Postgame Points: Ole Miss 76, UT-Martin 3
I am back for another season of The Rebel Walk’s Postgame Points. Each Monday, I will offer several positive points for Ole Miss fans to take away from Saturday’s game. Whether the Rebels win or lose, I intend to show our readers the good things which happen in every game that the team can use to build upon for future success.
Point No.1: Rebel Rout
After an outstanding 2014 season that saw Ole Miss win 9 games and appear in a New Year’s Six bowl game, the Rebels enter 2015 with a deep, talented roster that is capable of competing for the SEC championship. On Saturday, the Rebels showed fans why they may be the SEC West representative in Atlanta in December during the 76-3 rout of Tennessee-Martin.
Ole Miss was expected to win big over their FCS opponent. Yet, nobody could have imagined the Rebels hanging 76 points on the Skyhawks. While keeping in mind that Ole Miss defeated an overmatched FCS foe, there are many reasons to be excited about the team’s performance in the season opener at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
For starters, the 76 points scored and the 73 point margin of victory are the most by a Rebel team since 1935. Regardless of the opponent, those statistics say that the offense and defense played at an exceptionally high level for 4 quarters in sweltering heat.
The coaches and players deserve credit for being focused and getting the season off to a blistering start. With a key trip to Tuscaloosa less than 2 weeks away, it is a great sign to see that the Rebels have come out of the gate zoned in on having a special season.
Secondly, Ole Miss was able to get playing time for most of the roster on Saturday. Providing minutes to reserves is a key to building the depth needed to compete in the rugged SEC West.
Finally, it was nice to see guys like Laquon Treadwell and Denzel Nkemdiche successfully return to the playing field after injuries ended their season in 2014. Further, Ole Miss fans are surely elated after getting a glimpse of several newcomers in the opener. Chad Kelly, Tony Bridges, Damore’ea Stringfellow, Sean Rawlings, and Tee Shepard are just a few of the new faces looking to help the Rebels reach Atlanta.
Point No.2: Quarterback Play
After hearing rave reviews about the competition between all 3 quarterbacks during fall camp, Coach Hugh Freeze lived up to his word and gave each one a chance to lead the Ole Miss offense in the opener. Fans must be pleased that Chad Kelly, Ryan Buchanan, and DeVante Kincade each looked very capable of directing this potent offense filled with playmakers.
Kelly completed 9 of 15 passes for 211 yards and 2 touchdowns in his Rebel debut. He added a 20-yard touchdown run in the third quarter on his only rushing attempt.
Buchanan threw just 6 passes, but he completed 4 of them for 58 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Meanwhile, Kincade was even more accurate in the opener, as he connected on 6 of 7 passes for 55 yards and 1 score. He accounted for 24 rushing yards, as well.
Going forward, it appears that Kelly will remain the starter after a very solid showing against Tennessee-Martin. Yet, Coach Freeze is likely to play both Buchanan and Kincade in certain situations. Freeze has stated that he may have a package for each quarterback. Time will tell if anything changes with the quarterback rotation, but it is evident that Coach Freeze is comfortable playing all 3 guys.
Point No.3: Balanced Offense
Ole Miss featured a very balanced offense against Tennessee-Martin. The Rebels racked up 662 yards of offense, with 338 yards coming on the ground and 324 yards coming through the air. Ole Miss averaged more than 10 yards per play. The Rebels averaged over 17 yards per passing play and more than 9 yards per run.
The Rebel offense was incredibly efficient in the season opener, also. Ole Miss ran 64 plays, collected 28 first downs, had just 1 turnover, and put 76 points on the scoreboard. Even more impressive is that the Rebels converted 5 of 5 red-zone opportunities for 5 touchdowns. Also, Ole Miss had 10 different players account for the 11 touchdowns.
While this is just one game, and the opponent was an FCS team, it is still nice to see the Rebels show balance and efficiency on offense with a variety of guys making big plays.
As the competition gets tougher, fans can expect to see veteran stars like Laquon Treadwell, Evan Engram, Cody Core, and Jaylen Walton get the ball more often. Yet, it was great to see that there are a number of guys behind them who can make explosive plays, too.
Point No.4: Dominant Defense
The Landshark defense appears intent on being one of the strongest units in the SEC and in the nation again this season. The dominant performance against UT-Martin surely reminds fans of last year’s squad, which lead the country in scoring defense.
The Rebels limited the Skyhawks to just 290 yards on the day. The Landsharks allowed just 13 first downs and 3 points in the opener. Tennessee-Martin averaged just over 4 yards per play. Ole Miss created 1 turnover against the Skyhawks and made the most of it by scoring a touchdown.
Again, remember that this is simply one outing against an overmatched opponent. However, the Rebel defense showed that it has the talent and depth to replace graduated stars like Cody Prewitt and Senquez Golson without missing a beat. Just a few seasons ago, Ole Miss could not have replaced a pair of All-Americans in the secondary without taking a step back. It shows just how much the program has risen in 4 seasons under the direction of Hugh Freeze.
Point No.5: Highlights
With many Rebels getting a chance to play on Saturday, there were a lot of guys who made valuable contributions. One Rebel who stood out was running back Jaylen Walton, who carried the ball just 3 times but accounted for 65 yards and 2 touchdowns. Eugene Brazley, Akeem Judd, D.K. Buford, and Jordan Wilkins all had some nice runs that helped Ole Miss pile up 338 yards on the ground.
On the defensive side of the ball, Tony Bridges was the team leader with 6 total tackles. Trae Elston recorded 3 tackles and returned an interception 93 yards for a score, while A.J. Moore had 5 tackles, 1 sack, and 1 forced fumble.
Robert Nkemdiche produced highlights in every phase of the game. On defense, Nkemdiche accounted for 3 tackles and 1 quarterback hurry. On special teams, he blocked a UT-Martin field goal attempt. Then Nkemdiche really showed off his versatility by catching a Ryan Buchanan pass and rumbling 31 yards for a touchdown.
(Feature image credit: Bentley Breland, The Rebel Walk)