McCready: Forget the hypotheticals, Ole Miss hangs on to outlast Tulane

Early Saturday, as news broke that Tulane’s talented quarterback, Michael Pratt, wouldn’t play later in the day against Ole Miss, some Rebels fans expressed concern that their team wouldn’t get enough credit or respect after they disposed of the Green Wave.

Hours later, after No. 20 Ole Miss fought and clawed its way to a 37-20 victory over the 24th-ranked Green Wave in New Orleans, there were bigger concerns.

Let’s get the Pratt stuff out of the way first. Pratt suffered a knee injury in the waning moments of Tulane’s win over South Alabama a week ago and didn’t practice this week. Rumors of his unavailability surfaced Friday. Is Tulane better with Pratt than it is without him? Of course. It’s a silly question. Is a win over the Green Wave minimized because Pratt didn’t play? No, not really.

Tulane was left to depend on Kai Horton, who had one previous college start under his belt. The youngster started OK but faded as the day went on. His timing with Tulane’s receivers wasn’t pristine. He finished 15-of-37 passing for 231 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

I suspect, deep down, defensive coordinator Pete Golding felt a little disappointment when he learned Pratt wouldn’t play. I suspect he would have liked to have seen how Pratt would’ve attacked his defense, knowing there are major tests coming in the next few weeks.

Then again, maybe not. As it was, Ole Miss ultimately achieved its objective. The Rebels won and improved to 2-0 heading into next weekend’s date with Georgia Tech.

As it pertains to credit and respect, Ole Miss goes to Alabama in two weeks, returns home to face LSU a week after that. If there’s credit to be had after those games, Ole Miss will get it in spades.

Frankly, there are things much more important than September credit for Ole Miss to worry about. For the second straight week, Ole Miss gave up a defensive touchdown on its’ opponent’s first possession of the game. On Saturday, there were pass protection issues that looked a lot like the problems that plagued the Rebels in the second half of the 2022 season. Ole Miss didn’t exactly dominate Tulane at the line of scrimmage Saturday. No disrespect intended to Tulane, but the Rebels will face tougher offensive and defensive lines in the coming weeks.

Wide receiver Tre Harris scored his fifth touchdown of the season in the first minute Saturday. However, he suffered an injury early and did not return. Without Harris, Ole Miss’ passing attack stalled. With Harris out, Ole Miss didn’t attempt a pass between the hashes deeper than 10 yards in the second or third quarters. The Rebels got nothing from the tight end position, as Caden Prieskorn is recovering from foot surgery and hoping to return for the trip to Tuscaloosa in two weeks.

I could go on and there will certainly be time for that in the coming days. In short, as of two games into the season, Ole Miss, like so many of its contemporaries around the Southeastern Conference and the country, is a flawed team.

In the end, however, Ole Miss avoided disaster and won. Jaxson Dart made a huge play on fourth-and-4 from the Tulane 21, escaping pressure and finding Michael Trigg for a touchdown with 4:28 left, putting the game away. Dart was 17-for-27 passing, good for 267 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. He also rushed for 41 yards.

Ole Miss’ defense bent but ultimately didn’t break, making a big stop on the previous possession when Tulane went for a first down on fourth-and-2 only to come up a yard short and then iced the game when Jared Ivey picked up a Horton fumble and took it 20 yards to the end zone for a touchdown.

Would that set of event had played out if Pratt had been available? We’ll never know. That’s not how sports — or life — work.

Ole Miss would be foolish to spend a scintilla of a second thinking about hypotheticals. The Rebels have things to fix and major exams right down the road. Luckily, they have time to make some of those repairs and they get to go to work with all of their dreams still alive.

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