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Cal Football

A (Slightly) Too Early Opponent Preview: Ole Miss Rebels

July 18, 2019

If there was any time to take a trip to The Vaught in Oxford, it is now. Mississippi football has seen better days, to put it lightly. The issues start at the top. First, Ole Miss is just now off their recruiting and post-season ban after vacating 33 games between 2010 to 2016 for fielding numerous ineligible players. Current head coach Matt Luke was promoted from interim head coach two summers ago when Hugh Freeze was forced out after school officials discovered he was communicating a bit too much with a female escort service.

In a complete reset, Luke will be joined by defensive coordinator Mike MacIntyre and Rich Rodriguez at offensive coordinator. MacIntyre and Rodriguez have at least a few things in common. They both have played instrumental roles in taking Power Five conference teams to conference championships. They both left their previous jobs after off-field issues (domestic assault, sexual harassment, and hostile workplace allegations and lawsuits). And they both haven’t been assistant coaches in more than a decade — 10 years for MacIntyre and 19 for Rodriguez.

Top all of that with the fact that their stellar 2018 offense has been gutted thanks to exhausted eligibility and early entry to the NFL. If there were ever a time for Cal to steal a win on the road from an SEC West team, this is it.

If you combined last season’s Ole Miss offense with Cal’s defense, it would probably be a top-ten team. On the other hand, if you combined the Ole Miss defense with the Cal offense, it would be one of the worst FBS teams in the country.

The only positive thing the Rebels had going last year was a prolific offense that was top-ten in the nation. But an anemic defense — and unfortunate geographical placement in the SEC West — led to a 5-7 season. This year, Ole Miss only returns 31% of that offense, which is last in the nation in terms of 2018 to 2019 carry-over in experience and production on the offensive side of the ball.

Ole Miss’s rebuild begins with former blue-chip QB recruit, Matt Corral, originally from Long Beach. The redshirt freshman played in limited action last year but went 16-22 for two touchdowns and one interception. Alongside Corral are last season’s leading rushers, Scottie Phillips and Isaiah Woullard. Phillips ran for a net total of 928 yards last season — a 6.1 yards per run average — while Woullard went for 428 and a 5.1 yards per run average.

The issues for Rodriguez in his first season at Mississippi come at the O-line and receiving corps. Only two linemen with starting experience return. And the Rebels lose their top three receivers from last season and four out of their top five. Leading the Rebels this season will likely be Elijah Moore, who had 398 receiving yards and two TDs last year and Braylon Sanders and Octavious Cooley, who recorded 271 and 172 receiving yards, respectively.

For the first time since 2014 or 2015, the Rebels will most likely be stronger on defense than offense. Last year’s Rebels defense wasn’t good by any stretch — they gave up 36 points and almost 500 yards of offense a game. But they return 71% of their production including five out of seven DBs, plus their top five linebackers, and top four linemen.

Highlighting the returners is Mohamed Sanogo, who led the team with 112 tackles, 53 of which were solo. Top pass rusher, Qaadir Sheppard also returns for his senior year as does Benito Jones, who led the team with three sacks last season.

Projection: Cal Bears 17, Ole Miss Rebels 9

This could be a total homer pick. Ole Miss is projected to win this game in both the S&P+ and FPI projections. But it’s just tough to see such an unproven offense being able to put up much of any points against the Bears. Let’s call it a close game with a defensive TD sinking the Rebels’ ship and the Bears coming back from the South with a bit of swag to head into conference play for the rest of the season.

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