Saturday’s game between Ole Miss and Kent State featured two different weather delays and was a slog by all measures. The Ole Miss offense contributed to that theme in the first half as the Rebels found themselves tied with the Golden Flashes 7-7 heading into halftime, out-gained 264-226.
Moving the ball wasn’t an issue until the field became smaller when the entered the red zone.
“Something was just off a little bit,” head coach Matt Luke said. “We were moving the ball, we just couldn’t finish.”
Jordan Ta’amu battled a sprained right shoulder, the offense sputtered down near the goal line and Ole Miss again found itself with work to do in the final thirty minutes to secure a win against an inferior opponent. Ta’amu was 9-of-14 for 105 yards and a touchdown. The Rebels were 2-of-7 on third down conversions in the first half. Ole Miss moved the ball well between the 20’s, it just wasn’t able to finish off drives.
After mustering just seven points against Alabama a week ago, the first half of this 38-17 win capped six quarters of inefficient football from an offense thought to be the overwhelming strength of a team marred with defensive dysfunction. Ta’amu missed a couple of throws, the unit shot itself in the foot with five penalties.
“I would have liked to have executed better in some of our situational offensive areas,” offensive coordinator Phil Longo said. “I thought we got that cleaned up in the second half.”
Ole Miss —particularly the receiving corps — eventually imposed its will in the second half against an undermanned Kent State team. Ta’amu hit A.J. Brown for a deep ball and threw a touchdown pass to D.K. Metcalf. Brown finished with seven catches for 96 yards. Metcalf caught five balls for 102 yards. The Rebels’ first three touchdown drives of the second half were 71, 76 and 88 yards respectively. They scored on five of their six possessions with four touchdowns. A Ta’amu interception ended the lone unproductive drive. Ta’amu finished the game 28-of-42 for 442 yards with a pair of touchdown passes and the one interception.
“It took us a bit of time to work some things out,” Longo said.
The offense still managed to amass 651 yards of offense. It was by no means a disaster, but the talk all week was about how the Rebels needed to execute better as a unit early in the game and not rely on simply being the better athlete in one-on-one match ups, because that will not always be the case in the SEC. There was much left to be desired in that respect, particularly in the first half.
The sec second half the offense function at a level that most are accustomed to seeing.
“I think everyone knew their mistakes,” Ta’amu said. “As soon as we got into the locker room everyone knew what the mistakes were. We told each other that we were better this and that we need to execute better. The second half, everyone came out and did their job.”
Ta’amu’s left shoulder was injured last week when he took a big hit on a quarterback keeper against Alabama. He aggravated his throwing shoulder early in this game, something he is says will not cause him to miss time, but felt discomfort during the game.
“I just had to stretch it out and see if I could throw on the sideline,” Ta’amu said. “It was kind of sore, but it got better as the game went on.”
Freshman slot receiver Tylan Knight became more involved in the offense against the Golden Flashes. Knight had six carries for 62 yards and broke one for a 41-yard gain. Knight possesses a great deal of speed and gives the Rebels some versatility by being able to use him in a number of ways.
“I really expected in the first few games to see Tylan break a few like that,” Longo said. “I am surprised it took him that long. He is so small and hard to find behind that offensive line. He is extremely aggressive for a smaller running back and popped a few today. That is what we see in practice all the time.”
Longo and the offense made an effort to get the ball out of Ta’amu’s hands quicker and into the hands of its playmakers in space. The tight ends got more involved as well. Dawson Knox totaled 79 yards receiving.
“That was just really what the defense gave us,” Longo said. “They played off. They played with some inside leverage and gave us some space to make some short throws. We are focused on trying to get some of these athletes the ball quicker.”
Despite another sluggish start, the offense appeared to get back in sync in the second half of this game. It wasn’t an easy day to play football. There were two different rain delays — one of 53 minutes and one that lasted nearly two hours — and it wasn’t easy to remain in rhythm. But Ta’amu and the offense eventually put it together, which is certainly a positive sign Ole Miss as it heads to Baton Rouge next week.
“I think we just got clicking in the second half and guys were making plays,” Luke said. “I thought the decision making was better in the second half.”