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November 27, 2005

Free Read: Egg Bowl post game analysis

Ole Miss' 2005 season came to a merciful end Saturday when Mississippi State head coach Sylvester Croom instructed his offense to repeatedly take a knee deep in Rebel territory late in the game with the Bulldogs leading 35-14.

It was exactly the act of kindness the Rebels needed to avoid further embarrassment after being soundly beaten by a 2-8 team that hadn't won an SEC West Division since another State team with only two wins upended the Rebels in Starkville in 2001.

For the Rebels, Saturday's performance was a carbon copy of much of the season - struggle to run the ball and try to find a quarterback that could get anything done behind perhaps one of the poorest offensive lines to ever hit the field for the Rebels. Added to the woes in this game was turnovers and a once promising defense that has steadily regressed in the last four games.

Here's a closer look at all aspects of the game ...

Offense: Perhaps it's only a coincidence, but prior to offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone being fired on Nov. 13 after the Arkansas game, his offense, which was never spectacular, has gotten worse. Against the Razorbacks, the Rebels had 326 yards of offense, but managed only 175 yards against LSU and 189 against Mississippi State. What's more interesting is the offense occasionally shows signs of being capable - such as the first drive for a touchdown against State where the play calling was outstanding and including putting all three quarterbacks on the field and mixing in reverses and passes. However, beyond the first series, it appeared the offense reverted back to its funky form. It's almost impossible to evaluate the offense's true capability because for the last two games, it has seldom been put into a position to operate effectively. The most obvious deficient area is along the offense line, which had began to play better around midseason, but reverted to its early season form of basically being inept. As always during this season, the inability to control the line of scrimmage and get a running game going sealed the Rebels' fate in this game. Grade: F

Defense: While the team struggled in about every area during the game early in the season, beginning with the Tennessee game, an area that was a bright spot was head coach and defensive coordinator Ed Orgeron's defense. With a spectacular run on defense from the Tennessee game to the Auburn game, things on defense began to go down hill. It hit rock bottom against a State team that rushed for 304 yards Saturday. The Rebels had faced tougher rushing opponents in Tennessee, Auburn, LSU and Arkansas, but had its worst outing against State. The lone bright spot on defense was again Patrick Willis, who had 14 tackles. While play in the secondary and at linebacker has generally been good and was adequate Saturday (only 105 yards for State through the air), blame for this loss has to go to the defensive line where beyond Michael Bozeman (five tackles) and McKinley Boykin (four tackles), the line play was certainly spotty. While the defensive strategy going into the game should have been to stack the line of scrimmage and dare a redshirt freshman to throw the ball, the defense allowed the State offense to run the ball down their throats and take control of the game. Grade: F

Special teams: Ole Miss punted five times for a 38 yard average and punting remains inconsistent - great at times and below average at others. The Ole Miss coverage teams allowed State 66 return yards while the Rebels had only one yard. Will Moseley continues to be a weapon and leads the SEC in kick offs in the end zone. Matt Hinkle hit both extra points. Grade: C-

Coaching: How deep problems run on the staff is not known publicly beyond the likelihood of Mazzone not returning as offensive coordinator. However, the play of the team points to deep problems on the staff and shows a team far from united. Areas where the team had improved over the course of the season regressed over the last three games. From poor punt and kick coverage to continued confusion on the offensive line to a formidable defensive line that was manhandled against State, it's obvious that the team is not working together. That falls on the coaches. The offensive play calling beyond the first drive was abysmal, the defense failed to adjust to stop the run, and while the Rebels may have had spirited practices during the week, that effort and preparation didn't carry over to the field. Grade: F

Looking ahead: Orgeron will face an off-season of challenges. His 3-8 record in his first year won't help him sell the program on the recruiting trail - he may be a great recruiter, but top prospects want to play for a winning program - and a 3-8 record points to issues beyond a lack of talent and calls into question coaching abilities. He'll also have to re-shape his staff - one that underwent substantial changes before he coached his first game - and now faces another overhaul. He'll also have some explaining to do to an alumni base that believed him when he over hyped the program last spring instead of accurately portraying the challenges the team faced in 2005. Making matters worse for Orgeron is that the talent level from 2005 to 2006 drops off significantly with the loss of 22 seniors, about 14 of which were key contributors this season.

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