Rebels not looking past Memphis
Evan Engram (17) and Bo Wallace (14) are focused on beating the Memphis Tigers. (Photo credit: Bentley Breland)
One of the dangers of playing in the SEC is looking past a non-conference opponent toward your next conference game. It would be impossible to be a Rebel and not know that Alabama will be in town next week. Fans all across the social media universe are discussing, debating, and even voting whether they think ESPN’s Game Day will be in The Grove for the first time when the Rebels play the Crimson Tide.
That top-ten matchup in Oxford is tantalizingly close; however, Ole Miss must first face a talented Memphis team. The Rebels could get into a deep hole this week against the Tigers if they are looking too far into the future, but Coach Freeze made it clear in his weekly press conference he, his staff, and the leaders on the team are doing all they can to prevent this from happening.
Memphis brings a 2-1 record to Vaught-Hemingway
Memphis comes into Oxford with a 2-1 record. They had a big opening game win (63-0) against Austin Peay–an FCS opponent that has only scored 13 total points in three games; a seven point loss to then #11 UCLA in Pasadena; and, a 36-17 win against Middle Tennessee.
The Tigers’ season statistics are quite difficult to trend. Almost half of their rushing yards came at the expense of Austin Peay in the 63-0 rout. However, they had more than 300 passing yards in their one loss to UCLA and held the Bruins to less than 150 yards rushing.
In their last game, the Tiger defense again stood strong limiting Middle Tennessee to less than 100 yards rushing. A big reason for their success on defense is senior linebacker Tank Jakes. Jakes has 22 solo tackles this year, more than twice any other Tiger except fellow linebacker Leonard Pegues.
In his weekly press conference, Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze commented on the Tiger defense:
“They’re very aggressive. They tackle extremely well. They get off the field on third down, which is a critical area that you have to be really good at, and they are. They’ve gone toe-to-toe with one of the nation’s best at their place.”
Freeze also added that he could count on one hand the number of missed tackles by the Tigers this season.
Room for more rushing
Ole Miss holds a 2:1 advantage over its opponents in passing yards, but only a 30-yard advantage in rushing through the first three games. In order to put Memphis away and get some momentum started for next week, the running game needs to improve.
Jaylen Walton leads the Rebels with 121 yards rushing this season, while I’Tavius Mathers is just shy of 100 yards. Perhaps because the Rebels are not running the zone read as frequently as they did last year, the perceived threat of quarterback Bo Wallace tucking the ball and running has not been as prevalent. And when Ole Miss has run the zone read, Bo’s defensive key, more often than not, has dictated that the quarterback hand the ball off, rather than keep it.
It will be important for the Rebels to have as balanced of an attack as possible to compete with Alabama next week.
Rebel passing game excels
The passing game has been incredibly strong, as Bo continues to lead the nation with a 75.5% completion rate. More impressive than that, perhaps, is five Rebel receivers have more than ten receptions each, and none of those has more than fifteen. That balanced and spread attack has defenders and defensive coaches guessing. It also has eliminated the ability to always have one receiver double-covered. Perhaps the success of the passing game explains why the running game has not developed further at this point in the season.
Goals for the Memphis game
Ole Miss obviously needs to take care of business and beat Memphis tomorrow, which should be fairly easy to do. Other important goals this weekend are avoiding injuries, allowing more players to get playing time, and pounding the football on the ground so that as the Rebels move into the heart of the schedule, a balanced attack is something opponents will expect.
After Memphis, a brutal 5 weeks of football lies ahead–with four opponents ranked in the top 20.
Coach Freeze addressed the issue of keeping his team focused on Memphis with all the hype of the Alabama game swirling around them. He told the media at the press conference:
“If you guys would quit talking about it, it would help. Because of all of the stuff I hear, everyday, I’m certainly trying to make sure our kids stay within the moment and stay on task today and tomorrow, which leads to Saturday against the University of Memphis. I’m doing everything I can.”
Tomorrow, we look for the Rebels to do everything they can to get the win over Memphis, setting up the big match-up with the Crimson Tide on October 4th.