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McCready: Adversity arrives in spades for Rebels after loss at Cal

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Matt Luke barks at his team during Saturday's loss at California.
USA TODAY

BERKELEY, California — California took the lead on Matt Anderson’s 19-yard field goal with 2:47 left in the third quarter Saturday.

Let the record show that was the first moment this Ole Miss team faced on-field adversity this season.

Ole Miss didn’t handle it particularly well. California scored the game’s final 20 points en route to a 27-16 win over the Rebels, a loss that further exposed the Rebels’ weaknesses and will very likely test their fortitude moving forward.

The Rebels had chances.

One scoring threat ended when Luke Logan’s 49-yard field goal attempt missed badly.

A stop by the Rebels’ defense on California’s ensuing possession was overruled when Ole Miss had an illegal substitution on fourth-and-1 from midfield. It was Ole Miss’ 14th penalty of the night, the most for a Rebels team since 2014. Ole Miss finished the game with 16 penalties for 113 yards.

Despite the miscues, Ole Miss was alive. Anderson missed a field goal attempt that would have given California a 20-16 lead with 7:48 left, giving Ole Miss the football on its own 23-yard line.

The Rebels could do nothing, going three-and-out against a suddenly rejuvenated Bears defense. California answered Ole Miss’ punt with a field goal, giving the Bears a 20-16 lead with 3:44 left.

As badly as Ole Miss had played, especially in the second half, the Rebels still had a chance. It expired when Shea Patterson’s pass into the flats was intercepted by Cameron Goode and returned 32 yards for a touchdown.

“We’ve been through a lot together and we’re going to keep staying together,” Ole Miss interim head coach Matt Luke said. “The only way you can get a bad taste out of your mouth is to go back on the practice field and get back to work.”

The platitudes are nice, but let’s get real here: Life is about to get tough for the Rebels.

Nothing against California, but the Golden Bears are a deeply flawed team, one that isn’t likely to make much noise in the Pac-12. Ole Miss plays No. 1 Alabama in two weeks. Nationally-ranked Auburn follows a week later. Vanderbilt, which knocked off Kansas State Saturday night in Nashville, heads to Oxford when Ole Miss finally gets off the road.

Fans have obsessed over paths to six or more wins all offseason. That’s not a knock of fans; that’s what fans do. However, every one of those paths included a win in Berkeley. Realistically, unless Ole Miss improves dramatically and quickly, the murderer’s row that stands in the Rebels’ path is going to present an incredible obstacle.

Ole Miss managed 53 yards on the ground Saturday. That’s insufficient. Teams are going to look at Saturday’s film and see ways to contain Patterson. Without a running game, life on offense is going to get miserable.

“We had some opportunities in the run game, and that was disappointing,” Luke said. “I thought we would run it well tonight.”

Alabama has one of the nation’s best defenses. Auburn is loaded up front. Vanderbilt is nasty. Kentucky stifled South Carolina Saturday night in Columbia. Mississippi State destroyed LSU. Forget six wins; at this point, avoiding nine losses is going to be a chore. Throw in the countdown on NCAA sanctions that is officially underway and the real prospect of a coaching change in the offseason and there’s a recipe for chaos.

Make no mistake. This isn’t Luke’s fault. This team is deficient at key areas. By the middle of the season, even the most ardent Hugh Freeze supporters will admit that. Still, it’s Luke’s job to right the ship, and he has his work cut out for him.

“From an execution standpoint, we have a lot to get cleaned up,” Luke said.

Truer words have never been spoken. There’s a lot to clean up indeed. And unless Luke and the Rebels can get some bleach into their proverbial system, there’s a real chance things get downright putrid this fall.

Notebook:

BROWN INJURED IN LOSS: Ole Miss wide receiver A.J. Brown was injured early in the first quarter Saturday in the Rebels’ 27-16 loss to California.

Brown was injured on Shea Patterson’s first interception of the night. Patterson’s throw appeared to be slightly behind Brown, who was running a crossing route. Brown got a hand on the ball but got hit by a Cal defender before he could get a handle on the pass.

Brown stayed on the field for several minutes before walking off under his own power.

Brown returned to the field with 11:39 left in the second quarter, played one play and then left again. Brown did not return. An Ole Miss spokesperson said Brown suffered a bruised knee.

The bad news didn’t stop there for Ole Miss. Center Sean Rawlings left in the second quarter with an ankle injury and did not return. With Rawlings out, Javon Patterson moved to center and Alex Givens entered the game at left guard. The Rebels’ offense, which had clicked in the first quarter, was never as effective the remainder of the night. Patterson had some issues with his snaps to the quarterback throughout the game and the shuffling offensive line led to a myriad of pass protection issues.

Kicker Gary Wunderlich missed an extra point Saturday, his second miss this season and his fourth in Ole Miss’ last 15 games. Wunderlich limped off the field following the miss, seemingly favoring his left leg and did not return. An Ole Miss spokesperson said Wunderlich suffered an injury to his plant foot.

REBEL RAMBLINGS: Freshman cornerback D.D. Bowie, whose thumb injury required surgery, missed his second consecutive game on Saturday. Bowie suffered the injury in Ole Miss’ season-opening win over South Alabama. …Sophomore cornerback Jalen Julius suffered a shoulder injury in the second quarter and did not return. …Shea Patterson threw for 363 yards, including touchdown throws of 71 and 72 yards. It was the second time in his career he’d had a game with two touchdown passes of 70 yards or more. He’s the first player in Ole Miss history to achieve that feat. …D.K. Metcalf had a career-high 125 receiving yards. …Freshman wide receiver Tre Nixon recorded the first catch of his college career, a 19-yard reception in the first quarter. …Junior safety C.J. Moore had his first two interceptions Saturday, both coming in the second quarter. …Linebacker DeMarquis Gates tied his career high with 14 tackles against California.

ROBERTSON OUT: California media relations personnel announced before Saturday’s game that former five-star standout wide receiver Demetris Robertson was out for the Ole Miss game. Robertson was listed as a starter in the pregame notes issued by California media relations.

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