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Ole Miss Preview: Rebels Looking to Make a Name for Themselves

September 19, 2019
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Ole Miss, facing a ranked team for the first time this season, hopes to boost its national profile with a win over No, 23 Cal Saturday in Oxford, Miss.

The Rebels (2-1) are a once-proud program that has been mired in scandal (remember The Blind Side) and mediocrity. After going 10-3 in 2015 they were 5-7 (all victories later vacated), 6-6, 5-7 with no postseason appearances. 

This year, finally totally clear of NCAA penalties, they went to Memphis and got bopped 15-10. The following week they beat visiting Arkansas, 31-17 in their SEC opener, and last week they took care of Southeast Louisiana, 40-27.

With Alabama looming the following week, Ole Miss has a chance to give the Crimson Tide something to think about. “I'm excited about this opportunity, a chance to have a top-25 team coming into Oxford,” third-year coach Matt Luke said to open his press conference this week. “I really encourage our fans to show up and create a good atmosphere.”

Those fans will have to arrange an early wake-up call, the game kicks off at 11 a.m. in Oxford, 9 a.m. Pacific Time.

In all the years the schools have played football, the two have met just once, two years ago in Berkeley, where the Bears prevailed, 27-16. However, there is an element of familiarity to this matchup. Both of Ole Miss’ coordinators are former Pac-12 head coaches. Offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez was top dog at Arizona (2012-2017) and defensive coordinator Mike MacIntyre led Colorado  (2013-2018). Our thanks to Nick Suss of the Jackson, Mississippi, Clarion-Ledger for looking this up. As head coach Wilcox is 0-1 against each of them. But counting his years as an assistant he is 6-3. 

How much good having knocked heads against your opponent does is a difficult question. The consensus seems to be not much.

“I think the familiarity works both ways," Rodriguez said Monday. “There's always going to be something different each year. But we know their staff a little bit and they know us. Having been out in that conference, a couple of us coaches know Pac-12 guys more than we know the SEC guys. But after a few days of watching film, everybody pretty much knows everybody."”

Wilcox had a similar take. 

“I don’t know if it’s any more help to us than it is to them,” Wilcox said. “I know they are both really good coaches and they’ll be prepared well.”

On the assistant level, the Ole MIss wide receivers coach is Jacob Peeler, who spent two years in the same job at Cal under Sonny Dykes (2015-16) after two as a graduate assistant. 

Ole Miss Athletics
Matt Luke (right)

Rodriguez was one of the pioneers of the read/spread offense when he was at West Virginia and he has brought a version of it to Ole Miss. 

“In coach Rodriguez’ offense, they do a great job of spreading you out,” Cal defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter said. “They make you defend the whole field, horizontally as well as vertically.”

The quarterback is redshirt freshman Matt Corral, the only Californian on the Ole Miss roster. A native of Ventura who played at Long Beach Poly, he was recruited by many Pac-12 schools, including Cal, whom he never visited. But he wanted to play far from home and wound up at Ole Miss.

“I was ready to get out of California and experience something new,” he has said.

Corral (6-1, 207) is more of a classic pro-style quarterback, although he can maneuver to get himself out of trouble  His passing numbers look fine, 46-for-37 for 578 yards with one interception and four touchdowns. His stats last week showed he seems to be improving as he completed 21-of-30 for 239 yards and two TDs. What Rodriguez didn’t like were the two fumbles he lost and the three sacks, 

"He's a competitive guy," Rodriguez said of Corral. "There were some things during the game where you're like, 'Gosh, we can't have that.' There are things in the game and it's, 'Ah, he's getting it. I see that he's getting it.’ There were a couple of throws and things he did in that game that really showed up in his progress, and now we've just got to get him on the system.”

Ole Miss had two receivers chosen in the 2019 NFL draft, but Corral still has some targets. He clearly favors sophomore Elijah Moore, who has 18 catches (13 more than anybody else)  for 278 yards and three TDs. Moore has the ability to beat DBs long and is also effective in traffic. 

Tight ends Octavious Cooley and Jason Pellerin are the numbers two and three in numbers of catches with five each.. Cooley is an accomplished receiver and has the speed to break a long one. 

Offenses like this tend to emphasize the pass, but the Rebels have thrown just 73 passes while running the ball 136 times, 129 if you subtract the seven sacks they have allowed. Much like Cal against UC Davis, the Rebels have been running the ball late in games because they had a lead.

