The Rebels came up short in what felt like the last chance to save their season, falling to the Auburn Tigers 40-29. Now sitting at 3-5 overall, and 1-4 in the SEC the Rebels’ high hopes for 2016 are continuing to spiral in the wrong direction.
A tight game throughout, the Rebels offense kept them in the game behind a record night for Chad Kelly. Kelly threw for a school record 436 yards and three touchdowns, but a fourth would’ve put the Rebels up with just over seven minutes remaining. The crowd rose to their feet, waiting to erupt as Kelly threw to a wide open Evan Engram, but could only wonder what would’ve been as Engram dropped the would-be touchdown. It almost seemed too fitting as a depiction of the Rebels 2016 campaign that on the very next play, Kelly’s pass was intercepted by Auburn’s Joshua Holsey and returned to the Rebels 25 yard line.
An Auburn TD with six minutes remaining put the game out of reach for the Rebels. A stalled drive for Kelly and the Rebels was the last time they possessed the ball as the Tigers were able to run the ball as they did all night long and ran the clock out. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the Rebels’ run defense was almost nonexistent for the third straight week, giving up 307 yards on the ground. The Rebels did sell out to stop the run on numerous occasions, leaving receivers wide open down the field for easy completions. The Rebels did out-gain the Tigers, but still gave up 554 total yards and 40 points. The Rebel defense was easily pushed around by the Auburn offensive line, making it easy to rip off big plays against the nation’s, now, 114th-ranked defense. At Hugh Freeze’s post-game press conference, he again had to answer questions about his defense.
“I think any time you set a vision for the program and that vision isn’t being met, you have to look at the stats. You have to look at the indicators at what the issues are. There is an issue there. So it is either the people or the process. It is my job to try to figure out, is it a combination? Is it the people? Will recruiting fix it? Do we need to work on our communication? I assure you there is no give-up on this staff or on us trying to address it,” Freeze said.
While Engram’s drop was the biggest missed opportunity, it wasn’t the only one. On four straight drives, the Rebels entered the red zone, settled for three field goals and turned the ball over on downs. The inability to run the ball efficiently in the red zone was evident. The Rebels only gained 105 yards on the ground, with Kelly being the leading rusher with 40 yards. Judd, Brazley and Pellerin weren’t able to get anything going, forcing Kelly into a 59 pass attempt night, which seems like its becoming the norm for the Rebel offense.
Perhaps the most telling stat for how the Rebels have managed to lose games this year is the fact that they have had the lead in four of their five losses and was tied against Arkansas going into the half. Ever since the FSU game to open the season, Rebel nation has watched this team’s inability to close games the same way they come out to start. The energy and the execution seem to waver throughout the game, leading to an eventual collapse. While injuries and outside noise of the NCAA investigation have followed this team throughout the season, the Rebels haven’t shown the ability to have the next-man-up mindset that you need to have in the toughest conference in college football.
The Rebels do have a favorable against Georgia Southern this Saturday, and it will be interesting to see if Freeze and his staff move some personnel around to try and create a spark on defense and in the running game. After this weekend, the Rebels have three SEC match-ups to end the season. The Rebels travel to College Station to face the Aggies, then to Nashville for a matchup against Vanderbilt, all setting up a matchup against Mississippi State for the Egg Bowl here in Oxford. The Rebels have to find a way to win three of their last four to become bowl eligible, which is hard to believe for a team with playoff hopes coming into the 2016 season. The Rebels’ game against Georgia Southern is set for an 11 a.m. kick-off at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
Steven Gagliano is a writer for HottyToddy.com. He can be reached email@example.com.
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