There were no earth-shaking events in Ole Miss' season-opening victory over Memphis, but there were some minor surprises, both good and unexpected.
Here are some things that caught our eye, even though we readily admit there's not a mountain of "stuff" you can ascertain from one outing.
DT Jerrell Powe - We've known all along the big guy had a world of potential. In fact, we've known that since he was a sophomore at Wayne County High School, but that potential has been sidetracked for several years due to various reasons. Finally, the "real" Jerrell Powe surfaced after years of struggle to achieve a portion of that potential. While we won't go as far as to say he is a finished product, or that he won't get much better as he gains more experience, the Memphis outing clearly showed what he is capable of doing on the collegiate level. He's got it all - size, strength, explosiveness, tenacity - and it was all on display against the Tigers on a fairly regular basis. Sure, he had lapses, but his moments of brilliance outweighed his losses in concentration. While it was not a shocker to see Jerrell perform at that level, it was certainly a pleasant surprise. More to come. . .
Safety Fon Ingram - There was a lot of offseason hubbub about losing Jamar Hornsby and Tig Barksdale for the year. It was warranted. Those two are quality athletes, but it appears we all forgot Fon was still waiting in the wings and was a quality football player for the Rebels last year. No reason he wouldn't be a quality player this year, which he proved again with his interception return for a touchdown late in the first half of the game that gave the Rebels a better cushion going into the break and somewhat pricked the balloon of the Tigers, who at that time were feeling pretty good about themselves. Maybe this shouldn't go under the heading of a surprise because Fon has made big plays before - remember Arkansas? - but it's at least a pleasant reminder that all was not lost in the depth department when Hornsby and Barksdale exited.
The Starting LBs - We have to admit, we expected the trio of Allen Walker, Jonathan Cornell and Patrick Trahan to be more "visible" in the game, but after talking to Defensive Coordinator Tyrone Nix and listening to Houston Nutt's explanation of their play against the Tiger offense, their lack of stats - nine tackles combined - is more palpable. Memphis spread things out and many times the LBs were put in coverage situations and in space. Their opportunities were limited, but as Nutt said, we've grown to expect more than we got. Nothing bad, but somewhat surprising they didn't lead the team in tackles.
SS Johnny Brown - On the annual speaking circuit I do, I have been saying all along I expected Johnny, in the long run, to eclipse the level of play we got from stalwart Jamarca Sanford, who Brown is replacing, but I thought it would be because his coverage skills might surpass Jamarca's. Little did I know he would be a tackling machine in the likeness of Sanford. 15 tackles says it all. Nice surprise. P.S. - He also had an interception, which gives some buoyancy to our claim of his coverage ability.
Kudos Corners! - The coaches had been claiming all along they anticipated better corner play due to the experience of the four top guys. Their assignment against the Tigers was formidable and they passed their first major test of 2009 with flying colors, in this humble opinion. Even when they gave up a completion to Memphis' big guns, they tackled them quickly and effectively, which was the main goal - no big plays. Their competitiveness was not surprising. They are a driven bunch. Their effectiveness, however, was very pleasing in a game where their hands were full.
Ball Distribution - Last year, there were times when QB Jevan Snead would find, and deliver strikes to, double-digit teammates. Saturday, only five receivers, one of them a tailback, got in on the passing game. That's not a bad thing, by any means, but our expectation was that seven or eight would be on the receiving end of Snead's tosses. Not a biggie nor a criticism at all, just an observation, but somewhat surprising after seeing the ball distribution in August, which included "everyone."
QB Jevan Snead - This is certainly not a worry point - we know what Jevan can, and will, do - but in a hundred years I would not have expected Snead to make two or three of the throws he made against Memphis - two picks and one almost pick-six. Chalk it up to him falling back into an old bad habit of trying to force some things, which he will work out. Once he relaxed and let the game come to him, the Jevan we know surfaced and it was lights out for the Tigers. Hopefully, that's all behind him now, but it was surprising to witness.
TE Gerald Harris - Before you get any wrong ideas, let me say I am a huge fan of RS freshman Tight End Ferbia Allen. I think his future is extremely bright, but the Memphis game gave us an indication of how valuable Gerald is to the Rebel offense. At 265 pounds, mobile and hostile, he's like having a sixth offensive lineman. Get well soon, Gerald. We all know Gerald is a good football player, but I'm not sure we, or maybe I. realized his value to the team.
PK Andrew Ritter - It's only human nature to expect a case of the jitters from a true freshman thrust in the spotlight on the first play of the game and season, but Andrew, blessed with a strong leg, looked as poised as could be. He may have been boiling and churning on the inside, but on the exterior he was as cool as the proverbial cucumber.
MLB D.T. Shackelford - No surprise at all, but certainly a nice debut for the rookie. While his performance was up and down, as expected, his exuberance from the preseason carried over into the game, also as expected. Nice start to what could be an outstanding career.
Memphis - They were better than I thought they would be, one of Tommy West's better teams. In pregame warmups, I saw a physical looking, impressive group of athletes. They don't have enough of them and the Rebels were clearly superior, but their talent level was surprising.
Again, one outing doesn't tell a whole lot, but these were some surprising aspects of the game from our viewpoint.
We expect more and more as the season unfolds.
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