NCAA Football News

Ole Miss Still Isn't Ready to Be a Serious College Football Contender

One month ago, Ole Miss appeared to have arrived as a College Football Playoff contender. Following a 43-37 win at Alabama, the Rebels’ second consecutive win over the Crimson Tide, Hugh Freeze’s group rose to No. 3 nationally and looked to be on a perfect course to build on 2014’s nine-win season and Peach Bowl appearance.

Four weeks later, however, that big win looks far more like an anomaly than a trend. An ugly 38-10 loss at Florida exposed the Rebels on both sides of the ball, and Saturday’s 37-24 loss at Memphis only further underscored the point: Freeze’s team simply isn’t ready to compete for a College Football Playoff berth, much less the SEC West title.

While there is no shame in losing on the road to the 6-0 Tigers, one of the best Group of Five programs and a strong contender for a New Year’s Six bowl bid, it isn’t something that a serious SEC contender or playoff contender does.

In fact, it was the Rebels’ first loss to an unranked non-SEC opponent since Oct. 16, 1976, when the Rebs lost to then-independent South Carolina, 10-7. It was Memphis’ first win over a ranked foe since defeating Peyton Manning-quarterbacked Tennessee in 1996, and the Tigers’ first win over Ole Miss since 2004.

Saturday’s loss was particularly inexplicable when you consider how it unfolded. Twenty seconds into the game, the Rebels led 7-0 following Laquon Treadwell’s 68-yard touchdown pass, and quickly extended that lead to 14-0.

But the Tigers scored 31 unanswered points to take control against an Ole Miss defense that looked lost without star defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche, who was sidelined with a concussion suffered while playing as a tailback. “I wasn’t so sure we struggled as much up front as we did on the backend,” Freeze told reporters, per Daniel Paulling of the Jackson Clarion-Ledger. “It didn’t help to lose him, but I don’t know that was the reason.”

Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch skewered the Rebel D for 384 yards and three touchdowns on 39-of-53 completions. The Tigers controlled the second half, complete with a last-second interception of quarterback Chad Kelly that sent the Memphis band and crowd into a spirited rendition of Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It” as the final seconds ticked away.

It was surely a humbling comedown for a program that now looks like a fringe Top 25 team. Kelly did his part, throwing for 372 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions, but Ole Miss was simply unable to generate any sort of rushing offense. Jaylen Walton led the way with just 39 yards on seven carries.

Ole Miss couldn’t generate consistent offense against a Memphis defense that was just average, allowing 26.8 points per game (No. 71 nationally) entering the game. With Texas A&M on the schedule next week and LSU set for Nov. 21, not to mention a trip to an improving Auburn Tigers team on Halloween, that’s a major concern.

The Rebels have Alabama figured out, although last month’s win was fueled by five Alabama turnovers and an incredibly fluky 66-yard touchdown pass that caromed high off a helmet and into a Rebel receiver’s arms, but little else.

Beating the Crimson Tide is nice, but it loses its meaning when accompanied by a lack of overall consistency. Until the Rebels figure that out, they’ll simply be flashy afterthoughts in the national picture.

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Baylor WR Corey Coleman Deserves More Heisman Attention

Through the first half of the college football season, the recent quarterback dominance of the Heisman Trophy looked to be in huge jeopardy thanks to the standout play of several star running backs.

But the early Week 7 action showed it's beyond time for a certain wide receiver—Baylor's Corey Coleman—to be considered as a serious contender to pull the upset over the signal-callers.

Coleman recorded 10 receptions for 199 and three touchdowns Saturday in No. 2 Baylor's home rout of Big 12 foe West Virginia, which handed the Bears their only loss of 2014.

The junior wide receiver's three scores gave him an incredible 16 touchdowns for 2015, breaking the school's single-season record set by Kendall Wright in 2011. 

Wright set that record in 13 games. It took Coleman less than six full games to break it this season.

Coleman's record-breaking performance Saturday against the Mountaineers was his best performance in a season filled with outstanding ones.

He's had at least 100 receiving yards and a touchdown in each of Baylor's six wins this season, and he's had multiple touchdowns in all but the season opener against FCS foe Lamar.

Entering Saturday, Coleman had more receiving touchdowns than 103 FBS teams had passing touchdowns in 2015. With three scores against West Virginia, that number could rise after this weekend.

If he keeps up his current pace—almost three scores per game—Coleman would easily pass the FBS all-time record of 27 receiving touchdowns in a single season, which was set by Louisiana Tech's Troy Edwards in 1998.

Baylor is also guaranteed at least a 13th game this year thanks to its six-win record, and a spot in the national title game would give Coleman an extra chance to pad his touchdown totals even more.

