CR: As everyone of Red & Blue persuasion is aware, Ole Miss is on a three-game losing skid, and with all due respect to Georgia Southern, thank goodness the Rebels are playing someone who, if they play a decent game, should help them get some renewed confidence and get a winning feeling back.
Certainly, the Rebels will have to produce a solid game, but nothing spectacular. This could be a just-what-the-doctor-ordered game as thee conference games – two on the road – await after Georgia Southern.
Georgia Southern will run an option offense, which is always a pain to prepare for since it’s not a typical offense in the 21st century, and there will be an adjustment period, most likely, for the Rebel defense. It is imperative, as much yardage as the Reb defense has given up this year, for Ole Miss to get in some kind of groove in stopping the run and not allowing explosive plays. Defensive Coordinator Dave Wommack is respectful of Georgia Southern’s attack because of what he calls their “SEC speed at the skills positions” and because “we have not done a very good job of stopping the run or explosive plays.”
This should be an opportunity for the Rebels to right that wayward ship. Wommack, once again, has played musical chairs at the beleaguered linebacker slots, this time inserting graduate transfer Rommel Mageo into the starting middle linebacker slot. A hobbling DeMarquis Gates will most likely get the nod at the Stinger linebacker slot. Mageo has been patiently waiting his turn while Gates, Detric Bing-Dukes, Willie Hibbler, Tayler Polk and Terry Caldwell have all gotten starts ahead of him. Mageo only got six snaps against Auburn last weekend, but he fit all six correctly, which is, believe it or not, an improvement over what Wommack has been seeing out of that position. Consequently, it’s his turn to try to plug a gaping hole in the Ole Miss defense.
Offensively, the Rebels should be able to move the ball and score effectively, but don’t be surprised if they don’t take this opportunity, if they are able to gain a comfortable lead, to see them work hard on the run game. The offensive line is a patchwork unit right now, but all five starters – LT Greg Little, LG Jordan Sims, C Javon Patterson, RG Daronte Bouldin and RT Alex Givens have gotten substantial snaps this year and should be up to this task. As it is for the defense in stopping the run, this is an opportunity, or it should be, for the offense to get something going in the third and fourth quarters, which have been their Achilles heel this season.
The way the Rebels have been playing, this game is no gimme, but it certainly should be and will be if the Rebels execute, play hard and get back their stinger a bit along the way.
BG: I’m going to state the obvious right off the bat: Ole Miss needs a win. And I’m not just talking about the coaches and players, but the fans and all involved with Rebel football. This is the first time Hugh Freeze has dealt with this caliber of disappointment from his fan base in his five seasons as head coach, and the only cure for what ails those who call themselves Ole Miss fans is a win. But it’s more than that. The team is reeling, and a young team has to be lacking confidence considering what’s transpired — three-straight SEC losses, including an 11-point defeat at home to Auburn last week in which the Tigers ran over the Rebels. Everyone needs a win. Fortunately for Ole Miss, Georgia Southern is coming to town, and while the Eagles are certainly no push-over, the Rebels are the better team, meaning they should be able to achieve their goal of a 1-0 week come Saturday at 11 a.m.
Ole Miss is going to score points and win, but what I’ll be watching for is how, if at all, the Rebels take positive steps defensively. Ole Miss is giving up more rushing yards this season than it did when the Rebels were 2-10 in 2009, resulting in the firing of Houston Nutt mid-season. Stunning, for sure, considering this is the same defense that finished the 2014 regular season first in the nation in points allowed per game. The issue is talent, an issue Ole Miss won’t be able to address until the offseason. Still, recruiting won’t solve all the problems facing the Rebel defense. Ole Miss is set to return most all of its defense in 2017. Yes, the defensive line will take a hit, losing seniors Issac Gross, D.J. Jones and Fadol Brown, and Marquis Haynes appears a shoe-in to leave early for the NFL Draft. But Benito Jones, Qaadir Sheppard, Josiah Coatney and others represent the future. Demarquis Gates will be back, same for Jalen Julius, Jaylon Jones, Montrell Custis, Deontay Anderson, Myles Hartsfield and Zedrick Woods, among others. I know I’m probably leaving someone out. I’m shooting from the hip here.
What do their respective returns mean, though? The defense, as a whole, has taken a step back this season. At the very least, Ole Miss needs to see what it has in all of its young defensive talent and find the players it will be able to rely on in 2017. Because the schedule and returning talent next season sets up for a promising year — at least it sure seemed that way a month ago. But what was once thought to be at least a nine-win season suddenly looks much different. That’s why the next four games are so important. Ole Miss needs to show improvement and have its young players come along and start showing signs of real potential. The program depends on it.
SU: You never want to count an opponent out but Saturday's matchup against Georgia Southern should be a much-needed victory for Ole Miss. Ole Miss' offense will get a chance to score a lot of points against the Eagles defense, while the Rebels defense won't have to worry too much about defending the pass. The interesting matchup in this game will be Georgia Southern's triple-option ground game versus the Rebels' rush defense. Ole Miss ranks 117 in the FBS in rush defense while the Eagles rank 21 in rush offense. The Rebels are continuing to look for linebackers to fit gaps on run plays and this week will be a nice test against a non-conference opponent. Look for Ole Miss' offense to come out early and for Chad Kelly to air it out for quick scores. While the Eagles will most likely score early as well, I don't think they'll be able to keep it up for the entire game. I expect Kelly to be pulled out of the game by the middle of the third quarter and for the Rebels to pull out some big plays on the ground to finish out the game. There's no doubt Georgia Southern will be motivated to pull off an upset against a SEC team, but I just don't think they'll have an answer for Ole Miss offensive prowess. The Rebels will win this one 48-27 to improve to 4-5 on the season.