On Saturday (6:45 P.M., ESPN), the #8 Missouri Tigers (9-1, 5-1) travel to Oxford to take on the #24 Ole Miss Rebels (7-3, 3-3) in SEC action. Missouri is coming off of a bye week, following a 48-17 win at Kentucky, while Ole Miss is coming off of a 51-21 win over Troy in which the Rebels posted a school-record 751 yards of total offense.
"They're a real good football team," said Missouri Head Coach Gary Pinkel, speaking of Ole Miss. "(Ole Miss Head Coach Hugh Freeze) has done a great job with that program. I think their quarterback has played at a very, very high level. They play two quarterbacks. But number 14, Wallace, I think he's really playing well. They have really good receivers, really good running backs. I mean, they've got a stable full of athletes at those positions, and a good offensive line. So, the numbers that they're putting up and the stress that they put on defenses are real. And, they do a very, very good job. And defensively, they play really good defense. They're very sound, well coached. They don't take a lot of chances. They keep people in front. And, they've done a great job with that also. "
The Ole Miss offense is multiple, including primarily spread elements. Much of what Ole Miss does on offense will look familiar to Missouri fans, as much of what they do offensively, and even their offensive personnel, is similar to Missouri.
As Coach Pinkel stated, Ole Miss regularly alternates a pair of QBs. The starter, 6'4" 209-pound junior Bo Wallace is a pocket passer who can scramble effectively out of the pocket. On the season, he's 209-323-5 (65%) for 2664 yards and 17 TDs, for a passer efficiency rating of 148.26. When Ole Miss needs to throw the football, Wallace will be in there. He's got plenty of arm, and he's accurate. He's more mobile than one may think, although he's more of a scrambler than a runner. He's averaging just 2.3 yards/carry, but he's scored 4 rushing TDs.
The Rebels' back-up QB, 6'0" 223-pound senior Barry Brunetti is a running QB who is capable of throwing effectively off of play action. When he's in the game, Ole Miss is probably running the football, although Brunetti throws just enough to keep the defense honest. On the season, he's 20-35-0 (57%) for 286 yards and 6 TDs, for a passer efficiency rating of 182.35. On the ground, Brunetti has 252 rushing yards and 4 TDs on 50 carries (5.0 yards/carry).
Ole Miss utilizes a trio of starters at the running back position, including 5'7" 162-pound senior Jeff Scott, an extremely quick and elusive back who has rushed for 488 yards and 2 TDs on 64 carries (7.6 yards/carry). He also has 15 receptions for 101 yards. He's missed some time with a thigh bruise, but he should be able to play against Missouri. He's an important cog for the Rebels. Not only is he a game-breaker out of the backfield, but he's also averaging 12.7 yards/punt return, and has 1 punt return for a TD this season.
Another of the Rebels' trio of starting running backs is 5'8" 166-pound sophomore Jaylen Walton, who has 76 carries for 391 yards (5.1 yards/carry) and 6 TDs on the ground, and who has 16 receptions for 262 yards and 2 TDs. Walton is also Mississippi's kick returner. Both Scott and Walton are serious threats as receivers out of the backfield.
The Rebels' third running back is 5'11" 189-pound sophomore I'Tavius Mathers, who has 68 carries for 429 yards (6.3 yards/carry) and 2 TDs. He's made only 3 catches all season, so he's not as much of a threat as a receiver out of the backfield.
According to Coach Freeze and others at Ole Miss, the ability to effectively run the football is a key element to their offensive success. Basically, when they've been able to effectively run the football, they've won. And, when they haven't, they've lost.
Three of the Rebels four lowest rushing output games were there three losses. When they've rushed for at least 135 yards/game, Ole Miss is undefeated.
"Hopefully, we can run the football enough to be balanced," said Coach Freeze.
While Coach Freeze recognizes that offensive balance is ultimately the key to his team's offensive success, the Rebels have a very effective passing game. Wallace has an outstanding group of receivers with which to work, including 6'3" 215-pound super frosh Laquon Treadwell (53 receptions, 477 yards, 5 TDs), 6'3" 226-pound junior Donte Moncrief (44 receptions, 686 yards, 5 TDs), and 6'3" 183-pound senior Ja-Mes Logan (36 receptions, 497 yards, 3 TDs). And, the Rebels have quality depth at receiver, which allows them to be effective when they go up tempo.
The Rebels have lost their top two TEs to injury, and have at times simply lined up with an extra offensive tackle.
Ole Miss ranks 7th in the SEC in scoring, at 34.5 points/game. The Rebels rank 5th in the conference in rushing, at 200.6 yards/game. At 498.0 yards/game, Ole Miss ranks 3rd in the SEC in total offense. The Rebels lead the conference in the number of offensive plays that they've run (78.4 offensive plays/game ), and they rank 7th in the conference with 6.4 yards/play. The Rebels are 8th in the conference in pass efficiency (147.2), and 5th in third down conversions (45.9%). Ole Miss has surrendered 22 sacks, which ranks 11th in the conference.
