This weekend, the Ole Miss Rebels face the Redhawks of Southeast Missouri in a game which is, for all intents and purposes, already over. Sure, you all will have a great time this weekend, as the Rebels roll to a 40-something point victory under a beautiful Mississippi September evening sky before you and yours happily stroll back to the Grove to polish off a few cold Abner's chicken tenders and imbibe celebratory whiskey drinks, but this weekend is not something worth devoting column space to. Barring something truly drastic and unreasonable, the Rebels should win by several touchdowns without much effort.
What this weekend does provide us is a time to reflect as well as gameplan for the future. The Southeast Missouri game is one that is a nice tune-up opportunity - a glorified practice of sorts that gives the players and coaches one final chance to make moves and changes in preparation for a road date against the Texas Longhorns in the following week. Making this weekend all the more sweet is the Rebels being 1-0 on the season after a thrilling come-from-behind 39-35 victory over the Vanderbilt Commodores in Nashville to kick off the college football season in front of a nation's worth of ESPN-watching eyeballs. Certainly, a 1-0 start is better than the alternative, particularly when you understand just how difficult a win it was.
Leading up to the matchup, our Rebels' detractors were confidently picking a Rebel loss, and while their biases shone through (as ours do too, to be fair), it is important to understand why such a prediction wasn't too terribly unreasonable. Vanderbilt did have a three game winning streak on our Ole Miss, and had won six of the last eight. The game was not in Oxford, meaning that whatever home field advantage Vaught-Hemingway provides was nonexistent. Vanderbilt has Jordan Matthews, arguably one of the best wide receivers in the country. The Commodores also have experience on both the offensive and defensive lines, as well as dynamic, reliable backfields and secondaries. The program boasts one of the most celebrated young coaches in America in James Franklin, a person who is already considered a shoe-in for any number of high profile jobs which are liable to open up in this upcoming offseason. And the Rebels have a quarterback recovering from a shoulder surgery, an unproven defensive lineup, and a less-than-desirable depth chart on the offensive line.
And yet, the Rebels won. Vandy fought hard for all of the aforementioned reasons and provided for a tough, tough matchup, but the Rebels played generally smart football, capitalized on Vanderbilt mistakes, and simply outlasted the opposition until the game clock struck zero.
Now, these same detractors are trying to downplay the victory as being over "just Vanderbilt," but their initial arguments still ring true. The Rebs beat a good team that, for years, had their number, and they did it under less-than-desirable circumstances.
As is to be expected, there were some undesirable outcomes from last weekend. The Rebels are shuffling around on the offensive line with starting guard Aaron Morris having suffered a torn ACL. The linebacker situation is also fluid with Denzel Nkemdiche having a torn meniscus. And the secondary situation is still a bit of a question mark, as long-standing depth issues have not been resolved. Still, if there ever was a week to try new things without the risk of damaging anything further before a big contest, a second week matchup against an uninspiring FCS opponent (it's not that they're in a different division altogether that has us confident, but that they're a particularly bad team within that division) after an SEC victory and before a road trip to a BCS power is it.
Forgive us for looking to the past in order to look towards the future. With an all but assured 2-0 start heading into a much anticipated out of conference matchup in Austin, the Ole Miss Rebels have a confidence and momentum that should give them a fighter's chance against what is a very talented Texas Longhorns squad. We at Red Cup Rebellion are not yet predicting a victory for the Rebels over the Longhorns or anything so drastic -remember, they did better the Rebs by a stunning five touchdowns just one year ago in Oxford - but we do feel that we are heading in a direction necessary to be competitive in this contest as evidenced by last week's win over Vanderbilt.
Hotty Toddy Rebels. Beat the Warhawks, then head to Texas to beat the Longhorns.