OXFORD, Mississippi (AP) — Coach Hugh Freeze has purposely slowed down Mississippi’s offense, choosing to lean on the team’s elite defense to contend in the Southeastern Conference.
But the offense wasn’t just conservative during Saturday’s 10-7 loss to LSU — it was flat-out bad.
Quarterback Bo Wallace made it clear on Monday that he wants the Rebels to be more aggressive when No. 7 Mississippi (7-1, 4-1 SEC) hosts No. 4 Auburn (6-1, 3-1) on Saturday. Wallace said he and coach Hugh Freeze have a constant dialogue about the offense and he’ll be confident in whatever the coaching staff decides.
The gameplan is “on the coaches — what they call and things like that,” Wallace said. “Hopefully we can be more aggressive this week, but I’m going to run the plays that are called. That’s all I can do.”
More aggressive playcalling might help the Rebels, but so would better execution. Wallace had one of his worst games of the season against LSU, completing just 14 of 33 passes for 176 yards and one touchdown. He also threw an interception in the final seconds that ended hope for a comeback victory.
Wallace said one major problem throughout Saturday’s loss was the team’s lack of success on first and second down. The Rebels were just 5 of 17 on third-down conversion.
“A lot of times when we were throwing the ball it was third down,” Wallace said. “It’s easy (for the defense) when you know it’s coming – 3rd and 9, 3rd and long.”
The Rebels’ running game wasn’t much of a threat, either.
Ole Miss had just 137 yards rushing against the Tigers, averaging four yards per carry. It didn’t help that starting left tackle Laremy Tunsil was limited in the second half because of a right biceps injury. Freeze hopes Tunsil will be able to play against Auburn.
Running the ball has been a constant struggle all season for the Rebels, who rank 11th out of 14 conference teams on the ground.
“It’s a number of factors,” Freeze said. “We’ve had several decent games where we’ll run fairly well, but it’s a challenge and it continues to be.”
The most noticeable difference for the Ole Miss offense in recent weeks is the slower tempo. Freeze has a long history of wanting to push the pace on offense, with his teams snapping the ball almost as soon as it’s placed by the official.
That all changed a few games into this season when Freeze realized his defense was one of the nation’s elite. The Rebels are giving up just 10.5 points per game, which leads the Football Bowl Subdivision.
So Ole Miss slowed things down in order to shorten the game, milk the clock and limit possessions.
It worked for a few weeks, but now the offense has changed from conservative to stagnant. Freeze said he’ll look at everything going into the Auburn game, but made no apologies for the team’s strategy against LSU.
“I certainly think the plan that we had gave us a chance to win,” Freeze said. “We had two touchdowns called back and had chances to score more points. Either we didn’t make the right call or we didn’t execute properly at times or LSU made good plays. Should we speed it up more? Maybe. But I still say we had a chance to win in a hostile environment.”
It will likely take much more than one touchdown to beat Auburn on Saturday — the Tigers are third in the SEC scoring 39.3 points per game. Auburn will be Ole Miss’ fourth nationally ranked opponent in five weeks.
“The great thing is we have another week,” Wallace said. “It’s going to be a tough game. The No. 4 team in the country coming to our place with a lot on the line. Guys are going to come in and we’re going to go to work.”