Ole Miss entered The Swamp with a 4-0 record and a No. 3 national ranking. Despite facing an improving Florida squad, the Rebels were favored to win by more than a touchdown according to Las Vegas odds makers. However, the Gators were dominant on both sides of the football, and Ole Miss allowed four touchdown passes while falling behind 25-0 in the first half. The Rebels didn’t score until the third quarter, didn’t find the end zone until the fourth, and lost the turnover battle 4-0. When the dust settled, the scoreboard read Gators 38, Rebels 10.
The loss was unfortunate for an Ole Miss squad with SEC title and national championship aspirations. Luckily, because the game was a cross-division matchup, the Rebels still control their own destiny in the SEC West, and may even be able to get back in the playoff picture in the second half of the season. To do so, they’ll need to get back on track against New Mexico State.
College Football Podcast: Week 6 Preview with Tom Dienhart
New Mexico State at Ole Miss
Kickoff: 12 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: SEC Network
Spread: Ole Miss -43.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Ole Miss Must Reverse Scoring Trends
Led by the SEC’s leading passer Chad Kelly (1,478 yards, 11 TD, 4 INT) and playmakers Laquon Treadwell (374 receiving yards, TD), Cody Core (335 receiving yards, 3 TDs) and others, Ole Miss began the season on a historic scoring pace following a 76-3 victory over UT Martin and a 73-21 win over Fresno State.
Understandably, the Rebels scored fewer points in their Week 3 upset over Alabama, beating the Crimson Tide 43-37 in Tuscaloosa, but the Ole Miss offense continued its downward scoring trend in a 27-16 win over Vanderbilt and last week’s 38-10 loss to Florida in Gainesville. That’s four consecutive weeks in which the Rebels have scored fewer points than they did in the week before.
Because they’ve allowed 45.8 points and 544.5 total yards per game in four losses this season, there’s practically no way New Mexico State will be able to hold Ole Miss to single digits, and a strong offensive performance will help the Rebels get back on track moving forward.
2. Rebels Need a Dominant Defensive Performance
Similar to their downward scoring trends on offense, the Ole Miss defense allowed more points in each week through the first three games before holding Vandy to 16 points in Week 4. Unfortunately, last week against Florida, the Rebels surrendered a season-high 38 points.
Also, the Rebels have failed to force a turnover in two consecutive games after leading the nation with ten takeaways through the first three weeks of the season. The talented Landshark defense was battered last week, but has held opponents to respectable averages of 23.0 points and 357.2 yards this season thanks to stars like Robert Nkemdiche, Denzel Nkemdiche and Trae Elston.
The Rebels should be able to keep the Aggies in check. But, it won’t be easy. Despite an 0-4 record, New Mexico State has scored 30.2 points and rolled up 421.5 total yards of offense. Running back Larry Rose III has piled up 457 rushing yards across the last two games, including 260 in a 38-26 loss to New Mexico last week.
3. Get Healthy, Stay Healthy
Ole Miss will play without Tony Conner for the third consecutive game, and linebacker C.J. Johnson will be out of action following knee surgery. Javon Patterson, Justin Bel, Robert Conyers, Kailo Moore, Demore'ea Stringfellow, and Jaylen Walton are also unlikely to play this week. The Rebels have played the entire season without left tackle Laremy Tunsil because of an NCAA investigation, and defensive tackle Issac Gross suffered a season-ending injury in Week 1. With a tricky road game against Memphis coming up Oct. 17 and with five pivotal SEC West clashes to follow, the Rebels need to avoid anymore injuries against New Mexico State and get healthy for the second half stretch run.
Simply put, unless Ole Miss completely sleepwalks through the 11AM local kickoff, the Aggies are unlikely to pose any threat in this game. Expect the Rebels to use Saturday’s Homecoming matchup as a tool to get back on track heading into a tough second half schedule.
Prediction: Ole Miss 45, New Mexico State 3
— Written by Nicholas Ian Allen, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Allen's work on college football can also be found on SaturdayBlitz.com and FanSided.com. Follow him on Twitter @NicholasIAllen.