Well, here we go again. I’ve been using this offseason to evaluate the state of the Ole Miss football program and my relationships to said program, as we all likely have after last year’s debacle. Last year, just as Ghost outlined, I think many of us tried to temper our optimism and the overall connection between Ole Miss’ performance on the field with our attitudes during the fall. I swore to be rational and not become too invested.
But screw that. 2010 is over. Last season, as horrid as it was, is in the past and we have life anew. I couldn’t be more excited to put last year behind all of us and enter back into the world of untamed and unreasonable optimism. Good God I love football.
BYU brings in a veteran-laden team full of 25 year old former missionaries who apparently are taking this game to be a very serious tune-up before they go to Austin and beat Texas. The Cougars suffered their worst season under Bronco Mendenhall last year, going 7-6. However, the Cougars return 18 starters, plenty of talent, and all of the Dwight Schrute outfits one could ask for.
When the Rebels are on offense
Frankly, I’m not entirely sure what to expect. I can run through the typical, "Well, we’ve got a big offensive line that will blow those Mormon bastards off the ball while Brandon Bolden runs through them like a warm knife through butter," but that seems a bit unrealistic. If David Lee has done a modicum of research, he knows that BYU will be stacking the box and trying to keep the ball in Barry Brunetti’s hands. For that reason, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to see us coming out throwing on the first drive. From there, 34 will start to get his carries while I’m hopeful that Jeff Scott can get 10-15 touches on the edges via sweeps, flat routes and tosses.
I think we’ll be rotating receivers on regular basis with at least six different guys getting looks at different positions. Korvic Neat, Melvin Harris, J Logan, Vincent Sanders will bring some experience while the talented trio of Donte Moncrief, Nick Brassell and Tobias Singleton should provide a young spark for the receiving corps. How they will match up with BYU’s defensive backfield, I haven’t the slightest clue. I don’t think they’ve seen the speed that we have out wide, but I think they’ve seen bigger and more disciplined receivers last season.
BYU has a bigger-than-usual defensive line and some athletic playmakers on defense. However, they will likely be the 6th or 7th best defense on our schedule this season. This game should serve as a good gauge of our offense. If we move the ball against them adequately, we can expect to have an adequate offense through the SEC schedule. Unfortunately we won’t be able to hold back much on the play-calling as if we were playing a game against, say, an FCS opponent for the opening game of the year…
When the Rebels are on defense
This is where I have the most concern. Last year, despite having what was expected to be a solid defensive line, we were gashed up and down the field through the air, and more often than we should have been on the ground. Whether losing most of those players will be good or bad, I know not. What I do know is that the last time we had this many young and athletic newcomers on defense was in 2008. If Tyrone Nix has figured out how to defend the zone read and the speed option, I will be pleasantly surprised.
I do expect Jake Heaps to throw for well over 200 yards, but my biggest concern is stopping the run. A lot has been made about BYU’s pass-happy attack, but the Cougars return three running backs who combined for over 2,000 yards last season. Moreover, they feature a future First-Round pick in Tackle Matt Reynolds, along with four other experienced lineman.Shutting down the run will be a much bigger factor than most expect. Forcing BYU to throw on 3rd and long regularly would be the ideal situation, because as Woody Hayes used to say, "Three things can happen when you throw the ball, two of them are bad."
I think this could be a coming out game for some of our younger defensive lineman. Despite the youth up front, I think we have the size and athleticism to adequately compete with a very solid Cougar O-line. I would like to see Carlos Thompson and some of our speedier defensive ends in long passing situations, as I don’t think BYU has seen many SEC defensive linemen that would otherwise be wide-outs and fast tight ends. How the defensive backs perform in third and shorts will be a big factor in the game. I doubt we’ll be sitting on 12 yard cushions like we did last season, and will likely get beat deep once or twice, regardless of how well our DB’s play. However, if we can put hands on their receivers, throwing off Heaps’ timing, to give some of our blitzing players an extra half-second, that could be the difference in a win and a loss.
If BYU wants to beat us
They need to have an adequate ground game that puts them in third and medium/short situations, forcing our corners and safeties to play up on the line of scrimmage. If they keep our safeties from being able to sit back in Cover 2 and such, that will leave our young corners exposed regularly and could cause a great deal of trouble from the beginning.
I think this game will be a lot closer than some think. BYU is carrying a bit of swagger into the game, returning 18 starters who were so experienced, they didn’t need all of camp. On our side, we’ve got a group of hungry veterans and underclassmen who seem to genuinely have their heads screwed on straight, which apparently wasn’t the case last season.
Optimism. It’s all I have on the first weekend of college football. My brain is telling me that BYU will run the ball more effectively than we expect, forcing us into a more vanilla defense. Offensively, we may be limited in what we can do if Brunetti isn’t able to make quick precision passes on third and medium and third and long to keep drives alive. If we don’t keep their offense off the field, it could be a long game for us. HOWEVER, I do think we have better athletes, and our Rebs seem to be more focused than they have been in previous years. Therefore, I’m predicting the Rebels get a surprising performance from the defense (Don’t crush my soul Nix), while the offense is able to get the ground game going, especially in the second half as Ole Miss defeats BYU in a lower-than-expected-scoring game, 24-20.