Happy Friday everybody and welcome to the Ole Miss Wake-Up Call – your daily sport page for all things Ole Miss sports.
The Memphis Tigers will visit Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on Saturday (6 p.m., ESPN2 or ESPN Alternate), and there’s no sugar-coating it – this is a must-win game for the Rebels. The slight possibility that still remains of making the College Football Playoff would disappear completely with a loss to Memphis. Ole Miss (2-2, 1-1 SEC) must take care of business against the Tigers (3-0) or this season will fall short of expectations before it even reaches the halfway mark. Furthermore, consecutive years with a loss to a team from the American Athletic Conference would be nothing short of a stain on Hugh Freeze’s tenure as coach at Ole Miss. In short, losing to Memphis isn’t a palatable option and that’s saying it nicely.
But that doesn’t mean the Tigers won’t present a tough test for the Rebels. Memphis is coached by former Arizona State offensive coordinator Mike Norvell, who replaced Justin Fuente after he departed for Virginia Tech. Fuente developed Memphis into a prolific offensive team that won a lot of games, and so far Norvell has been able to continue what Fuente started. The Tigers are undefeated and just posted 77 points on Bowling Green last weekend. That’s a lot of points.
Fortunately, Chad Kelly and his band of huge and talented receivers are there to give Ole Miss an advantage over almost anyone, including the Tigers.
With receivers like Evan Engram, Demore’ea Stringfellow, Van Jefferson and A.J. Brown, Kelly can arch the football across the field to the receiver of his choice and almost bank that the throw will be made good on the other end. The only real question is: can Kelly avoid making the costly turnovers that plagued him against Florida State and Alabama? Against Georgia, that answer was “yes” and the Rebels won big.
As Hugh Freeze has said over and over again since those losses to Alabama and Florida State, he’s got a really good football team if the Rebels can avoid turnovers.
This game will probably come down to the first few possessions. If Ole Miss can move the football down the field on consecutive drives while frustrating Memphis quarterback Riley Ferguson early, the Rebels should emerge unscathed….assuming the Rebels don’t suffer one of their notorious 2nd half collapses.
The big question defensively is can the Ole Miss secondary put a stopper on the formidable Memphis passing game? If so, this one should be in the the bag for the Rebels. Fortunately, the young secondary has improved each and every week. They will be tested by the Tigers.
Marquis Haynes and the rest of the Ole Miss defensive front are sure to mount a ferocious pass rush. If the Memphis offensive line is the weakness it is purported to be that could be a huge advantage for the Rebels. It’s hard for a quarterback to gain much traction when he’s under duress. Just ask Georgia quarterback Jacob Eason.
If the Rebels allow Ferguson to gain confidence in the pocket, it could be a long night. Getting to him early will be very important.
If the LandShark Defense lives up to its name, the Rebels should win going away. This team is too good offensively to not score a bunch of points on Memphis.
The last and perhaps biggest question is whether Hugh Freeze can keep his team motivated for an unranked non-conference opponent that lives for the chance to beat a team like Ole Miss.
Fortunately, Freeze is a master motivator.
— Hugh Freeze (@CoachHughFreeze) September 29, 2016
You just have to watch
Nobody on the Ole Miss offense is more motivated than running back Akeem Judd, who overcame all the odds (seriously…all the odds) to become a featured SEC running back. After you watch this video, you’ll be cheering for Judd on every carry. I know I will.
— Joey Jones (@joeyjones3) September 29, 2016
Stop this Tiger
Anthony Miller (17 receptions, 273 yards, 2 TD) is the leading receiver for Memphis by a wide margin. If Ole Miss wants to slow down the Tigers it can start with putting blanket coverage on Miller.
Life after Laquon Treadwell
Per ESPN.com’s assessment, the Ole Miss offense hasn’t missed a beat, despite losing its best receiver of all time to the NFL. What does life without 1st round draft pick Laquon Treadwell look like?
“It’s wide receiver DaMarkus Lodge dislodging himself from a pass-interfering Georgia defender on Saturday and hauling in a 55-yard touchdown from QB Chad Kelly in Ole Miss’ 45-14 win. It’s Evan Engram, the nation’s most productive tight end, hauling in his third touchdown in four games and then pretending to sink a jump shot — a shout-out to his sister, Mackenzie, a standout basketball player for Georgia. It’s three players with multiple receptions of 30 yards or longer in September, six players with at least one 30-yard reception, and 24 receptions of at least 20 yards. Kelly can essentially play three flies up, winging rainbows toward the end zone, knowing any number of his teammates might come down with the ball.”
In other words, Treadwell’s absence hasn’t slowed the Rebels down one bit.
Ole Miss gets an open date after Memphis. If the Rebels can survive the Tigers, they’ll improve to 3-2 (1-1 SEC) with a recovery/improvement week to savor before running headlong into a three-game stretch against Arkansas, LSU and Auburn. Obviously, it’s critical for the Rebels to get this win before the open date. Not only would a win bolster confidence, but the No. 16 Rebels should also move up a spot or two in the polls with a victory.
Cheer for these teams
For Ole Miss to win the SEC West, Alabama has to lose, and the best chances for that to happen are when the Crimson Tide plays Texas A&M (Oct. 8) and Tennessee (Oct. 15).
The place to eat
I don’t know know how much money it takes to score dinner on the field at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, but it looks like a beautiful place for a meal, and the forecast this weekend sounds perfect for dining beneath the stars. All I need is an invitation and I’m there.
Rebel breakfast bites
- Eli Manning isn’t worried about anybody having his number. (Fox Sports)
- Chad Kelly can just sit back and wing rainbows. (ESPN)
- The battle for the starting cornerback spot continues. (Clarion Ledger)
- Rebels will win by 15. (NE Mississippi Daily Journal)