Thursday, June 8, 2023

COLUMN: Even in loss, there’s hope for the future of Ole Miss football

By John Macon Gillespie

A loss is a loss. Let’s get that out of the way.

In the famous words of Herm Edwards, “You play to win the game,” and Ole Miss fell short of that goal on Saturday, but most realistic human beings knew that the Rebels’ chances of stealing a win from the No. 2 Alabama Crimson Tide were slim-to-none.

Still, Ole Miss was tied with the Tide in the fourth quarter and put up gaudy numbers on offense while the Rebel defense struggled to create stops, a problem that has been present the first three weeks of the season and will continue to be an issue as the campaign wears on. Even so, Ole Miss had something on Saturday that it hasn’t had in a while: hope. 

As the game wore on and the Rebels continued to answer each and every score put forth by Alabama, people started to believe. Some believed that Ole Miss would pull off the upset, but others, including myself, realized that a win probably wasn’t going to happen, but that plenty of wins are on the horizon. Belief was back in Oxford.

This isn’t an upper-tier SEC team due to the deficiencies of the defense. Statistically, this Ole Miss defense is among the worst in the country, and chances are the inability to stop SEC offenses will cost the Rebels some games this season. This is a problem that can only be solved with recruiting, but after Saturday’s performance, recruits should see that Ole Miss is ahead of schedule on its program rebuild, and a few more capable bodies on defense could be the difference in putting Ole Miss in the top level of the conference.

On the flip side, this offense is spectacular. In watching the game on Saturday, a friend of mine stated what I’ve been hesitant to admit to myself, but I think I agree with him. This offense is elite. Lane Kiffin and Jeff Lebby’s side of the ball can do so many things well and get the ball to playmakers in space, and the offensive talent, while young in spots, is off the charts. For the number of games that Ole Miss’ defense could cost the Rebels this season, the offense could make up a lot of that difference.

I know it’s early in the season, but this fact shouldn’t be disregarded: Ole Miss has played the two most talented teams on its schedule with seven games left to play and is clearly ahead of where most people thought they’d be at this point in the rebuild. I’ll say it: every game from here on out is winnable. Will Ole Miss finish the season on a 7-0 run? Probably not; the Rebels play some teams who have more talent and depth top to bottom than they do. 

But Ole Miss should enter each Saturday realizing that they have a chance to win. That’s a feeling that the Rebels haven’t had in a long time, and regardless of how the games turn out, that should be welcomed by the fans.