The Vitals: Ole Miss and Memphis will battle on college football's opening weekend for the fifth straight year. The Rebels hold a 45-10-2 all-time advantage, including a 17-2 record over the Tigers in games played at Oxford. Kickoff will be at 6 p.m., inside Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
Viewing and Listening Options: No live television will be available, although a replay will be shown Sunday at 1 p.m. on CSS. Richard Cross will handle play-by-play, with Harry Harrison providing color.
The contest can be heard live on the Ole Miss Radio Network and XM 141. The Rebel radio team includes David Kellum (play-by-play), Pete Cordelli (color) and Stan Sandroni (sideline).
The Ole Miss official athletics web site will display live audio and live stats.
Saturday Storylines:The Houston Nutt era began last December with a pep rally disguised as a press conference and will officially get underway Saturday. The Rebels have an experienced staff installed, and fans are anxious to see the mix of Nutt's physical style with the pass-happy scheme familiar to offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Kent Austin.
After a anxious wait of more than a year, Jevan Snead finally gets to take the reins of the Rebels offense. With subpar quarterback play highlighting the post-Eli era, Ole Miss has a signal caller with accuracy, strength, mobility and moxie. Though relatively inexperienced and with adrenaline likely to be overflowing, Snead may need to be calmed down early, but the clear prediction is that the sophomore is set for a successful season.
The number of injuries isn't troublesome, but who is sidelined assuredly causes concern. All-SEC candidates Greg Hardy (stress fracture) and Peria Jerry (meniscus) both required surgery during fall camp and will be unavailable this weekend. Replacement duties will first fall on end Kentrell Lockett and tackle Lawon Scott.
When Ole Miss has the ball…Ole Miss will work, at least early, from a scripted set of plays and attempt to be a balanced offense featuring a stable of backs, and Snead throwing to a talented, experienced set of receivers that will include Mike Wallace, Shay Hodge and Dexter McCluster as main targets. Cordera Eason will be the first back on the field, but either Enrique Davis or Brandon Bolden will take to the turf soon after. Nutt also has packages available for Derrick Davis and Devin Thomas. Veteran Jason Cook will lead the way at fullback. Setting the tone early by establishing the rush is important considering the considerable advantage Ole Miss has on the front line. With well more than 100 combined starts on the O-line (tops in the SEC), the Rebels need to display dominance and make Memphis work hard to stop the run. That will open up play-actions and allow Snead to thrive. David Traxler and Gerald Harris should both see time at tight end. Traxler is a converted tackle, while Harris is better at stretching the field. Memphis returns nine starters from a defense that allowed 240 yards passing and more than 200 yards on the ground. The Tigers will be under the direction of first-year defensive coordinator Tim Walton, a former Miami (Fla.) assistant.
When Memphis has the ball…Unknowns highlight the Memphis offense, as former Washington State signee Arkelon Hall will man the Tiger attack and handoff to Northwest Mississippi Community College transfer Curtis Steele and former Miami Hurricane Charlie Jones. Steele flirted with 100 yards in the Memphis spring game, while Jones accumulated more than 700 yards to go along with 10 touchdowns in three seasons in south Florida. Hall transferred to the Bluff City from the College of the Sequoias and is a dual-threat quarterback with enough speed to get to the corner. Ole Miss will need to stick to lanes and not over-pursue. Hall will be asked to manage the game and connect with the Tigers' best asset over the Rebels – the wide receivers. Led by Duke Calhoun and six-foot-eight Carlos Singleton, Memphis will try to take advantage of the shorter pair of corners for Ole Miss – Dustin Mouzon and Cassius Vaughn. Even though Ole Miss' defensive line is banged up, Memphis shouldn't be able to capitalize due to injury issues of its own. The Tigers offensive line will be patchwork, thus allowing the Rebels the opportunity to disrupt the backfield. A solid two-deep at linebacker has emerged to help out the front four. Ole Miss has speed and strength in the second tier with Ashlee Palmer, Patrick Trahan, Jonathan Cornell, Tony Fein, Allen Walker and Lamar Brumfield. If Hall struggles, Tommy West won't hesitate to call on back-up QB Will Hudgens.
