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Egg Bowl 2015 preview: Elite quarterbacks aren't the only reason to expect a shootout

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Yes, any game between Dak and Swag is going to be pass-heavy, but shaky secondaries, ground-challenged offenses and formidable defensive fronts give Ole Miss and State even more incentive to go to the air.

Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

Here's something you probably thought you'd never read: this season's Egg Bowl features the two best quarterbacks in the SEC. That statement is as true as it is alien -- Dak Prescott and Chad Kelly have been lighting the league up all season and Saturday's showdown may well decide who gets named all-conference at the position (though Arkansas' Brandon Allen has submitted an impressive application himself).

Given the stats that Kelly and Prescott have posted this season, it's easy to predict a shootout on Saturday. They're 1-2 in passing yards, completions and total touchdowns and rank second and third in passer rating. The only real separation in their numbers comes in the interception column -- Dak has just three to Chad's 12, but five of those weren't Chad's fault and he hasn't thrown one in either of his last two games.

But badass quarterbacks aren't the only reason to expect a barn burner in Starkville. Shitty secondaries, mediocre rushing attacks and dominant defensive fronts should mean lots of passing.

Both pass defenses are banged up and shaky.

These two defenses rank ninth and 13th, respectively, in passing yards allowed per game and eighth and 14th, respectively, in passing touchdowns surrendered. Each one of Ole Miss' three losses can be blamed in part on poor secondary play -- Florida, Memphis and Arkansas averaged 341 passing yards and threw for 10 combined touchdowns in those three games. State's been better against the pass for most of the season, but Brandon Allen torched them for 407 yards and seven touchdowns last week in Fayetteville.

Injuries don't help matters. Starting Rebel safety C.J. Hampton, who missed the LSU game with a stinger, has been wearing a non-contact jersey in practice this week and could be limited. Tony Conner still isn't 100 percent and freshman Cam Ordway, who helped fill in for Hampton, has to sit out the first half for "fighting" against LSU.

State's secondary, meanwhile, is missing its top corner. Will Redmond, a projected first-rounder who tore his ACL in practice a month ago, was the only legitimate hope for marking Laquon Treadwell, who's probably going to do just about whatever the hell he wants on Saturday.

There's not much in the way of ground attacks.

Neither of these teams are good at running the ball and neither wastes much time trying to do so: State and Ole Miss are first and second in the SEC in pass attempts and 14th and 10th in rushing attempts.

Bad run blocking has plagued both teams all season, and while Ole Miss has gotten considerably better in that area since Laremy Tunsil's return, it's still far from a strength. Jaylon Walton's shiftiness (remember this?) and Chad's newly-emphasized running ability could cause some problems for State, but it's not like the Rebs are going to control the game on the ground.

State's rushing attack starts and ends with Dak, who has more carries than top running backs Brandon Holloway and Ashton Shumpert combined and has nine rushing touchdowns to that duo's one. As a whole, State's offense ranks 12th in the SEC in rushing yards per game.

Both defensive fronts can stop the run, especially Ole Miss'.

State's run D isn't great, but it ranks inside the 65th percentile in rushing S&P+ and has a front studded with playmakers: Chris Jones is the second most disruptive DT in the state of Mississippi, defensive end A.J. Jefferson is fourth in the SEC in tackles for loss and the linebacking duo of Richie and Beniquez Brown (no relation) are one of the nation's better duos in cleaning stuff up at the second level.

But I really like how Ole Miss -- which ranks eighth best in the country in rushing S&P+ and just finished up an impressive bottling up of Leonard Fournette -- matches up against State's ground attack. Dan Mullen's strategy has been to spread the defense with receiver-heavy sets, then let Dak attack the exposed middle. But Ole Miss should be ready for that because:

  1. Robert Nkemdiche and Co. can control the line of scrimmage without much help from other defenders in the box (see: LSU).
  2. Linebacker DeMarquis Gates should be able to limit Dak when he does slip by the D-line. Gates replaced Denzel Nkemdiche last week and piled up 14 tackles (including some open-field takedowns of Fournette) and earned SEC Defensive Player of the Week.
  3. Tony Conner and Mike Hilton are great tacklers near the LOS. State's hoping to get defensive backs on the field instead of linebackers, and then have Dak run them over, but the versatility of Conner and Hilton allows Ole Miss to play the run while matching up with spread personnel.

Ole Miss did a good job of limiting Prescott in last season's contest, allowing Dak just two yards a carry on 24 rushes. Without his longest rush of that night, a 14-yard scamper on an unconverted third and long, Prescott only averaged 1.4 yards per carry. In other words, Ole Miss was excellent against the run in obvious run situations against Mississippi State last season; it's reasonable to expect more of the same this go around.

TL;DR

This game has bad rushing attacks facing good rushing defense and elite quarterbacks facing bad secondaries, so expect a shit-ton of passing.