October 12, 2017 10:01:38 AM
The Ole Miss football team's two-game swing through the state of Alabama was largely a disaster.
But an encouraging second half during last weekend's otherwise forgettable 44-23 loss to Auburn has given the Rebels a little hope going into a stretch of three consecutive home games that begins Saturday against Vanderbilt.
Ole Miss, which outscored Auburn 20-9 after halftime, is eager to pounce on even the slightest hint of momentum after three straight losses.
"We're going to build on the second half of Auburn," interim coach Matt Luke said. "That's going to be the turning point of our season."
Ole Miss was already reeling after a 66-3 loss to top-ranked Alabama on Sept. 30 and the first half of its game against Auburn last weekend was just as bad. The Tigers had a 35-3 halftime lead and the Rebels couldn't do anything right.
"If there was ever a time to quit, it was right then, and they didn't," Luke said. "They didn't throw in the towel, they didn't go in the corner and cover up, they came out and they fought."
Ole Miss (2-3, 0-2 Southeastern Conference) played much better in the second half, scoring three touchdowns. Quarterback Shea Patterson finished with 346 yards passing and two touchdowns -- both to redshirt freshman receiver D.K. Metcalf.
There is a caveat to that success: Auburn had its backups on the field for a big portion of the second half. But for the first time in weeks, the Rebels' passing game was quick and effective.
"It took us five games, but we got there," first-year offensive coordinator Phil Longo said. "That's more of what I'm used to and I think it's what they're used to here. It definitely created some advantages for us."
The Ole Miss defense -- which has struggled for the better part of two seasons -- also looked a little better. The unit gave up three field goals but no touchdowns in the second half.
"We had a heart to heart at halftime," Ole Miss defensive coordinator Wesley McGriff said. "I told them there were no magical adjustments. There was nothing different we could call. You're not going to get a magical speech. You've just got to go out and play football."
Vanderbilt (3-3, 0-3) will enter the game riding a three-game losing streak after falling to Alabama, Florida, and Georgia. The Commodores have been known for their defense under coach Derek Mason, but have surrendered 142 points in the past three weeks.
Just like Ole Miss, Vanderbilt is trying to concentrate on the positive and pull out of its skid.
"You have to refocus, you have to lock in and find a way to get our mojo back in a way that's on both sides of the ball and including special teams," Vanderbilt receiver C.J. Duncan said. "There's a lot to learn from the previous three games, and I think we're going to prepare well enough to do what we have to do in Oxford."
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