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Thoughts on Ole Miss from Florida State perspective

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Just how good is Ole Miss?

After Florida State’s season-opening win, I thought I’d offer my opinion of the opponent and share any pre-game impressions that were confirmed or changed.

Ole Miss has some great talents

QB Chad Kelly has a cannon for an arm and is an even better athlete in person than I realized. He made several elite throws against perfect coverage. I angered Clemson fans by saying that Kelly’s best is just as good as Deshaun Watson’s, and I stand by that, but I also said that the reason Watson is better is because his lows are not as low as Kelly’s — two bad interceptions (the third was tipped), a fumble and several missed underneath targets.

Ole Miss’ receivers are great. The receivers coach needs a raise. Those guys go and attack the ball. It’s a mentality and it has to be something the Rebels teach in practice because they have the mindset that every 50/50 ball will be theirs.

In fact, I believe some of FSU’s struggles in the first half was attributed to FSU’s respect for the Ole Miss receivers. They were trying to be so multiple that they didn’t get lined up well against tempo. In the second half FSU simplified and just counted on its talent to get lined up and win with athleticism and physicality.

Everything the Ole Miss people said about their defensive line was true. Deep, talented, ad advertised. They gave FSU hell for 25 minutes.

But it’s not a complete team

Ole Miss’ other spots are pretty lacking in experience, talent or both.

Our friends at Red Cup Rebellion told us this week that Ole Miss’ would need its corners to play great because the linebackers and secondary were perhaps not ready. Spot on. When Ken Webster (an elite corner who FSU recruited hard) went down, Ole Miss’ secondary was in big trouble because it really needed him to be able to play on an island. The replacement wasn’t anything special and you can’t have every spot in the secondary be below average.

Ole Miss fans wanting more aggression with that secondary group don’t get it

If Ole Miss had tried to get really aggressive with its secondary as seemingly every Ole Miss fan on social media thinks, FSU probably scores 60 or 70 points. Ole Miss’ plan, especially after the injuries, of hanging back and trying to keep the play in front was smart, but poorly executed.

Any good QB is going to eat Ole Miss’ secondary alive if the pass rush cannot dominate. Luckily for Ole Miss, it plays in the league with probably the worst QB play of the Power 5 and it doesn’t have to face its own Chad Kelly.

I do wonder if Ole Miss might just go full air-raid style and essentially play for turnovers or quick allowed scores (if the opponent scores, Ole Miss gets the ball back). But that’s better in theory than in practice.

Being a head coach and not just a coordinator

One of the biggest adjustments FSU made over the final half of the game was using more bear front and then using defensive ends at defensive tackle. To be clear, the latter was only made possible because Ole Miss’ offense didn’t even try to run the ball. The running backs had just 10 carries. TEN. With a 22-point lead. Freeze seemed to think more like a coordinator and not a holistic head coach. Running the ball could have protected the defense a bit. The complete lack of a run game also allowed FSU’s players to totally disregard play-action fakes from Ole Miss.

A catch-22

It’s clear that Ole Miss’ offense is best when it can play with extreme tempo. But that is probably the worst thing in the world for Ole Miss’ defense because it exposes some real depth issues. Florida State is not a tempo team at all. Sometimes it is maddeningly plodding. But when it recognized certain reserves in the game, it went up-tempo to prevent the Rebels from subbing the reserves out, and then picked on them repeatedly.

Is it worth it? Maybe so.

Ole Miss might not be the third-best team FSU plays. It might be the fourth or fifth.

A lot of Ole Miss fans were angry when they saw we said that the Rebels were probably the third-toughest game on FSU’s schedule (behind Clemson and the road game at Louisville). But Ole Miss’ defense is much worse than I realized and it’s possible any number of opponents on FSU’s schedule might be tougher, including Florida, Miami, North Carolina, etc.