It's not often you can make a case to categorize a 378 yards-against defensive performance as "dominant." But, that is in fact the case to be made. This win was masterful. It displayed everything that should make Tiger fans so proud of this team. Next week is next week, and it'll get here when it gets here, but I hope that Tiger fans will recognize this win as one to be sipped and savored. That was a good, young team we just beat.
1. The prima facia case for dominance
To be clear, Missouri didn't in any kind of way embarrass or humiliate Mississippi, or so-called "expose" them as some kind of inferior opponent. Not at all. The Rebels were indeed a very worthy foe. (If the Rebs can keep some of that talent from bolting to the NFL as soon as its eligible, and keep their recruiting at a high level for two or three more classes, they can be scary good.) Rather, this game was a "unanimous decision" with no controversy; one where the winning fighter won every round from every judge.
After Mizzou went up 10, midway through the second quarter, the game stayed close but was never in serious doubt. That's what I mean by dominance. And frankly, that's the kind of win over a good team worthy of savoring. Understand what this Tiger team just did. It put a quality opponent to sleep at their place by midway through the second quarter. (Or, with just under seven minutes to go in third quarter, on Henry Josey's touchdown, if you want to be conservative.). That is, for much of the game Mississippi couldn't really win it. Missouri had to lose it.
That is a very difficult task, as we saw from Bill's projections last week. Ole Miss is very much the youthful fighter that throws a lot of punches. He's not uniquely powerful, but he's got quick hands and they are always moving. He's trying to overwhelm you with punches. To beat that fighter you're gonna get hit, and if you get sloppy he can knock you out. Eventually, your efficiency, power, and defense -- particularly your ability to withstand some flurries -- will wear this fighter down. That's the fight I saw last night. Missouri landed its own shots to decisively win the early rounds, took some shots, but won each round.
2. The offensive line was just suffocating in the second half
I believe that in the last part of games, and seasons, you win on the quality of the offensive line. They don't need to be overwhelming. A team just has to be able to run when it wants and throw when it wants.
If you are still searching for a reason to believe in this Tiger team, it's that we have such an offensive line. It's not necessarily the biggest or most talented, but it's one of the best handful I have seen this year. This line can keep defenses on the field. The QB mostly determines how many sacks the team takes. The offensive line determines a team's ability to attack any particular area of the field.
The key to beating a fighter that throws a ton of punches is to get him (or her) on the defensive and moving backwards. That's what we saw in the second half. Ol' Miss landed a solid shot to Mizzou's crown on I'Tavius Mathers long TD run. But the running game wore the Rebs down. Body blow after body blow kept them on the defensive, moving backwards. In some games time of possession is not very informative. In this game it was. Missouri ran only five more plays than Mississippi (77-72), but kept the ball for roughly six more minutes.
Bonus Point: Matt White giveth, Matt White taketh away
One of the shots Ole Miss delivered was a solid punch coupled with sloppy defense by Matt White. On his 45-yard TD run, Mathers made a nice play to bounce it outside, away from the scrum. He created a good 7-10 yard gain from nothing. Then, White compounded it with a poor, hesitant run fit. It went from a good play to a bona fide now-we're-back-in-the-game momentum shift. Nevertheless, playing without his running mate Duron Singleton, White had a very good game. His TD-saving pass breakup on the goal line might have been the most important defensive play of the night, except it was so quickly followed up by Kony Ealy's in-your-face pressure on Wallace's 4th and goal attempt.