SEC Kickoff: Everything you need to know about Ole Miss vs. Memphis
Here’s everything you need to know about Saturday’s showdown between No. 10 Ole Miss and Memphis.
Where: Oxford, Mississippi
Game Time: 7:30 PM ET
Current Line: Ole Miss (-21.5)
Game Buzz: Separated by just 71 miles, Ole Miss and Memphis will meet on the gridiron for the first time since 2009 when the Tigers travel to Oxford for a date with the Rebels Saturday night. Ole Miss has won the last five meetings in this series and is off to a perfect 3-0 start to this season. Memphis, meanwhile, is 2-1 with a pair of impressive wins and a close loss to No. 11 UCLA. Ole Miss will look to remain unbeaten in advance of next week’s showdown with Alabama, while Memphis will try to beat the Rebels for the first time since 2004.
SATURDAY DOWN SOUTH PREVIEWS
- Ole Miss Pre-Game Pulse: Week 5
- 5 Memphis players Ole Miss fans need to know
- Inside The Numbers: Ole Miss’ success as easy as 1-2-3
- Matchup breakdown: Ole Miss front seven vs. Memphis rushing atack
- General Preview: Ole Miss vs. Memphis
OLE MISS REBELS
Players to watch:
- QB Bo Wallace
- RB Jaylen Walton
- WR Laquon Treadwell
- WR Cody Core
- DT Robert Nkemdiche
- LB Serderius Bryant
- CB Senquez Golson
- S Cody Prewitt
Keys for Ole Miss:
- Spread the ball around. Thirteen different players have caught a pass for Ole Miss this year, and the more weapons the Rebels can work into the offense, the harder it will be for opposing defenses to respect all of them. Wallace needs to do what he’s done in his best moments this year: sit in the pocket and take what the defense gives him. It may not be sexy, but Ole Miss is deep enough to create a mismatch somewhere on every passing play. If Wallace identifies those mismatches consistently, the Rebels will win by a wide margin.
- Stop the run early in the game. Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch has played well this season, but he’s needed balance from the Tigers’ strong rushing attack to help create opportunities in the passing game. Memphis has two talented tailbacks in Doroland Dorceus and Brandon Hayes, and without their presence Lynch is not good enough to beat the Rebels’ defense on his own. Ole Miss must make Memphis a one-dimensional offense, and ideally they’d choose to eliminate the stronger threat in the Tigers’ offense, which is the run.
- The Ole Miss offensive line must play well against an above-average Memphis pass rush Saturday night. Wallace has been mistake-prone at times throughout his career, and if he’s regularly pressured, he could commit a few more costly errors. The Rebels’ weapons on the outside are among the best in the SEC, but the offense must get protection up front for everything to click as it should. The Rebels have protected better in their last two games than they did in Week 1 against Boise State, but there is still plenty of room for improvement. Hopefully for Ole Miss those improvements were made during the bye last week.
Rebels’ glaring weakness to watch: We just discussed it, but the offensive line has been a bit of a weakness on an otherwise dominant team so far this year. Ole Miss has allowed six sacks in three games as well as 22 tackles for loss, which ranks 83rd in the nation. Likewise, the Rebels’ rushing attack ranks just 80th in the nation and 12th in the SEC, which is not going to cut it against tough SEC defenses in the second half of the season. The Ole Miss line must start winning more battles in the trenches to allow Hugh Freeze’s offense to reach its full potential.
Most interesting part of the game: Ole Miss has a large number of players from Memphis and the surrounding areas, and according to Freeze in his press conference Monday those players are excited to play a team from their hometown this weekend. The extra energy fueling those players could lead to some great plays, or it could lead to some careless mistakes from players playing out of control. This matchup doesn’t seem intriguing on paper, but storylines like that should make this game rather interesting this weekend.
Team Buzz: Ole Miss is rested after last week’s bye, and the Rebels are ready to start proving to America why they’re ranked in the top 10 in the most recent Associated Press Poll. The Rebels are one week away from a huge game with Alabama, but Memphis is not a team to be overlooked. Freeze insists his team respects Memphis’ abilities, and after the Tigers’ near-win over UCLA, there’s evidence for why this team needs to be respected. The greatest sign of respect Ole Miss could show Memphis would be to crush the Tigers early, showing the Rebels used their week off to prepare as much for Memphis as it did for Alabama on Oct. 4.
Players to watch:
- QB Paxton Lynch
- RB Doroland Dorceus
- RB Brandon Hayes
- WR Alan Cross
- LB Tank Jakes
- DB Fritz Etienne
Keys for Memphis:
- Establish the run early to take the pressure off of quarterback Paxton Lynch. The Tigers have remained balanced on offense through three games, but Lynch and the passing game need a strong rushing attack to open up opportunities for the pass. Without a strong run game there is no balance, just a passing game trying to do more than it is capable of. The Tigers must control time of possession and slow the game down from where Ole Miss wants it in order to pull an upset Saturday.
- Do not let Ole Miss win on first downs. The Rebels like to keep a quick tempo on offense, and that starts with successful first downs to keep the offense in rhythm. If Memphis can limit Ole Miss on first down and force long second and third downs, the Rebels won’t be able to gain as much traction or operate as fast as they’d like to. Slowing Ole Miss down is the only way the Memphis defense will be able to keep up, and the best way to go about it is to win on first down as much as possible.
Tigers’ glaring weakness to watch: The Tigers rank 85th in the nation in third down success, converting on just 39 percent of their third down opportunities. That is not going to get it done against a nasty Ole Miss defense, so Memphis cannot afford to play behind the chains on Saturday night. The Tigers cannot waste first and second downs and put themselves in unmanageable third down situations, because the numbers say they’ll have no chance. However, if the Tigers can stay in front of the chains and can put together a few sustained drives, they’ll be in good shape.
Most interesting part of the game: Memphis came close to upsetting No. 11 UCLA earlier this season, and despite being a heavy underdog the Tigers will enter this game with the utmost confidence they can beat No. 10 Ole Miss in Oxford. Memphis won’t roll over in this game, and if Ole Miss does not take this matchup seriously, the Tigers will have another shot at an upset bid. A road win over a highly ranked SEC team would be a huge statement win for Memphis as it aims to earn respect in the American Athletic Conference.
Team Buzz: The Tigers have steadily improved during every year of head coach Justin Fuentes’ stay in Memphis, and this year is no exception. Memphis has already shown it has taken another step forward in how it played against UCLA, but it remains to be seen just how big that step is. Saturday night’s game should be a better gauge, and if the Tigers can somehow pull off a victory, they’ll begin to garner national attention with eight games remaining this season.