Veteran sports writer Parrish Alford takes a look at where things stand for Ole Miss, Southern Miss and Mississippi State at the halfway point in the 2023 season. All are off this Saturday.
Last week’s pick record was 3-0, making 15-3 overall for the 2023 season.
Has there ever been a Saturday in October that did not involve World War II or 9-11 that none of Mississippi’s three Division I schools played football? If you know tell me, so I can use that at my next trivia night gathering.
This Saturday is an off week for all three schools and Ole Miss and Mississippi State have open dates between regularly scheduled games, and Southern Miss does not play because the Golden Eagles play Tuesday night at South Alabama.
No longer does the Mid-America Conference dominate early-week college football television windows. The Sun Belt and Conference USA have gotten into the act.
The big boys aren’t playing in Mississippi this week, but we’re not taking the week off.
Here is mid-season analysis for each team. The Recipe of the Week is back too.
No. 13 Ole Miss
Rebels fans stormed the field after their team beat LSU.
A week later in the middle of the fourth quarter against Arkansas it looked like they might storm the exits.
Instead, the Rebels won an ugly game.
When quarterback Jaxson Dart was hurt and couldn’t be as big a part of the run game as they need him to be, they ran for 196 yards, 84 yards more than the Hogs allowed on average.
Dart hit some plays in the passing game but missed some too. He was clearly a bit off.
In short, the Rebels won with defense.
The defense rose up in the fourth quarter and gave the Rebels a chance against LSU. It was strong in the fourth quarter again but was more consistent throughout the game.
I’m not sold enough on this defense to say it’s arrived, but it might be growing into a more competitive unit.
The Arkansas offensive line has struggled, and the Rebels were able to take advantage of that with nine tackles for loss, five sacks and other pressures against quarterback KJ Jefferson, the native of nearby Sardis, who dropped to 0-2 in Oxford.
Ole Miss needs the defense to continue to progress, but what it really needs is for banged-up Dart to get better this week before a trip to Auburn, a game former coach Hugh Freeze has had circled on his calendar since the day he was hired.
Oh the drama that’s coming up. You’ve got Freeze wanting to beat Ole Miss and the resurgent story lines of Lane Kiffin interviewing with Auburn during the season last year, and throw on top Auburn fans who will say they wanted Freeze and not Kiffin all along.
Ole Miss has not been a complete team this year. If the defense really is becoming more formidable – and they weren’t bad against Alabama the week prior to LSU – it comes at a time of suspect health for Dart.
It’s good to see the impact from Ulysses Bentley at running back. That can only help Quinshon Judkins.
What helps this team the most is when Dart makes a correct read and either gives or keeps and runs with his customary physical passion.
When Dart is running hard he’s more accurate as a passer.
A return to full strength for Dart and a surging defense could make Ole Miss worthy of its ranking and hard to beat down the stretch.
Georgia looked like the best team in college football against Kentucky last week.
If Ole Miss really is reaching a different level to a team that can adapt to the style of game and still win it’s not hard to envision this team going 5-1 down the stretch.
Winning at Auburn and at home against Texas A&M will require a different gear than the Rebels showed in some earlier games.
After last year’s end-of-season debacle the stretch is where fans really want to see this team perform and where Lane Kiffin can deliver a salary-worthy finish.
After a disappointing SEC start, a non-conference win against a Group of Five opponent doesn’t really satisfy.
Especially not when a third-string quarterback from the MAC comes off the bench to throw for three touchdowns and almost 300 yards.
To be fair, Hayden Wolff was a 12-game starter at Old Dominion last year, and in 22 career starts for the Monarchs threw for 5,578 and 30 touchdowns.
But was playing in just his second game with his new mates, his first meaningful playing time. He was 3 for 9 at Syracuse in Week 2.
So on the road in the SEC, pressed into action by injury, he was 27 for 35 for 262. That’s 77 percent if you’re scoring at home. He threw one interception.
A veteran Mississippi State defense that has struggled this year had the chance to play well and carry some momentum into an open week and extra preparation time for SEC co-struggler Arkansas.
