In an effort to effectively and efficiently provide you with the information necessarily for a game preview, we at the Cup are trying new (!) and exciting (!) ways to look at each of Ole Miss' 12 regular season football games this year. We do not know if we are going to settle on any particular style or method, or if we're just going to haphazardly go about this week by week. Regardless, this preview won't be too similar to last week's preview, and it might not be similar to next week's. We're still figuring these things out.
That being said, this week we have decided to look at the position groups for each school and the groups against which they will primarily match up. Perhaps this way we can parse out a few keys to the game, as well as preview which players we think could have a significant impact this Saturday. Up first is the Ole Miss Rebels offense, then the Rebel defense before a brief look at coaching.
Ole Miss OL v. UTEP DL - Judging by their preformance against Oklahoma last weekend, If UTEP is going to win the game anywhere, it is going to be on defense, and especially up front. The Miners are big and experienced on the defensive line, something that the inexperienced and thin Ole Miss line might have some trouble with on Saturday. End Germard Reed and defensive tackle Horace Miller both made Phil Steele's all-CUSA team in this offseason (hey, it's something) and played a role in holding Oklahoma to just ten points over the first three quarters. Their skill is complemented by the size of starting nose tackle Marcus Bagley who, at 6'1" and 320 pounds, won't be an easy block for Ole Miss starting center Evan Swindall. I feel that Ole Miss is going to have a tougher problem blocking up the middle against UTEP than they will be on the edge, but even then I'm not puting a lot of faith into Emmanuel McCray and Pierce Burton.
Ole Miss RBs v. UTEP LBs - If Miner mike linebacker Jamie Irving is a go on Saturday - he's got some kind of a back injury - then UTEP will be starting three seniors at linebacker. Irving is a 6', 230 pound guy who started for UTEP at the mike position last year as well, so he's got enough experience to compete. Josh Fely and Aubrey Alexis are on either side of him, both being 5'11" and 225 pounds. In this sense, UTEPs linebackers are likely to remind you of Ole Miss' linebackers. They're undersized for the position, but athletic and fast enough to make some plays. The key to bettering these 'backers will simply be to outrun them. If Jeff Scott is recovered from his back injury, he should be able to move the ball in space and on the edge against them. The real wild cards here are iTavius Mathers and Randall Mackey, both guys who we have high-ish hopes for, but are still relatively unproven. If they can move against these linebackers then they should be ready for more intense competition against Texas and the SEC West... And, yes, I'm getting ahead of myself there.
Ole Miss QBs, WRs, and TEs v. UTEP DBs - DeShawn Grayson for UTEP is a guy to watch out for, as he was second on the team last year in tackles and first in solo stops. He's a good tackler in the open field and will probably be relied on heavily to make stops on shorter runs and passes this Saturday. The 6', 205 pound senior is the leadership of a secondary which, again, has a lot of returning experience. Darren Woodard is another guy to watch for in the UTEP secondary. He's another senior who performed well last season, notching a pair of picks, two more pass breakups, and a dozen tackles in a reserve role. This experience means that Ole Miss will have to rely on physical mismatches and receivers in open space if they're to establish a rhythm passing. If Korvic Neat and Jamal Mosely can duplicate their surprising performances they turned out against UCA, then Ole Miss will have the weapons necessary to do so. If not, it'll be a Donte Moncrief show, and Ole Miss will probably be too one-demensional to move the ball much against the Miner D.
The scrambling abilities of the Rebel quarterbacks could give the Rebs an edge though. Andre Patterson, the UTEP DC, expressed some concerns defending Bo Wallace, saying that the Ole Miss offense "makes it hard on us defensively because we have to account for the quarterback in the running game." If the Rebels and Wallace can pass to set up the run, then they'd be in good shape on Saturday.
UTEP OL v. Ole Miss DL - If I'm going to judge by the performance the Miners had on the ground against Oklahoma last weekend and the heights and weights as listed on the UTEP depth chart, this offensive line seems to be a road grading type, capable of plowing. They are led by senior center Eloy Atkinson, who at 6'3" and 305 pounds was named an all-CUSA honorable mention this past offseason. Still, they lack overall experience (sound familiar), with a handful of sophomores and freshmen throughout the depth chart. They will have to block an Ole Miss defensive line that is largely very athletic but overall quite unproven and undersized. I am thinking this could be a boom or bust type game for the younger guys up front in Issac Gross, Channing Ward, and CJ Johnson. I would think we will continue to see Ward's snaps increase as the coaches seem to be very high on him moving forward.
UTEP RBs v. Ole Miss LBs - The star of the Miner offense is tailback Nathan Jeffery. Last week, Jeffery scored UTEPs only touchdown on a recovered blocked Sooner punt. That was before putting up 177 yards on 21 touches over only three quarters (he would leave the game with a groin injury). Jeffery seemed to be the only viable option UTEP had against Oklahoma, so they went with him early and often for as long as they could. If he is healthy on Saturday, the Rebs will have to key in on him, something I am not entirely certain the Ole Miss linebackers can do with consistency. There are some doubts to how fully he'll be able to go today since he hasn't practiced much at all this week. We have to hope he doesn't play a lot. Our linebackers and defensive line < Oklahoma's linebackers and defensive line. The Rebs will need better tackling out of their defense than they saw against UCA in the first half of the game, and will likely need speedier linebackers Denzel Nkemdiche, Aaron Garbutt, and others to make plays on the edge with Mike Marry holding his own up the middle. I think that group is up for the challenge of tackling Jeffery when they get to him. I just hope their struggles in pass coverage aren't exploited too much.
UTEP QBs, WRs, and TEs v. Ole Miss DBs - Nick Lamaison was a junior college national championship winning quarterback out of Mt. San Antonio Community College before transferring to Tennessee and, eventually, UTEP. He is not a wholly untalented quarterback, in spite of his abysmal performance against Oklahoma in the season opener. In that game, he went 6-of-23 for 39 yards. Hey, at least he didn't throw any picks, right? He should have an easier go of it against the Ole Miss pass rush and defensive backs, but I do not think anyone is expecting UTEP to rely on Lamaison to win this game. At wideout, UTEP has all-CUSA second teamer Mike Edwards, who caught 50 balls for 657 yards and three touchdowns last season. Edwards is iffy in terms of injury status as well, having suffered a concussion against Oklahoma. He practiced towards the end of the week and will almost certainly play. He may not put in the same number of snaps as usual though. They will look to him, Malcolm Trail, Jordan Leslie, and tight ends Kevin Perry and Eric Tomlinson. Leslie and Perry in particular return a great deal of experience from last season. The size of these tight ends and wideout Jordan Leslie, all of which are listed at 6'2" or taller, could cause trouble for an Ole Miss secondary predicated by speed and not necessarily size. If Ole Miss is to gain an edge here, we will need to see better tackling out of Chief Brown and Charles Sawyer, as well as the use of Senquez Golson, Frank Crawford, and our speedier corners to limit big plays.
Hugh Freeze v. Mike Price - We don't know much about Hugh Freeze as a head coach against anybody (EXCEPT FOR IN HIGH SCHOOL GIRLS BASKETBALL HAHAHAHAH RIGHT GUYS /rattle), but I do know that he won't bang a hooker while screaming "ROLL TIDE" anytime soon, so there's that.
Prediction - Whoever commits the fewest mistakes will win, and it will be a single-digit margin of victory. Since this is an Ole Miss page, I'll pick the Rebels to win by a score of 27 to 20.