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FILM STUDY: What went wrong for the Ole Miss defense against SELA

 Ole Miss pulled away from Southeastern Louisiana last weekend with a 40-29 win.  

They won, but not in impressive fashion for a team entering the game as 32.5point favorites. A little surprising was the Rebel defense. A unit that had been fantastic in the first two weeks struggled against an FCS opponent, allowing 309 passing yards in the win. 

With a ranked California team coming to town on Saturday, we spent some time to go back through the film of the SELA game to pinpoint just where the team struggled: 

1. Defending running backs out of the backfield

Ole Miss held SELA to 66 rushing yards on Saturday. That’s good. The problem is the team racked up yards that go in the stat book as passing yards but are essentially just an extension of the running game. SELA running back Devonte Williams caught seven passes in the game for 65 yards, almost all of them coming on little swing or flare passes out of the backfield. 

“We just did not play the flare pass correctly. And our team does that to us all the time in practice,” said defensive coordinator Mike MacIntyre on Monday. “That was disappointing, something that we had been doing well. It’s something we’ll definitely be attacked with this week. Cal does that. So, we’ll work at it hard and get that corrected, but that was extremely disappointing to me.”

Really this comes down to the Rebel linebacking play. Playing attacking defense is great, but you have to be able to recognize little plays like these and take the proper angles to get there, something Ole Miss struggled with all afternoon. 

2. Who’s stepping up (or not) in the linebacking room?

MoMo Sanogo isn’t going to come walking through the door.  At least not anytime soon. This unit played really well against Arkansas after Sanogo went down early, but took a step back against Southeastern Louisiana. 

One guy that keeps getting talked up by the media that I just can’t really understand is Jacquez Jones. A freshman a year ago, Jones played in each game. But entering this season, he was the fifth guy in the Ole Miss inside linebacker room. Now, with MoMo out, he’s playing a lot more. 

Jones brings a lot of highs and lows to the football field. He presents an interesting conundrum for a defensive staff. His aggressive nature can lead to some really big plays. He had some really big hits against SELA, one where he forces a fumble on a simple completion and one when he busted up a punt return. But that aggression also gets him beat and causes him to really struggle making some simple plays. 

3. Play recognition and busted coverages

In similar nature to what was discussed with the running backs coming out of the backfield, Ole Miss just whiffed on far too many coverages against SELA. Thankfully for the Rebels, SELA wasn’t able to convert on many of those blown coverages. Better teams will be able to. 

On a few plays, the entire Ole Miss front seven bit shockingly hard on a play action fakes. With better throws, the deep and uncovered SELA receivers would waltz untouched into the end zone. These plays would have, and honestly should have, resulted in big gains for SELA.

Chances are, these plays where the Rebel defense guessed run were something SELA had shown on film prior. But that’s what every team is doing this time of year putting things on tape so that they can counter against it in later weeks. Ole Miss has to be prepared for this. 

Ultimately, the Rebel defense has showed a ton of promise compared to the one a year ago that was one of the worst in the entire nation. This past week was a setback, but in the long run one that could be used as a positive in terms of showing improvements on tape. But simply put, they’ll need to be better Saturday against No. 23 Cal.