Instead, opposing receivers continued to get open against the Bulldogs. State was adequate, not smothering, with its run defense. The Bulldogs defeated Western Michigan 41-28, but the game had drama longer than it should have.
The Bulldogs are last in the SEC in pass defense efficiency and near the bottom in red zone defense and scoring defense.
In three SEC games State is giving up almost 40 points a game (39.3).
We’re past the point of talking about departed cornerback Emmanuel Forbes. These guys in the secondary should be turning around to look for the ball and making plays instead of letting receivers create separation.
Offensively it’s a team still trying to find out who it is.
It would like to be a running team, but Woody Marks is banged up, and production drops when other running backs are in the game.
Quarterback Will Rogers has been on target in the non-conference, but against SEC foes who have seen him for three other seasons he’s struggled. He looked like a deer in headlights against LSU and had three interceptions against Alabama. He threw for 487 at South Carolina but only one touchdown. In a game the Bulldogs lost 37-30 Rogers fumbled and threw a pick in the end zone.
First-year coach Zach Arnett says he wants to see more toughness from his team.
He certainly has things to work on in the off week.
Coach Will Hall followed through on his pledge to shake things up including three new starters on the offensive line.
That didn’t really change anything as the Golden Eagles had just 276 total yards, just 110 on the ground.
Southern Miss remains near the bottom of the Sun Belt in both rushing offense and rushing defense.
Linebacker Averie Habas, appearing in only his second game, gave the Golden Eagles a lift with a pair of sacks, but Southern Miss had no answer for Jason Henderson, the Old Dominion middle linebacker who had 17 tackles, 2 ½ tackles for loss, and a sack.
Henderson’s last tackle came when he stopped Frank Gore on fourth-and-goal from the 1 in the final seconds, robbing the Eagles of a comeback win.
The Monarchs took over and ran out the clock.
The Golden Eagles can’t find their type of game.
They’ve lost shootouts; they’ve lost low-scoring struggles.
Quarterback Billy Wiles, the Clemson transfer, has thrown five interceptions, which isn’t great, but it’s a number that would be off-set if the offense was sticking it in the end zone a few more times.
It’s been a surprising decline for a team that was considered a climber in the Sun Belt.
Now Hall has more shaking to do.
He was inspired by injuries two years ago when he put Gore at quarterback at the end of the season, and the Golden Eagles won two games.
If there was something about this team that said, “We’re coming, we’re close” Hall might not need such a radical change, but that message isn’t evident.
The Monarchs weren’t exactly Sun Belt royalty. In spite of the presence of Henderson, a third-team All-American and the nation’s leading tackler last season, they are middle of the pack in run defense and scoring defense.
Old Dominion’s run-out-the-clock win made it 3-3 on the year. ODU has been competitive but not worldbeaters.
A coach once told me that, “If you’re looking down the schedule and can’t find the win, you’re the win.”
Right now, it seems Southern Miss and ULM are trying not to be “the win” on other teams’ schedules.
Recipe of the Week
Creamy Chicken Noodle Soup
Is it fall yet? Close enough. This has been successfully served to the in-laws which gives it a revered status within the family. Grilled cheese sandwiches are a great side with this.
- 8 cups chicken broth
- 1 can sweetened condensed milk
- ½ cup milk
- 1 cup sweet peas
- 1 cup sliced carrot
- 1 can cream of chicken soup
- ½ teaspoon thyme
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon pepper
- ½ teaspoon Tony Chacherie’s Creole Seasoning
- 2 cups diced, cooked chicken
- Bowtie pasta to desired texture, usually 3-4 cups
- ¼ cup flour
- 3 tablespoons butter
In your favorite big pot stir together broth, sweetened condensed milk, carrots, peas, thyme, salt, pepper, Tony’s and cream of chicken soup. Cook for 20 minutes over medium heat. Add chicken and noodles. Cook for 10-12 minutes or until noodles are almost done. In a cup, stir remaining milk and flour till smooth. Add to soup. Stir in butter until melted.
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