And when he's not scoring touchdowns, Coleman is still making highlight-reel plays like this one.

It's going to take a special effort and maybe even some additional help for anyone to catch LSU running back Leonard Fournette, who is the runaway favorite to win the Heisman, according to Odds Shark.

But Coleman opened Week 7 with the ninth-best odds to take home the stiff-arming trophy. The way he's playing right now, he looks destined to be a finalist.

In fact, West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen thinks Coleman is even better than Fournette.

While Coleman might not pass the dominant Fournette in the race for the Heisman, he at least needs to be higher up in the conversation.

Last season, Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper was one of the final three in New York City for the Heisman ceremony.

And while Cooper played a much bigger role in Alabama's offense compared to Coleman's role in the point-a-minute Baylor attack—Cooper averaged close to nine receptions last season—Coleman already has as many touchdowns in six games as Cooper had in 14 a year ago.

Coleman is also averaging seven more yards per catch than Cooper had in 2014.

So while 2015 is looking more and more like the "Year of the Running Back," the top playmaker in the nation's top offense is already breaking school records less than halfway through the season—and he's on pace to have the best scoring season for a wide receiver in major college football history.

Forget Baylor's easier start to the 2015 season or the fact Coleman plays in Art Briles' big-play scheme.

Those record-breaking numbers alone are more than enough to push Coleman higher up in the Heisman conversation.

 

Unless otherwise noted, statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com.

Justin Ferguson is a college football writer at Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JFergusonBR.

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Ole Miss vs. Memphis: Game Grades, Analysis for the Rebels

Despite a strong start, No. 13 Ole Miss couldn't get anything going in Memphis, falling to the Tigers, 37-24.

Head coach Hugh Freeze will catch a ton of heat for this one, and rightfully so. His team took its foot off the gas pedal after going up 14-0, allowing Memphis to find its groove en route to a 31-0 run that blew the game wide open.

Chad Kelly's raw numbers (372 yards, two touchdowns) look fine, but this offense did little to help the banged-up defense in this one. The Rebels were one-dimensional and refused to get after a Memphis defense that played far above its head at home.

It doesn't get any easier from here. The Rebels still have to play top-10 Texas A&M and LSU before the end of the season.

 

Grade Analysis for the Rebels

Passing Offense

Kelly wasn't bad. His second interception came in garbage time, and he figured out how to move the ball in the second half. 

The problem was that this offense stopped going to Laquon Treadwell once it got the big lead. The coaches and Kelly corrected this in the second half, but only after the Tigers had pulled ahead. Treadwell's day could have been much bigger than the 14 catches and 144 yards he put up.

 

Rushing Offense

The Rebels don't have a running back they trust between the tackles and it's killing them. Kelly is taking far too many big hits trying to generate a ground game, and this team has no plan when it gets into the red zone.

It would also help if this team could get some push up front. Without Laremy Tunsil cleaning up the left side, this offensive line has become a complete liability. The Rebels can't get him back soon enough.

 

Passing Defense

Banged up or not, the Land Sharks haven't been the same this season. Paxton Lynch picked apart this secondary all day, and his receivers were routinely beating coverage with ease. Aside from a couple of sacks, this group did little to make him uncomfortable.

 

Rushing Defense

The way Lynch was playing, the Tigers didn't need much on the ground. When they did, Jarvis Cooper continuously barreled through arm tackles to pick up chunks of yardage. Without Robert Nkemdiche, the front seven had little impact on this one.

 

Special Teams

Cody Wunderlich made his short field goal, and Will Gleeson had an average day punting the ball. Neither team got anything going in the return game.

 

Coaching

Freeze can beat Alabama, but that's about all he's shown this season. He went away from what was working early, got Nkemdiche hurt over a silly short-yardage situation and gifted the Tigers a touchdown with a dumb fourth-down call deep in his own territory. Overall, it was difficult to see what the gameplan was.

This is twice since the Alabama game that Freeze's team has been seemingly blindsided by a good team on the road. It happened in the blowout at Florida, and he never felt the need to put Memphis away early in this one. As a result, the Rebels are 5-2 with four losable games left on the schedule.

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Ole Miss vs. Memphis: Score, Highlights and Twitter Reaction

Any hope Ole Miss had of reaching the College Football Playoff this year likely ended Saturday, as the Rebels were upset by Memphis 37-24. 

