For the third time this season, the Rebels will take on yet another squad of Bulldogs. This particular variety hails not from California or Georgia, but from the jewel of college towns on Interstate-20 between Dallas and Jackson: Ruston. Honestly, I don't know that much about Ruston other than the fact that it reminds me Karl Malone exists. I guess northern Louisiana is their state?
LA Tech started the season 1-4, but have reeled off four consecutive victories and now sit at 5-4 on the year. Last week, the Bulldogs defeated our only common opponent thusfar, Fresno State, 41-21. Impressively, La Tech racked up 550 yards of offense, throwing for over 384 yards and rushing for 166. For comparison's sake (which ultimately means nothing), Ole Miss put up 430 yards, split evenly between rushing and passing against the FSU.
This is easily the least predictable game of our season up til now. I think there are several realistic scenarios:
1) Our players come out fired up with hopes of finishing strong. With Houston Nutt's ability to motivate, I have a hard time thinking we'll just fold the tent up and go home.
2) We mail it in, realizing that our campaign, "Suck for Luck" was ill-advised as he does not need any heppin and has no eligibility left.
3) We go through the motions, avoiding mistakes but also failing to produce any big plays and a boring, borderline-unwatchable game ensues. Below, I'll discuss why I think this is the likely option.
When the Rebels are on offense: Though LA Tech's offense has been impressive, their defense has left plenty to be desired. In the win over Fresno State, LA Tech gave up over 400 yards of offense, with nearly 300 coming through the air. I think Nick Brassell and Donte Moncrief will have little trouble finding space and expect some deep throws early to loosen things up because, why the fuck not? We're not eligible for a bowl, so you might as well open it up, right?
Since recovering from his ankle injury, Brandon Bolden has shown flashes of what we expected this season. He is a complete back with speed, power, athleticism and a high football IQ. Unfortunately, his return coincided with a downward spiral spurred by inept play-calling and inconsistent play on the offensive line. After reading a brief CL interview with Bolden, I have no doubts that he will come out firing on all cylinders. He also mentioned that all the guys showed up for practice "ready to go" to send Nutt out on a high note. I have to wonder, why weren't the players doing that before our coach became a lame duck?
One thing that scares me is that LA Tech is able to shut the run down. I watched most of the Mississippi State game and LA Tech's defensive line was getting regular penetration. Obviously, our offense is not made to operate from behind the sticks, so controlling the line of scrimmage will be something to watch early in the game.
In this kind of game, we are going to have to make our opportunities count. The Bulldog defense is not prolific by any standards, but they're good enough to hold our offense in check, especially if our lineman don't take the goddamn cotton balls out of their ears when Randall Mackey is all "Hey, here's how many times I'm going to say 'hut-hut'."
When the Rebels are on defense: Though much has been made of the Bulldog's pass offense, starting senior tailback Lennon Creer has had an impressive season so far. The 6'1, 215 pound tailback has rushed for 815 yards and 9 touchdowns on 191 carries. He has averaged 20 carries per game and is a solid running back who has enough speed to take it the distance but, at least against MSU, is especially proficient at keeping his legs moving and picking up yards after contact.
True freshman Nick Isham started the season at quarterback at the ripe age of 17. After completing 60% of his passes for 1,457 yards, 8 TDs and 7 picks through six games, Isham suffered a shoulder injury against Utah State. Isham was replaced with junior Colby Cameron who has guided the Bulldogs to three straight wins, throwing for 633 yards and 6 tubs without a pick. Last week, he finished just 18 of 32, but was able to throw several long passes and leave the game with 350+ yards and 4 touchdowns. Though he was unable to win the job over a kid who couldn't legally buy cigarettes at the time, Cameron has provided consistency and played error free football the last three contests. He is the kind of quarterback that might make two terrible throws back to back and then hit a 35 yard post on 3rd and 10. Getting him out of his comfort zone early will be very important in trying to make LA Tech a one-dimensional team.
His (and Isham's as well) favorite target is Quinton Patton. The 6'2, 200 lb junior has caught 60 passes for 892 yards and 9 TDs this season. Aside from the Razorback's dream-teamof wideouts, who weren't particularly impressive that day, Patton may very well be the best all-around receiver we have faced this year, especially considering how he has maintained chemistry with two quarterbacks.
In general: We have more talent across the board, more depth at each position and home-field advantage (thank god it's homecoming or I wouldn't expect more than a 60% full stadium). I think Nutt's admiration amongst the football team, if only as a person, will keep our intensity and focus at a high level. However, as we all know, seemingly rational predictions are pretty impossible with this team.
Prediction: I think this is a slow-moving game with mistakes stopping both team's offenses more than the defenses. There will be a couple of lead changes, but I think for once, the players come out of halftime not thinking "Oh shit oh shit oh shit it's the third quarter oh shit oh shit oh shit". Despite that, baffling play-calling and decision making keep our offense from capitalizing when we cross midfield. I think Ole Miss takes a one possession lead into the fourth quarter as La Tech's usually reliable kicker, Matt Nelson, misses a 39 yard field goal for the win. Ole Miss 27, La Tech 26. Yeah, I know it's specific and it doesn't make any sense to expect a 3-year starting kicker with an 80% conversion rate to miss it. What are you gonna do about it?