After starting the season a disappointing 3-2, Ole Miss has had a blistering couple of weeks. They jumped out to a 42-0 lead on the way to blowing out UAB 48-13, and they handled the Hogs 30-17 last weekend. For two weeks anyway, the Rebels have finally looked like the preseason predictions thought they would.
Is it a mirage, or have they really turned the corner?
For now I'm going to set aside the UAB win. The Blazers were similarly blown out by Texas A&M, and those Aggies aren't exactly a picture of perfection. Dismissing UAB like that qualifies Ole Miss for being better, because a middling win would have meant bad things, but it doesn't prove anything conclusively. Instead, let's run down Non Sketchy Win Checklist for their victory over Arkansas:
The Non-Sketchy Win Checklist
- Won by at least two scores? Check: they beat Arkansas by 13.
- Command of yardage total? Check: they outgained Arkansas 553-299.
- Efficient gaining of yards? Check: 10.1 yards per pass and 4.7 yards per rush.
- Great defensive success? Check: Arkansas was held well below their average point and yardage totals.
- Third down success? Check: they converted nine of 15.
- No crazy turnovers in their favor? Check: they actually turned it over three times and didn't get one from the Hogs.
- No extenuating circumstances for opponent? No check: Arkansas had its heart broken the previous week.
- Repeatable performance? No check: Both Jevan Snead and Dexter McCluster set career records, and that's not sustainable.
Not a bad score overall for Ole Miss. They were in control for most of the game, and the only fluky score was actually a long tipped-pass touchdown for the Razorbacks. They handily outgained Arkansas while holding them below their normal output. Only the last two counts cause concern.
Arkansas was due for a let down game after coming so close to beating Florida on the road the previous week, especially since Florida got some help from the refs (not saying UF loses without the calls, but they saved the Gators some trouble). The Pigs also had a hold over issue from that game in Gainesville that got worse. Arkansas' receivers dropped five or six passes against Florida and then dropped even more (eight, according to Dave Neal) in Oxford.
The other thing is that not just one, but two Rebels had career days. Snead had his first ever 300 yard passing game, and McCluster set personal bests in both rushing yards and receiving yards. Don't get me wrong; it's very encouraging to see those guys have breakout games and each has a lot of talent. However, the fact that both set high water marks could mean that Arkansas' defense is simply back to it's bad, old form. Plus, you can't expect anyone to play at the highest end of their ability every game.
Ultimately, I don't know if we can say yet that Ole Miss is now who we thought they would be. These past two games for the Rebels have been great, but it's going to take more than that to say that they've solved all their problems. We may not even be able to say that after this week's game since they are visiting the free falling Auburn Tigers.
If I was an Ole Miss fan, I'd definitely be excited by these two big wins (especially given how much Arkansas fans talk about Houston Nutt). It's certainly better to have two big wins than not. However, let's give them a little more time before we say they're really back in last season's Cotton Bowl-winning form for good.