No. 24 Ole Miss is banged up, reeling after loss to Memphis
OXFORD, Miss. (AP) Mississippi still controls its own fate in the Southeastern Conference Western Division thanks to its surprise victory over Alabama in September.
That’s pretty much the end of the good news.
The bad news is that following a sobering 37-24 loss to Memphis last weekend, the Rebels don’t look anything like a program that’s going to contend for championships.
No. 24 Ole Miss (5-2, 2-1 SEC) is a beat-up team heading into its game against No. 15 Texas A&M (5-1, 2-1) on Saturday.
Coach Hugh Freeze said on Monday that defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche and safety Trae Elston are both going through concussion protocol and their availability for the Texas A&M game is uncertain. Starting center Robert Conyers is out for the season because of an ACL tear in right knee.
Injuries are just one major issue. Confidence and execution are a few others.
Freeze concedes that the four weeks since the Alabama win have been difficult, but the adversity is something the team must embrace with five games remaining in the season.
”Those things are a part of life and this is a great teaching time,” Freeze said. ”We’ve got five great opportunities left. That’s 300 minutes. Yesterday’s team meeting was centered on how those minutes should look.”
One positive for Ole Miss is the return of starting left tackle Laremy Tunsil. The 6-foot-5, 305-pound junior All-American will start against Texas A&M after being suspended seven games because the NCAA determined he received illegal benefits.
Tunsil’s presence means Fahn Cooper can move back to his normal position at right tackle. The middle of the offensive line is still a work in progress – especially now that Conyers is gone for the season – but Ole Miss hopes Tunsil’s presence can boost the Rebels’ mediocre running game that gained just 40 yards on 24 attempts against Memphis.
Ole Miss is also trying to figure out some answers on defense. The Rebels have given up 30.3 points in SEC games, which ranks 13th out of 14 teams. They also gave up 384 yards passing against Memphis and the Tigers converted 12 of 20 third-down opportunities.
Freeze said the biggest issue was 30 missed tackles.
But the problems aren’t just with injuries and personnel. Quarterback Chad Kelly acknowledges the team’s confidence has been shaken after the Florida and Memphis losses.
Still, he’s confident that the team that strolled into Tuscaloosa and beat Alabama on its home field hasn’t completing disappeared.
”We have to be hungry every day on the practice field and in the weight room,” Kelly said. ”That’s what I’ve stressed to our guys. We know we’re the best team in the land. I have no doubt about that. We have the players and the coaches. As long as everyone believes in that, then we’re tough to stop.”
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