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Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Opponent preview: Ole Miss

I don't want to overshadow the Auburn coverage on the blog, so make sure to click on this link for a recap of the pre-practice interviews we did with players yesterday, but I'm still going to plow through these opponent previews.

We're coming down the stretch with Ole Miss.

If you missed a previous post, click on any of the following links to go back and read them: Louisiana Tech, Mississippi State, West Virginia, Ball State, Tennessee, Arkansas, Kentucky and LSU.

And as usual, follow the War Eagle Extra on Twitter here for instantaneous updates throughout the season. If any news breaks, I'll put it up here first.

Ole Miss Rebels
  • Head coach: Houston Nutt (2nd season at Ole Miss, 9-4; 17th season overall, 70-32 at Murray State, Boise State, Arkansas and Ole Miss)
  • 2008 record: 9-4 (5-3 SEC, 2nd West), beat Texas Tech 47-34 in Cotton Bowl
  • Returning starters: 14 (6 offense, 8 defense)
  • Total offense: 407.6 (3rdSEC, 29th nationally)
  • Total defense: 307.2 (5th SEC, 19th nationally)
  • Series: Auburn leads 24-9
  • Last meeting: Ole Miss won 17-7 last year in Oxford
  • Consensus prediction: Third in the SEC West
Five-week schedule glimpse
  • Oct. 17: UAB
  • Oct. 24: Arkansas
  • Oct. 31: at Auburn
  • Nov. 7: Northern Arizona
  • Nov. 14: Tennessee
Few teams made a bigger jump last year than the Rebels, who floundered under former coach Ed Orgeron. When Ole Miss upset Florida in Gainesville, it was its first SEC win in 727 days! Nutt's crew proved it wasn't a fluke by reeling off six straight wins to finish the season, including a shootout with last year's darling Texas Tech in the Cotton Bowl. That strong finish and the return of quarterback Jevan Snead has everyone thinking Ole Miss is going to make another jump this year. But there are concerns about the offensive line and whether Nutt can succeed with a team when they aren't the underdogs.

To find out if the Rebels are the real deal, I went to David Brandt of The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss. Read his blog here and all of his Ole Miss coverage here. Also make sure to follow him on Twitter here.

AB: Expectations are about as high as they've been in recent memory at Ole Miss, considering how the team finished up last season. Can the Rebels, and for that matter coach Houston Nutt, who has fallen short of lofty expectations at previous jobs, handle the burden of expectation this season?
DB: It's true that Ole Miss is going from the hunter to the hunted. Nutt's track record is spotty (at best) when it comes to meeting expectations with a good team. But at least Nutt does have some experience in this type of situation, which should help. One thing that bodes well for the Rebels is that Snead seemed to play his best in big games last year, like against Wake Forest, Florida, LSU and Texas Tech.
AB: It seems to be sacrilege in SEC country to suggest Florida's Tim Tebow is not the perfect quarterback, but with a group of talented and versatile weapons at his disposal and comfort with Nutt's offense after running it for a year, can Snead turn in the kind of season that would at least make voters consider someone else at quarterback on the postseason All-SEC team?
DB: I don't think Snead has much of a chance to unseat Tebow, and here's why: Houston Nutt is going to run the football. To even have a chance to beat out Tebow, Snead would have to put up Sam Bradford/Colt McCoy type numbers and I just don't think that's going to happen under Nutt because of how much he likes to run.
AB: Many teams flush with talent at the skill positions have been submarined by an ineffective and underperforming offensive line (look at Georgia and Clemson last year for examples). Can the Rebels deal with the losses of three starters from last year's line, including superstar left tackle Michael Oher?
DB: The Rebels feel good about four of their five starting linemen. The question mark is LT Bradley Sowell. He's a sophomore who played some last year behind Oher and also as a second tight end in jumbo packages. He did pretty well in limited time last season, but there's still a lot that's unknown about him, especially when he faces top-flight SEC competition. If Sowell is up to the task, Ole Miss should still have a good offensive line. If not, things get dicey.
AB: All-American tackle Peria Jerry is gone, as is defensive line coach Tracy Rocker, who left to do the same job for his alma mater at Auburn. The Rebels relied on that front four last year. Can this year's group, which includes end Greg Hardy, who had offseason surgery on his foot, continue to be the strong point of the defense?
DB: The Ole Miss defense will once again be built around the defensive line, and that's with or without Hardy, who re-injured the foot in a car accident a few weeks ago. At end, Kentrell Lockett, Marcus Tillman and Emmanuel Stephens are experienced and talented. The same goes for the tackle spots, where Ted Laurent, Lawon Scott, Jerrell Powe and Justin Smith will rotate. If Hardy can get healthy, it makes the group even more explosive. This is easily the deepest spot on the roster.
AB: Nutt thought he had help on the way for the secondary with two transfers, but former Ohio State cornerback James Scott was kicked off the team in February and former Florida safety Jamar Hornsby, who was arrested on charges of aggravated assault and petit larceny in March, was kicked off the team last Friday. Is there reason to believe the Rebels' SEC-worst pass defense will improve in 2009?
DB: It should be a little better, but don't expect miracles. Safety Kendrick Lewis is very good and corners Marshay Green and Cassius Vaughn are OK. The other safety spot is up for grabs between Johnny Brown and Fon Ingram. Ole Miss probably won't be last again in pass defense, but don't expect them to rise any higher than the middle of the pack.
NCAA '10 on PlayStation 3 says ... Auburn 26, No. 22 Ole Miss 7. A big upset on the Plains. The Tigers (6-3) take down the ranked Rebels to improve to 4-2 in the SEC. Auburn’s defense turns in quite a performance, holding Ole Miss to 227 yards. Snead only manages to throw for 137. Antonio Coleman leads the way with six tackles, three TFLs and one of the Tigers’ three sacks. Ole Miss led 7-6 but Wes Byrum made a 29-yard field goal just before the half to make it 9-7 Tigers. Auburn dominates the rest of the way. After another Byrum field goal, Mario Fannin returns a punt 57 yards for a touchdown. Kodi Burns adds a 7-yard touchdown pass to Montez Billings for good measure. Quick SEC West standings update: Alabama is 4-1, Auburn is right behind at 4-2 and (here’s a shocker) Mississippi State and LSU are tied at 3-2. Ole Miss, by the way, is underachieving at 2-3.

Up next: A late-season break from the SEC schedule with a game against Furman of the Football Championship Subdivision.


Anonymous said...

How do you work the ncaa '10 games? Do you play it yourself, or let it play out on itself somehow?

Acid Reign said...

.....Does anyone else scroll to the end first, to see the video game result? Bummer on the power issue!

.....It's fun to read the beat writers' take on their teams. Of course, you know they can't bad-mouth their team too much...

Andy Bitter said...

I let the system simulate the games. I don't take control of it in any way.

Still no power. I spoke with them two hours ago. I am not pleased.

Thomas said...

Mr. Bitter,
This is your landlord. We hope to have your power issue resolved by next week. Thank you for your understanding. Have a blessed day!
-- Thomas H. Ellsworth
CB Properties, Inc.

Anonymous said...

Hey, at least your landlord reads the blog!

I too scroll down to see the game results!