The leading ball carrier is senior Scottie Phillips 5-11,211), who came to Ole Miss as a JC transfer last year and gained 928 yards despite missing the final game with an ankle injury. He has become the workhorse back, with 71 rushes for 308 net yards. At one stretch in the game last week he carried on ten consecutive plays.

“He’s a physical guy, makes guys miss in the hole,” DeRuyter said, “He can run through tackles. He is really an all-purpose back.”:

The real explosive running back is freshman Jerrion Ealy. A five-star recruit he was a sight to behold Saturday, both from scrimmage and on returns. He had just eight carries for nine yards and one 25-yard kick return in the first two games. But last week he racked up 270 all-purpose yards.

Joshua McCoy / Ole Miss Athletics
Jerrion Ealy on his kickoff return ​​​​

 

He got his night off to a running start in the first quarter when he took a kickoff back 94 yards to a touchdown. Once he broke free he simply outran everybody. Cal best shore up its kick coverage which has shown some leakage.

On a first-down play in the second quarter Ealy went 52 yards on one spectacular run, and on the next play bolted for 30 more and a touchdown.

The offensive line was hard hit by graduation and departures to the NFL. Only right tackle Alex Givens, who is playing while still on the mend from offseason surgery, and right guard Ben Brown, came into the season with any starting experience. The depth is pretty thin, much like Cal’s situation, and the Rebels have not had much luck running between the tackles. They also have not faced a defense anywhere near as good as Cal’s.

Speaking of defenses, MacIntyre’s unit has had some issues, especially against the pass. Southeast Louisiana quarterback Chason Virgil completed more than 65 percent of his passes for 309 yards. 

MacIntyre installed a 3-4 base defense, similar to what DeRuyter runs at Cal. And the front seven, anchored by senior nose guard Benito Jones, has performed fairly well. Ole Miss opponents have gained an average of just 106.3 rushing yards per game. 

Ole Miss Athletics
Benito Jones (95)

The secondary, which has a lot of upperclassmen still was unable to stick with SEL’s receivers. Four of them had at least one catch of 15 or more yards. 

In his press conference, Luke did not sound all that upset about giving up so many big plays. “It was little things here and there,” Luke said. “Just attention to detail and a couple of times we were right there and didn't make the play, but they got behind us on a deep ball, which hadn't been happening. But it's more about just attention to detail on little things. And again, it is things that can be corrected."

The Rebels did manage a couple of interceptions, one very impressive by senior corner Myles Hartsfield, who picked the ball right off the would-be receiver’s hands. 

On special teams, we have already mentioned the dangerous Ealy. Moore is efficient and reliable on punt returns. Placekicker Luke Logan is 4-for-6 on field-goal tries, but has missed both kicks from beyond 40 yards. Punter Mac Brown averages 47.4 yards per kick, seventh-best in the country. Five of his punts have been good for more than 50 yards

Much has been made of the early starting time and its impact on the players, most notably Cal’s. 

Wilcox has said by leaving a day early (Thursday) the Bears have plenty of time to get acclimated to the Central Time zone, and the morning kickoff will not affect them. 

Again, the Clarion-Ledger has done some research and the numbers are a bit alarming for Cal followers.  In games that kick off before 2 p.m. local time in the Eastern Time Zone, Pac-12 teams are 5-8 (38.5%) since 2010, compared to a 20-27 record (42.6%) in games that kick off after 2 p.m. local time. 

And Cal might be the only team in the country this season that will play one game that ended at 1:30 a.m and another that started at 9 a.m.

Notes

  • Ole Miss is 98-33-3 (.743 winning pct.) in September home games (including home contests played in Memphis and Jackson) It is 73-20-2 (.779) in September games played in Oxford after vacated wins
  • .The Rebels are 108-40-6 (.721) all-time versus non-conference opponents during September. They haven’t lost a non-conference home game in the month since being clobbered by Texas, 66-31 on Sept. 15, 2012.
  • .Ealy is the first Ole Miss player to tally a kickoff return and a rushing TD in the same game since Deuce McAllister did it in 1999 vs. Arkansas. 
  • Ole Miss has lost all three coin tosses this season.

 

 

 

 

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Discussion from...

Ole Miss Preview: Rebels Looking to Make a Name for Themselves

670 Views | 2 Replies | Last: 1 mo ago by KenBurnski
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"Ole Miss has lost all three coin tosses this season."

Lickin' our chops now!
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