Special TeamsRob Park is ahead in the punting battle thanks to more consistency with hang time, while Justin Sparks will also make an appearance by handling kickoff duties. The coaching staff has worked tirelessly on improving that monumental weakness from 2008. Sparks has gained distance and possesses the ability to be serviceable. Brandon Bolden and Cordera Eason will be back on kickoffs, while McCluster or Marshay Green will man punt returns. Josh Shene is healthy and has been nothing less than stellar throughout camp. Preston Powers will longsnap, and Park will be the holder.
Memphis Depth Chart
8 Arkelon Hall 6-3 225 Jr.-TR
7 Will Hudgens*** 6-4 235 r-Sr.
26 Curtis Steele 6-0 185 r-Jr.
34 Charlie Jones 5-10 219 Sr.-TR
85 Brett Russell*** 6-3 245 r-Sr.
81 Deven Onarheim* 6-7 255 r-So.
89 Carlos Singleton** 6-8 220 r-Jr.
22 Duke Calhoun** 6-4 200 Jr.
14 Earnest Williams*** 6-0 195 r-Sr.
87 Carlton Robinzine*** 6-3 218 r-Sr.
80 Maurice Jones*** 6-4 215 r-Sr.
2 Steven Black* 6-3 213 Sr.
71 Brandon Pearce*** 6-6 290 r-Sr.
65 Colton Jenkins 6-6 290 So.-TR
77 Malcom Rawls* 6-5 315 r-Jr
61 Michael Antonescu 6-4 290 r-Fr.
57 Philip Beliles*** 6-5 290 r-Sr.
73 Lionel Henderson 6-4 275 r-Fr.
64 Dominik Riley* 6-4 315 r-So.
55 Brent Todd* 6-3 305 Sr.
66 Cody Stubblefield* 6-4 294 Sr.
72 Kindly Jacques 6-7 325 Jr.-TR
43 Matt Reagan** 6-1 210 Jr.
43 Matt Reagan** 6-1 210 Jr.
52 Keenan Bratcher* 6-2 235 So.
* - Letters earned
41 Corey Mills** 6-4 270 r-Sr.
94 Greg Terrell** 6-4 255 r-Jr.
99 Freddie Barnett* 6-2 300 Sr.
67 Joel McCleod 6-3 315 r-Fr.
53 Clinton McDonald*** 6-3 285 Sr.
60 Brandon Douglas*** 6-3 291 r-Sr.
96 Jada Brown** 6-2 265 r-Jr.
97 Steven Turner** 6-3 270 Jr.
28 Jeremy Longstreet* 6-1 200 r-So.
25 Jeremy Rockette** 6-3 225 r-Jr.
50 Winston Bowens* 6-0 250 r-So.
45 Tommy Phelps* 6-3 245 r-Sr.
59 Greg Jackson** 6-2 212 r-Jr.
90 Josh Weaver** 6-3 220 Jr.
7 Alton Starr** 6-0 195 r-Jr.
8 Tony Bell* 6-2 215 Sr.
2 Brandon Patterson*** 6-1 195 r-Sr.
10 Clay Lee 6-1 215 Fr.
27 Michael Grandberry*** 5-10 172 Sr.
5 D.A. Griffin 5-11 185 Jr.-TR
16 Deante' Lamar** 5-9 180 r-Jr.
6 Curtis Echols* 6-3 190 So.
49 Brent Sutherland* 6-4 210 Sr.
15 Brett Toney* 6-1 190 r-Jr.
27 Michael Grandberry*** 5-10 172 Sr.
14 Earnest Williams*** 6-0 195 r-Sr.
Tommy West Weekly Press Conference
It is good to be back. I think we have had a good camp. I feel that offensively we have definitely made progress during camp. My only concern is the fact that it will be Arkelon Hall's first big-time NCAA game at the quarterback position. Curtis Steele, our running back, will be experiencing his first NCAA game as well. Charlie Jones has played Division I football before at the University of Miami.
We are concerned about seeing improvement in our running game this season. I don't want to be here three or four weeks into the season talking about how we need to get better running the ball. We went from 130 yards-per-game last year to 160 yards-a-game last year. We just want to continue to take the next step move that up to 180 or 190 yards-per-game. If we do that, combined with our passing game, it should make this offense as good or better than any offense we have had since we have been here.