All week, Coach Freeze has emphasized the importance of Ole Miss being able to run the football. But, an even more direct correlation to winning and losing in the run game has been on the other side of the football, where Ole Miss has lost to the only teams to have rushed for over 200 yards against them.
Ole Miss is 7th in the conference in scoring defense at 25.0 points/game. They're also 7th in rushing defense, giving up 150.4 yards/game (4.1 yards/carry) on the ground. In fact, Ole Miss ranks in the middle of the SEC in nearly every defensive statistical category, except for sacks, where the Rebels are tied for 12th in the conference with 14 sacks.
Ole Miss plays a multiple defense, but their base is a 4-3 that features 6'5" 294-pound freshman Robert Nkemdiche as a 3-technique on the inside. He's missed some time due to injury, and he's still learning how to play inside, but the talented freshman is starting to become more and more productive. On the season, he's made 23 total tackles, including 7 TFLs, and 1 sack, to go along with 2 QBHs and 2 PBUs. The Rebels most-productive player up front has been 6'3" 255-pound senior DE Cameron Whigham, who on the season has 29 total tackles, 4 TFLs, 2.5 sacks, 1 PBU, 3 QBHs, and a forced fumble.
The leading tackler for Ole Miss is 5'9" 215-pound junior LB Serderius Bryant, who has 62 total tackles on the season, including a team-leading 9 TFLs. He also has 2 sacks, 2 QBHs, 1 PBU, and 2 forced fumbles.
The next four leading tacklers for the Rebels are all defensive backs, including 6'2" 220-pound junior FS Cody Prewitt, who on the season has 54 total tackles, including 3 TFLs, and who is tied for the league lead with 4 interceptions, and who has a team-high 6 pass-break-ups, to go along with 1 QB hurry, and 2 forced fumbles, 6'1" 210-pound super frosh Tony Conner (49 tackles, 3 TFLs, 1 sack, 1 INT, 4 PBUs, 2 QBHs), 6'0" 190-pound sophomore Trae Elston (49 tackles, 1.5 TFLs, 5 PBUs, and a fumble recovery), and 5'8" 182-pound sophomore corner Mike Hilton (34 tackles, 5 TFLs, 1 INT, 2 PBUs).
Conner and Prewitt are really good. But, the Rebels don't really put a lot of pressure on the QB, and that puts a lot of pressure on their secondary.
Ole Miss will score. In conference games, the Rebels have score 26.7 points/game, and have averaged 131.3 rushing yards/game (3.7 yards/carry). In conference, Ole Miss is surrendering 29.8 points/game, and SEC teams have averaged 202.2 yards/game rushing against Ole Miss (5.1 yards/carry).
The Rebels are going to throw it around the lot, and try to take advantage of their outstanding perimeter players. The question facing Coach Freeze and the Ole Miss Rebels is how well will they be able to do in the battle at the line of scrimmage?
(NCAA Ranking in Parentheses)
492.6 (17)______Total Offense_______498.0 (15)
235.8 (18)_____Rushing Offense_____200.6 (31)
256.8 (39)_____Passing Offense______297.4 (19)
152.43 (19)____Pass Efficiency _____ 147.21 (29)
41.3 (11)______Scoring Offense_____34.5 (T-37)
386.8 (52)______Total Defense______ 373.7 (42)
111.9 (14)_____ Rushing Defense_____150.4 (43)
274.9 (112)__ Passing Yds. Allowed___ 223.3 (47)
120.22 (38)___Pass Efficiency Def. ___125.63 (64)
20.2 (20)______Scoring Defense_______25.0 (49)
1.4 (T-2)_____ Turnover Margin______ 0.2 (T-48)
0.471 (25)____3rd Down Conv. Pct____0.459 (29)
0.750 (T-3)___4th Down Conv. Pct____0.520 (55)
0.335 (20)_____3rd Conv Pct.Def. ____ 0.397 (69)
0.860 (48)_____Red Zone Offense____0.829 (T-67)
0.848 (78)_____Red Zone Defense_____0.821 (54)
35.83 (90)_______ Net Punting________37.62 (49)
4.37 (107)______ Punt Returns_________8.73 (56)
24.76 (18)_____Kickoff Returns_______ 19.92 (89)
245 (25)_____First Downs Offense______251 (22)
202 (T-56)___First Downs Defense_____200 (T-49)
5.00 (T-38)__ Fewest Penalties / Gm. ___ 5.70 (T-63)
29:45 (64)____Time of Possession______ 29:57 (59)