For Ole Miss, the game closely mirrored the nasty, rainy weather in Baton Rouge on Saturday night. Ole Miss was penalized 17 times for 167 yards, sputtered on offense and left a depth-deficient defense on the field for nearly 2/3 off the football game, a 35-minute period that saw them give up 573 yards of total offense to the worst offense in the SEC.
It all equated to an ugly 45-16 loss to LSU that again left Matt Luke talking about how this team can pick itself back up as opposed to building off positive momentum.
Ole Miss was penalized before a single second melted off of the clock to begin the game — a delay of game before its first play from scrimmage that would end up foreshadowing the mess to come. After the Rebels’ second drive of the game stalled in the red zone and resulted in a field goal to put the team ahead 3-0, the offense punted on its next four drives — without picking up a single first down — while Joe Burrow and the Tigers’ offense punched the ball in the end zone on four consecutive drives.
Ole Miss found itself down 28-3 less than halfway into the game.
Call it what you want, but Ole Miss came unglued and looked like a wildly undisciplined and overwhelmed team on a national stage in an adverse environment. It’s bad look. The 17 penalties that accounted for more yardage than the team gained on the ground — and nearly matched what it accumulated through the air — is a bad look.
“The uncharacteristic penalties,” Luke said. “That is probably what I am most disappointed in. That starts with the coaches. That starts with me. We were beaten soundly in all three phases and we have to find a way to get better.”
Jordan Ta’amu missed eight of his first eleven throws and was picked off on the third play of the game. He finished 19-for-38 for 178 yards. Ole Miss went an entire quarter’s worth of football without getting a first down before a 90 yard drive to end the half fizzled out at the one the one yard line resulted in a field goal.
“The first half, we left our defense out on the field too much with several three-and-outs,” Luke said. “They were out there way too long.”
Blame can be passed to a number of different areas. An undermanned defense did its best to keep the Rebels in the game in the early stages, but it too contributed to the barrage of penalties that handicapped Ole Miss for the entirety of the game. The unit trailed 14-3 and got a stop on third down, only to jump offsides on a 4th & 1 situation out of a timeout. It forced a three-and-out out to begin the second half, but the Rebels roughed the kicker and the drive continued. Ole Miss forced two red zone turnovers, but gave up 281 yards rushing to an LSU team with multiple starters out on the offensive line, including 96 to a quarterback not exactly known for running the football.
“You cannot win an SEC football game giving up explosive plays, particularly early in the game,” defensive coordinator Wesley McGriff said. “When you give up 28 points in the first half, it makes it extremely difficult to win. We have to eliminate explosive plays.”
Burrow completed 18-of-25 passes for 291 yards and three touchdowns. To his credit, he made a handful precise throws. But he was also the beneficiary of a number of gifts in the form of Ole Miss blunders. A defender slipped and left Justin Jefferson wide open for a 65-yard touchdown in the second quarter. Jalen Julius whiffed on a pass breakup opportunity, then failed to wrap up Terrace Marshall for a 52 yard gain deep into the red zone, setting up a touchdown that extended the game to three scores once again after Ole Miss finally seemed to gain a bit of momentum when Scottie Phillips scored a touchdown to make it 28-13 late in the third quarter.
“You have to play smart in this league,” McGriff said. “We have to play disciplined.”
This defense has struggled all year and its shortcomings in this game were to be expected, to a degree. It was the offense that compiled a slew of penalties and put the defense in bad spots that was the ‘surprising’ aspect of the game, if you want to call it that. Consistency has been an issue with this offense and it was fully on display tonight.
“It is very frustrating because I know we can be better,” Jordan Ta’amu said. “We didn’t do a good job of getting first downs and I am pretty frustrated with that. It was penalties, dropped balls and missed throws. It was the whole offense in general.”
The one constant was Phillips who averaged over six yards a carry and totaled 98 yards and a score on 16 touches. But Ole Miss had to shy away from favoring the run the further it got down on the scoreboard.
Offensive coordinator Phil Longo did not speak to the media after the game.
Ole Miss has now been outscored 107-23 in two SEC games — albeit facing a pair of top five teams. Luke didn’t mince words about how demoralizing this loss was.
“They’re down right now,” Luke said. “Obviously, they are disappointed. I told those guys it is more important to stick together now more than ever. No finger pointing. We are in this together.”
It would be unrealistic to expect this team to come to Death Valley and beat a top five team at night on the road. But a strong showing in a close game would’ve gone a long way in helping this team’s confidence as it hits the teeth of its SEC schedule. Instead, the opposite happened and this team is again looking to pick itself up off the mat after another demoralizing defeat.
“This is when all the negativity creeps in,” Luke said. “We are going to move forward together and get better.”
POSTGAME LIVE: Ole Miss trounced by LSU https://t.co/N3onMl107a
— SportsTalk Mississippi (@SportsTalkMiss) September 30, 2018