Photo By Jared Thomas and Photo Courtesy of Ole Miss Athletics
Germany Law Firm - Mississippi Scoreboard

By Billy Watkins

Judging from the various message boards, the Ole Miss and Mississippi State fan bases suffered meltdowns last weekend.

Alabama beat State, 30-6, and LSU defeated Ole Miss, 45-20. Both losses occurred on the road. State didn’t score until the final play of the game. Ole Miss was outscored 42-6 over the final three quarters.

And for 72 hours afterward, anonymous posters blistered coaches, quarterbacks, receivers, offensive and defensive linemen, special teams, schemes and recruiting, Forgive me if I left something out.

Some of it was warranted.

For example: I don’t understand why Ole Miss’ cornerbacks play seven yards off receivers on nearly every play. I get not wanting to give up the “big play,” but isn’t it just as demoralizing to allow an offense to play pitch and catch down the field?

Another example: I have written two columns over the past 12 months saying that State coach Mike Leach must run the football more to be successful in the SEC. One look at history, even in the era of spread offenses, will back that up.

State has been dead last in the conference in rushing attempts and yards the past two seasons.

The Bulldogs are running it more in Leach’s  third season— but not by much. Through seven games, they are averaging just 23 carries, fewest in the SEC. The top three offenses in the league average 42 rushes per game.

When SEC defensive linemen — mostly large, fast, aggressive young men — know a team is going to throw nearly every play, it becomes awfully tough on offensive linemen and quarterbacks.

Yes, there are valid questions to be asked.

But it seems fans’ memories are getting shorter by the year. Maybe it has something to do with iPhones and attention spans dwindling to two seconds.

In this century, Ole Miss has six wins against LSU. State has three vs. Alabama.

We want so badly for our teams to win each Saturday that perspective often slips out the back door when they don’t. That’s football in the South. It makes no sense to care so much. Yet we do.

Ole Miss supporters should remember that it had been one week shy of a year since the Rebels had lost a regular season game. And even after the loss, Ole Miss is 7-1 overall, 3-1 in the SEC, and ranked 15th nationally in the Associated Press poll.

That puts Coach Lane Kiffin at 17-4 over the past two seasons, counting the Sugar Bowl loss to Baylor.

Before the season, Las Vegas oddsmakers listed Ole Miss’ over/under win total at 7.5 games.    The Rebels have a chance of surpassing that Saturday night at Texas A&M.

Vegas’ over/under for State was 6.5. After an open date Saturday, the Bulldogs will surely be favored to win their seventh game Nov. 5 at home against Auburn.

After a 10-win season a year ago, Ole Miss fans have new expectations. Eight wins in the toughest league in America don’t sound so spiffy any longer.

State fans want to see more from Leach, and rightfully so. He won four in the 2020 Covid season followed by seven a year ago.

Both State and Ole Miss have four games remaining, including the year-end get together on Thanksgiving  night. A lot will change over the next month, for better or worse.    

Yes, more meltdowns are sure to come.


Statistics can be misleading. But they can also provide a glimpse into the world of why, what and how. So I pulled a few concerning State and Ole Miss.

*** State is third in the SEC in red zone offense, scoring a touchdown or field goal 92 percent of the time. Surprisingly, seven of the Bulldogs’ 21 red-zone touchdowns are by rushing.

*** State is eighth in the league in total defense. Linebacker Jett Johnson is second in tackles with 72.

*** Leach’s Air Raid attack is seventh in total offense. But quarterback Will Rogers — who I believe is under appreciated — has thrown for 2,555 yards. That leads the SEC and ranks third nationally. The junior from Brandon has thrown for 23 touchdowns, third-most among FBS quarterbacks. He’s been intercepted only four times in 380 passing attempts.

*** Rara Thomas ranks sixth among SEC receivers with 456 yards. State has five players with at least 30 receptions.

*** The downside of the passing attack is the yards per attempt (6.67). That ranks 13th out of 14 teams in the SEC.


*** Ole Miss is third in total offense ( behind Tennessee and Georgia) at 491 yards per game. The Rebels lead the league in rushing (252 per game).

*** They are the only team to have two players among the Top 5 in rushing and receiving. True freshman Quinshon Judkins is the second-leading rusher (831 yards), and transfer Zach Evans is fifth (605). Judkins also leads the SEC with 13 touchdowns.

It amazed me that most recaps of the loss at LSU didn’t mention that Evans ws sidelined with a sore knee. He’s a game changer, especially paired with Judkins.

Jonathan Mingo is second in receiving (575) and State transfer Malik Heath is fifth (491).

*** Rebel quarterback Jaxson Dart has played better than most admit.

Dart, the sophomore transfer from USC, is sixth in the SEC in passing yards (1,771) and ranks 15th in rushing (378), third among quarterbacks. He is fifth in yards per pass attempt (8.71).

*** Kiffin’s offense is tied for sixth in red-zone offense, scoring 86.8 percent of the time.

*** Ole Miss stands ninth in total defense. Missed tackles have haunted the Rebels in recent weeks.


Other notes:

*** Never underestimate the power of Deion Sanders. The Jackson State coach has ESPN’s Gameday coming to town Saturday. The pressure is on the city to put its best foot forward. Please come through. The world is watching.

*** Coach Will Hall has Southern Miss tied for second in the Sun Belt’s B Division. After starting the season with a gut-punch four-overtime loss to Liberty, the Golden Eagles are 4-3 overall, 2-1 in the conference.

They have won three of their last four entering tonight’s home game with Louisiana.

*** And a random stat that caught my eye: Former Ole Miss QB John Rhys Plumlee, now at Central Florida, is tied for 37th nationally in passing yards (1,812) with LSU’s Jayden Daniels.