Oxford, Ms — On Senior Night, interim coach Matt Luke wanted to put an explosive, positive stamp on Ole Miss’ murky 2017 season.
Ole Miss hosted Texas A&M, a team they had beaten in three consecutive seasons, in a very winnable senior night game.All the signs hinted at the matchup providing a shootout. The opening few minutes of the game seemed to validate the pew,pew,pew predictions.
With just four minutes left in the first quarter, the score was already 14-14. The first quarter took nearly an hour as both offenses came out firing. And then, as no one would have predicted, there were five consecutive punts before the offenses found their footing again. Ole Miss went into the half up by three, 24-21.
What transpired next was, perhaps, the most unexpected second half of the 2017 college football season. The defenses owned the second half as neither team scored an offensive touchdown.
Two defenses that have struggled to stop anybody shut down two of the league’s more potent offenses of late – yes, A&M had been potent since Nick Starkel returned to the lineup.
Early in the third quarter, Ole Miss’ future first-round pick left tackle came off the field for two plays due to injury, effectively stifling a promising drive. However, he soon returned, but the storm brewing only grew more severe. Later in the game, another promising Ole Miss drive was killed by injuries.
D’vaughn Pennamon busted a long run on a third and short, but his fate soon turned grim. Pennamon was tackled low by an A&M defender. He wrecked his knee. I didn’t need to hear the report from Ole Miss to know he was done for the season, nor did anyone else – we’ve seen enough injuries to know when someone is seriously injured.
However, the bad news was not finished for Ole Miss. On the same play, starting right tackle Alex Givens suffered a head injury. He also was done for the game.
The Ole Miss offense never hit their stride again. We’ll put it this way, Ole Miss had 325 total yards of offense in the first half, and they ended the game with just 391. The Rebels actually ran for more yards than their opponent, and they outgained their opponent on the ground, which doesn’t happen, like ever, in SEC play.
After Givens went down, Ole Miss was plagued by penalties and inefficiencies at offensive line, specifically Rod Taylor.
Rod Taylor, who came in for the injured Alex Givens, played easily the worst game of his career. His performance was to the point that whenever a flag was thrown you immediately assumed it was on him.
Taylor was taken to the woodshed by the Aggies defensive line. He was constantly beaten, and picked up penalties that negated the few good plays. On a positive note, the Ole Miss defense played one heck of a game. Ole Miss held Texas A&M to just 24 points on offense, and no touchdowns in the second half.
A&M rushed for 119 yards, and 43 came on the first carry. After the first carry, the Aggies rushed for just 76 yards on 43 carries, which is just 1.76 yards per carry.
The Ole Miss run defense entered the game as the second-worst Power-5 run defense in the country. They had not been able to stop the likes of South Alabama, UT-Martin, or UL-Lafayette from running the ball. The senior night performance by the Ole Miss defense was nothing short of remarkable.
So, to recap, we entered the game expecting a #Pac12AfterDark worthy shootout, but got a defensive struggle – (slugfest?).
The Ole Miss offense, crippled by injuries and penalties in the second half, let down their defense on Senior Night – I never thought I’d write that sentence in this season.