense, right on par with its season average.
Ole Miss is not generating a consistent pass rush on the edge, giving opposing quarterbacks too much time to get the ball out and forces defensive coordinator to blitz more often. Those blitzes are often aimless and not efficient enough to get the the quarterback as well.
“That is one thing that jumped out on the video is that we have to stimulate pressure on the outside,” McGriff said. “That falls on me. They’re getting off the ball and getting to the second level. Texas A&M condensed the line of scrimmage with their splits. We will get creative, more creative in that regard and get guys in better position.”