Defensively, we definitely got better as camp progressed. We were chasing the ball better, and we have been playing quite a bit harder on defense. I'm looking forward to watching the defense play. Our strength should be our depth on the defensive line. We are going to try and play two deep on the D-Line and maybe three deep inside, for the purpose of trying to keep our guys fresh. The defense has come a long way in a short period of time, since we began camp a few weeks ago. We will see how they do when they get up against another team. Third down is definitely still a concern, it is important to stop opportunities to get the ball back in the hands of the offense. We have definitely seen some improvement in our third down defense since the start of camp.
Can you talk about the challenges of getting ready to face Houston Nutt's Mississippi squad? Nutt ran a different system that consisted of a lot of different players while he was at Arkansas. What do you have to do to prepare for Ole Miss?
Offensively, it is a bit of a crap shoot. It is a little bit hard to judge since last year Nutt had the backs like Felix Jones and Darren McFadden at Arkansas. So I am sure he did some things with his offense to accommodate the fact that he had such good running backs. Now, he has the quarterback (Jevan Snead), that sounds like is a really good player for them. We just have to be ready for anything they throw at us. You have to kind of feel your way and adjust our defense for whatever they are doing as the game goes on.
Defensively, we aren't watching much tape of Arkansas, but we have definitely been diving into Arkansas' offensive game film. Offensively, it is a little bit hard to judge. On the defensive side of things, we have been watching South Carolina game film, since that is where Tyrone Nix was at before he became the Defensive Coordinator at Ole Miss.
What is the scouting report on Ole Miss quarterback Jevan Snead?
I don't know him and I really don't have any way to know him. I watched their spring game on television. I am sure he is an outstanding player.
How has the rivalry changed with Houston Nutt as the coach, as opposed to Ed Orgeron?
I don't really think that it has changed that much. I like the game. It is easy for our fans to get to Oxford, but this will be the next to the last game that we play against Ole Miss. I politicked as much as I can to keep this game, but I don't have that much pull. I think that it is a really good game to have on our schedule. At times, I know Ole Miss doesn't like to call it a rivalry game, but we fill the stadium any place we play. It had been an ESPN game, which is what you look for.
We are 2-3 in the last five games that we have played against Ole Miss. The three losses were four points, three points and two points. They have been great games, fun games to watch. It has been proven that win or lose, the game doesn't disrupt your season. We have won this game before and Ole Miss went on to win 10 games and they have beat us and we went on to win nine games. So it is a game that doesn't make or break your season.
Would you prefer to play this game as the second or third game on your schedule, opposed to the first?
Not really. I am just fine playing Ole Miss as our first game of the season. It is both teams' opening game. Everybody says you should play a 1-AA team for a warm-up game, but I like the prospect of going out and playing some tough competition right out of the gate. We know that we will have to play well.
We can't do like we did a year ago. We can't give the game away with six turnovers and a blocked punt for a touchdown. You know you have to play well. You know you have to be fundamentally sound. I like starting out with a game like that where you have to be ready to go from day one.
With all the games being so close last year, do you feel that you have to work on end of game situations more, especially with the new clock rules?
For us, we are lucky because the new clock rules are not going to affect us at all because we are a no-huddle offense. We have put a clock on our scrimmages and we are snapping the ball with 20 seconds remaining on the clock. We will be fine, clocks are not going to effect us as much as the teams who have to make substitutions and get in the huddle, as well. We try to play a fast, up-tempo game.
Do you have in your mind yet when you would like to put Will Hudgens in the game at quarterback?
There are certainly going to be situations where Will comes into the game. However, right now, as far as putting Will in as the quarterback for the third series, I'm not thinking that way right now. Arkelon is our quarterback and I am comfortable with that situation. Will is going to play. There will be situations, some third down opportunities and some fourth down opportunities where we might put Will into the game. I want to see Arkelon do well. I will pull Arkelon if he is struggling and I can see that it is getting to him. It is very comforting having a guy like Will who has a lot of game experience. Will has been there and he has done it before.
How do you think Arkelon (Hall) has handled being the starting quarterback and what have you done to help him out?
Like any rookie quarterback, we aren't going to throw everything out there in the first series. I would like to try to help him get things started. Normally, if they have some success early, our wideouts can take some of the pressure off of him. Arkelon is a strong armed guy who won't have to make a lot of plays for us. If he can get the ball in the right places, our receivers will make plays for him. The big thing will be if we can run the ball some to take even more pressure off of Arkelon and the receivers. That would be the perfect scenario for us.
PC transcript and depth chart courtesy of the University of Memphis.
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