Head Coaches Zach Arnett, Lane Kiffin and Will Hall (Photos from HailStateFB, OleMissFB, and SouthernMissFB X/Twitter)
Veteran sports writer Parrish Alford takes a look at the Week 4 matchups for Southern Miss, Ole Miss and Mississippi State.
Last week’s pick record was 3-0, making 9-0 overall for the 2023 season. But the games are getting tougher.
Let’s take a look at the Week 4 matchups for Mississippi’s Big Three.
No. 15 Ole Miss at No. 13 Alabama
Time: 2:30 p.m. TV: CBS
There used to be a theory that you didn’t want to be the team that played Nick Saban coming off a loss. Only bad could result.
South Florida, in a 17-3 defeat after Alabama was controlled in Tuscaloosa by Texas, showed that this is a different Alabama team.
The Tide didn’t lead until 4 minutes were left in the third quarter when it broke a 3-3 tie. Even after that South Florida had its chances, no bull.
For whatever reason Nick Saban, the master motivator, the prince of “the process,” isn’t getting this team to respond like almost all other teams in the Alabama dynasty have responded. At least that’s been the case for the last two weeks. Whether that’s true for a third-straight week remains to be seen.
It’s too early to trash a team that for the last five years, according to 247Sports, has finished No. 1 in the recruiting rankings three times and No. 2 the other two times. The recruiting stars on that roster haven’t changed.
There’s no doubt Lane Kiffin wants this game. Since arriving at Ole Miss Kiffin has spoken with great respect for Saban.
Not long ago we would all see the ESPN graphic about Saban’s unbeaten record against his former assistants. Now Kirby Smart and Jimbo Fisher have already beaten him, and now Texas’ Steve Sarkisian has gotten into the mix.
Kiffin would love to get into the club.
Frankly, he’s had two great chances to beat Saban. His first year it would have been an upset for the ages, but the game was tied with eight minutes left in spite of the Rebels’ historically bad defense in 2020.
The next season in Tuscaloosa the Rebels were better, and Matt Corral was more established at quarterback. Kiffin thought it was time. He told the CBS audience to settle in and get their popcorn.
But the Rebels didn’t cash in on an early opportunity, and Kiffin’s ill-advised fourth-down attempts on his own end of the field further hurt his cause. It got out of hand before the popcorn got cold.
Last year the Rebels had the ball at the end with a chance to win – it was indeed popcorn worthy – but they didn’t finish.
It was such an emotional letdown it was part of the reason – Kiffin’s wandering eyes with Auburn were another – that the Rebels were mostly flat in the games that followed. The Egg Bowl wasn’t so much about being flat as it was an inability to figure out Zach Arnett’s defense.
Now Kiffin’s quarterback situation is better than it was a year ago, and Jaxson Dart has some pieces around him.
Alabama looks vulnerable.
So, who will get their players to respond this week?
Kiffin has been kind of spotty there.
On offense Dart is much improved with seven touchdown passes and only one interception through three games. Dart leads the SEC in pass efficiency and ranks No. 6 nationally.
Last week he was the spark the Ole Miss running game needed.
There’s still been no spark from Quinshon Judkins who led the SEC in rushing last year. There’s been an injury in there somewhere, the extent of which probably hasn’t been made clear, but the fact remains the production has lacked.
Kiffin doesn’t involve himself with the defense, but he’s the head coach, so it belongs to him, and it’s been very average between the 20s.
I see Alabama’s quarterback revolving door. I’ve seen three players getting a chance to win the job on game day. I read the comments about evaluating quarterbacks after the South Florida game, and now they’ve gone back to Jalen Milroe after his week of personal reflection.
I see the numbers for a rushing offense that ranks No. 7 in the SEC and outside the national top 50 and a passing offense that ranks No. 100.
I see all that.
What I also see are Tulane and Georgia Tech moving up and down the field against Ole Miss and not cashing in.
Alabama’s not going to see the end zone within arm’s distance and not finish the drive.
They’re not going to kick a field goal from the Ole Miss 8 as Tulane did. They’re not going to get to the Ole Miss 2 and the 5 on separate drives and come away with three total points as Georgia Tech did.
Alabama is No. 13 in The Associated Press Top 25, but they’re No. 1 in another very important poll: red zone offense. Their six touchdowns on eight red zone attempts have all come on the ground.
I just haven’t reached a trust level with this Ole Miss defense to make me think they’re about to force a lot of punts.
The Rebels lead the SEC with 52.7 points a game, but the numbers are skewed by 73 points against Mercer and late flurries against Tulane and Georgia Tech.
Alabama is allowing 14.7 points a game.
Lane Kiffin wants this one bad. But he’ll have to wait another year.
Prediction: Alabama 27, Ole Miss 22
Mississippi State at South Carolina
Time: 6:30 p.m. TV: SEC Network
Last week against No. 14 LSU the Bulldogs began the lonely path to the woodshed soon after the opening kick, and 3 ½ hours later barely a splinter remained.
Defensively, LSU looked nothing like the team that gave up 45 points and almost 500 yards in a season-opening loss to Florida State.
