OXFORD – After nine months of anticipation for the start of college football and 10 weeks of August heat we have reached the mid-way point of the season.
So the question of what impact two former Pac-12 head coaches will have as coordinators for Ole Miss football is half answered.
The best answer would be to avoid a losing season and get to a bowl game, but that answer is still TBD.
The half answer, though, does have the Rebels on track. The coaching has been evident yet challenges remain.
Rich Rodriguez has put his run-heavy stamp on a team that last season ranked No. 5 nationally in passing offense. He’s done it with inherited players recruited to a different scheme, a rebuilding offensive line and with freshmen.
Mike MacIntyre has taken a defense that struggled with assignment busts, one that offered almost no resistance to another team’s run game and turned it into a solid, respectable run defense.
Ole Miss goes into Saturday’s game at 4-1 Missouri averaging 234.3 rushing yards a game, second to Georgia in the SEC and No. 16 in America. That’s in spite of a troublesome debut against Memphis when Ole Miss rushed for only 80 yards.
Defensively the Rebels through six games are giving up just 99.3 yards a game after allowing no less than 221.8 yards a game in 2018 and more than 245 yards a game in 2016 and 2017.
In summary, coaching matters.
Personnel also matters, though, and the youth and inexperience prevalent at many positions will play just as big a role as coaching in determining how this team handles the back half.
As good as freshman quarterback John Rhys Plumlee has been Alabama and Vanderbilt found a way to limit him at times during the game.
The Rebels need more than 10 pass completions in a game to get the receivers involved.
Much has been made of the freshman contributions on offense. The Rebels started two true freshmen in the secondary against Vanderbilt in cornerback Deantre Prince and strong safety Jay Stanley.
Starting strong safety Jonathan Haynes, a first-year junior college transfer, will be back this week.
Jalen Julius is a transplanted cornerback at free safety.
There’s a lot of newness in the secondary, and it’s showing up.
Helping pass defense improve is MacIntyre’s biggest task in the second half of the season.
The front seven guys were able to pressure Vanderbilt quarterback Riley Neal, a stationary target, and help their back end mates. Missouri quarterback Kelly Bryant, even at less than full strength, will be a greater challenge.
Half-way through the season the coordinators are making a noticeable impact, and that needs to continue.
With Arkansas, Southeastern Louisiana and Vanderbilt in the rear view mirror the schedule is shifting gears.
Parrish Alford (firstname.lastname@example.org) covers Ole Miss for the Daily Journal. Find More in the Facebook Group “Ole Miss Discussion w/ Parrish Alford.”