The turning point in the game seemed to come when Mississippi star defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche left the field after taking a huge hit while playing offense, via ESPN's official Twitter:

Nkemdiche suffered a concussion, per ESPN.com's Alex Scarborough, and did not return. As for why Mississippi head coach Hugh Freeze was using Nkemdiche in a spot like that, Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee provided an answer:

Ole Miss held a 14-7 lead at that point and was moving the ball against the Tigers defense, but once Nkemdiche was out, the tide turned. 

Not surprisingly, as noted by Geoff Calkins of the Commercial Appeal, Freeze's use of Nkemdiche is not likely to be received well:

While it's true this isn't the first time Freeze has used Nkemdiche as a runner—the junior had two rushing touchdowns and one receiving touchdown coming into Saturday—leaving your best defensive weapon in a spot to take additional hits is not smart. 

It's especially problematic for Nkemdiche because he has the potential to be one of the first picks in April's draft, so any injury he sustains, let alone a concussion, could hurt his draft stock. 

Another problem for Mississippi, per ESPN's Brett McMurphy, has been an inability to win away from Vaught-Hemingway Stadium:

Going back further than that, according to ESPN's Kate Tamba Howard, this is Ole Miss' first loss against an unranked nonconference opponent since 1976. 

Memphis, which came into the game unranked with a 5-0 record, responded with 24 unanswered points that included scores on four straight possessions from the second quarter through the third quarter with Nkemdiche on the sidelines.

About the only "negative" for Memphis, per ESPN's Scott Van Pelt, is the increasing likelihood that head coach Justin Fuente leaves the program after this season:

Tigers quarterback Paxton Lynch kicked the offense into gear. With virtually no running game to help, the standout junior finished the game 39-of-53 with 384 passing yards, three touchdowns and one interception.

Of course, Lynch has slowly moved into the national quarterback conversation. He's started to draw some NFL draft buzz, which Dane Brugler of CBS Sports wrote is only going to increase after Saturday:

Memphis certainly belongs in the conversation for a spot in the Top 25 polls next week. The American Athletic Conference suddenly looks very formidable, with three undefeated teams (Temple, Houston) and time to boost their respective resumes. 

The Rebels were able to make things interesting late, cutting their deficit to seven points late in the third quarter, but ultimately, their inability to slow down Lynch was too much to overcome. The Tigers were able to get two fourth-quarter field goals to seal the win.

One bright spot for Mississippi was Laquon Treadwell, who continues to dazzle in 2015. The star wide receiver had a career-high 14 catches for 144 yards and one touchdown. 

If those numbers aren't enough, Treadwell also showed off his skills as a passer with this 68-yard score to Quincy Adeboyejo, via Ole Miss Football:

Sallee pointed out a scenario in which this Ole Miss loss turns into a nightmare for the entire SEC:

The health of Nkemdiche will be the Rebels' big story moving forward. While there is no such thing as a good loss, in this case, the Rebels did pick the right time to drop a game.

Mississippi doesn't lose any ground in the SEC West, still owns a tiebreaker over Alabama thanks to its head-to-head win and has a huge showdown with Texas A&M at home next Saturday. 

 

Postgame Reaction

Fuente was glowing about his team and the Memphis fans after this monumental win for the program, via Memphis Tiger Network:

Tigers wide receiver Moze Frazier, who had eight catches for 83 yards and one touchdown, added that this is something everyone on the team has been building toward, via Memphis Tiger Network:

The early deficit could have sunk Memphis, which was looking to establish itself as a legitimate Top 25 team, but Lynch admitted the team never lost confidence, via ESPN.com.

"We got down early and there were a couple of long faces on the sideline, but we knew we had to keep plugging away," Lynch said. "We knew early in the game we were moving the ball on them."

While all the focus in an upset like this tends to focus on the losing team, Mississippi quarterback Chad Kelly did give Memphis kudos for its play, per ESPN.com

"You've got to give all the credit to Memphis," Kelly said. "They played hard. They played to the whistle and knew what they were doing."

The AP and coaches poll voters will certainly have to give the Tigers their due now while also figuring out how much to punish Ole Miss for two losses in three games. 

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Baylor WR Corey Coleman Sets School Single-Season TD Record in Just 6 Games

The Baylor Bears played just their sixth game of the season on Saturday, but junior receiver Corey Coleman has already set the school's single-season touchdown record.

In other words, he's a monster.

Coleman tied the single-season record (14) in the first quarter against West Virginia and then broke it with an 11-yard touchdown catch (above) in the second quarter.

He wasn't finished, however. Coleman continued his big day by making a defender miss on his way to touchdown No. 16:

The 5'11" wideout has at least one touchdown in every game this season and is on a streak of five straight games with multiple touchdown catches.

If he continues at this pace, Coleman's record will be tough for any Bear to break in the future.

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