I was critical of Will Rogers last week because State’s record-setting quarterback had a performance worth criticizing. I’ve never seen him look so uncomfortable.
Some media hot takes after the game took issue with MSU coach Zach Arnett for putting a quarterback so accomplished in the Air Raid offense of former coach Mike Leach and trying to run a new system.
Certainly, that’s a consideration, but Rogers did not look so out of sync in wins over Southeastern Louisiana and Arizona.
Granted, the competition took a giant step up last week, but in those first two games mass confusion in the offense was not evident. The Bulldogs sputtered but eventually collected themselves and made plays.
A coaching friend floated a theory to me I’d not considered, and that’s the much more narrow splits on the offensive line in the new system compared to the wide splits preferred by Leach.
The narrow splits drew LSU’s fast athletes closer to the action – closer to Rogers – at the snap of the ball and left State’s linemen with very little margin for error.
Arnett didn’t sound like a coach who thought too many adjustments were necessary when he talked about poor execution.
Every remaining team won’t have LSU’s level of talent, but it’s the SEC. The talent won’t be far off.
Whether change is major or minor, the product on display at Davis Wade Stadium last week has to change.
Defense was less of a train wreck, but it was no party. LSU gained 530 yards, and quarterback Jayden Daniels was 30-for-34 passing.
The MSU secondary was absolutely torched by wide receiver Malik Nabers, who caught every one of 13 balls thrown to him for 239 yards and two touchdowns. Nabers made physical catches and also ran past a couple of defensive backs.
South Carolina, meanwhile, gave No. 1 Georgia fits for most of three quarters in Athens before losing 24-14.
The Gamecocks were held to minus-2 yards rushing in a season-opening loss to North Carolina and managed just 53 yards against Georgia. They weren’t very committed to the run in Athens with only 16 attempts.
I like the Bulldogs’ chances to get pressure on Carolina QB Spencer Rattler if they can make the Gamecocks one-dimensional. Rattler isn’t a great runner, but he picks his spots well.
These are two teams trying to climb in their respective divisions.
The question will be whether Rogers can regain the form he’s shown most of his career.
Prediction: MSU 31, South Carolina 28
Southern Miss at Arkansas State
Time: 6 p.m. TV: Live Streaming at ESPN-plus
The Red Wolves are coming off a 31-7 win over Stony Brook, a winless FCS team that hasn’t played anyone closer than a three-touchdown defeat.
Arkansas State has been outscored 110-3 by its two FBS opponents, Oklahoma and Memphis.
Frankly, it’s hard for Southern Miss fans to take solace in Arkansas State’s struggles because they so closely resemble those of the Golden Eagles.
Southern Miss, too, has had its “breakout” game against an FCS foe, a 40-14 win over Alcorn State.
The Golden Eagles have scored just one touchdown in lopsided losses to Florida State (66-13) and Tulane (21-3).
Coach Will Hall wasn’t pleased with execution in the passing game against the Green Wave, noting missed throws by quarterback Billy Wiles that could have resulted in touchdowns.
Things would be worse for Southern Miss, but Wiles continues to mostly protect the football. The Clemson transfer has thrown two interceptions over 95 attempts through three games.
The Golden Eagles have been unimpressive in the run game too, averaging just 91.3 yards to rank last in the Sun Belt and No. 120 nationally.
Wiles was sacked three times by Tulane, and Southern Miss amassed just 55 rushing yards before the negative sack yardage was considered.
The first three games have been a far cry from last when Southern Miss averaged a respectable 141.8 yards on the ground, and Frank Gore Jr., ranked second in the Sun Belt and No. 19 in America with 106.3 rushing yards a game.
Hall protected his offensive line as he sifted through the ashes of the Tulane game.
“They stopped the run a lot with a six-man box. I don’t think that’s all on our O-line. I think we had some runs there that maybe we just didn’t hit right,” he said.
Southern Miss has had the same five OL starters for all three games, each of which started at least five games last season and has a combined 89 career starts.
It will be interesting to see if Hall tweaks anything to help his offense build a little momentum.
His defense can use a little momentum too.
As they are on offense, the Golden Eagles are last in the Sun Belt in rushing defense also.
There’s time to get better, but the Eagles know Arkansas State has had its issues too. Florida State and Tulane are two very good football teams, but another week of lackluster play could lead to confidence problems in Hattiesburg.
Hopefully that won’t happen.
Prediction: Southern Miss 26, Arkansas State 19
Recipe of the Week
Mississippi BBQ Sauce
Rhett and Link and The Homestead Pickers say a vinegar-based bar-b-que sauce is popular among us, and that’s what I was looking for when I slightly modified a recipe I saw making the rounds on social media.
It gets good reviews at my house.
- 1 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1 cup ketchup
- half cup brown sugar
- third cup yellow mustard
- 1 TBSP garlic powder
- quarter teaspoon chili powder
- quarter teaspoon salt
- several shakes of Worcestershire
Add everything to a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Whisk together. Increase heat and bring to a boil. Stir frequently for 5 minutes. Remove from heat, cool and store.