Analysis and Preview: Ole Miss vs. Cal
OXFORD, Miss. – The Rebels take their first road trip of the season this weekend to Berkeley to face the Cal Golden Bears. Kickoff is at 9:30 pm Oxford time, and the game will be shown on ESPN.
After watching both Cal games this season (vs. North Carolina and Weber State), I would like to offer an analysis of the Bears, keys to the game for the Rebels, and a prediction.
Cal’s run game
When the 2-0 Bears are on offense, they like to use the read option and jet sweeps as a part of their run game.
Running back Patrick Laird, who will start in place of the injured Tre Watson, sticks his nose in the holes well and runs hard.
Laird, who had a big game for the Golden Bears against Weber State, has rushed 15 times on the season for 200 yards. Even though Cal uses the read option, their quarterback Ross Bowers doesn’t look to keep the ball.
Golden Bears’ passing game
Bowers, who has completed 66.7% of his passes and is averaging 8.53 yards per throw, utilizes the short to medium routes. He has four touchdowns and two interceptions in two games and uses a variety of receivers—12 of whom have made catches thus far this season.
Bowers’ favorite targets are a couple kids from SEC country. Vic Wharton III, a Spring Hill, Tennessee native, leads the team in receptions with 10 and also holds the longest reception of 67 yards. Wharton averages 5 catches and 101 yards a game.
Demetrius Robertson is a Savannah, Georgia native who has 7 receptions for 70 yards. He comes into his sophomore season after a banner year as a freshman where he had 50 receptions for 767 yards and 7 touchdowns.
The Golden Bear defense
From everything I’ve seen so far, the Bears pursue the ball well and don’t give up on plays. They play with a lot of grit—but are prone to give up the long ball. The Bears, who are giving up 25 points a game, have allowed their opponents an average of 179 yards on the ground and 326 through the air.
Keys to the game for Ole Miss
Manage distractions: This week hasn’t been the normal week for the Rebels, as Coach Luke spent two days in Covington, Kentucky while the Rebels presented their case to the NCAA Committee on Infractions. Coaches Maurice Harris and Derrick Nix were also in attendance.
First road game: Not only is it the first road game of the season for the Rebels, it’s the first road game for the current staff. And to make things more complicated, the game is across the country and will not kick off until 9:30 p.m, Oxford time. Coach Luke and the team left a day early to better adjust to the time change. Such a late start is never easy—be ready to go late at night.
Handling the Bears’ run game: The Rebels need to keep the chains on their side by controlling first down. Make the Bears predictable, and then pressure Bowers on the obvious passing downs.
Limit Yards after Contact (YAC) – The Bears love the short to medium routes, and they frequently utilize crossing routes. The Bears are going to complete passes—but Ole Miss needs to tackle well after the catch and limit the post catch yardage.
Be who you are: The run game, or lack thereof, has been a hot topic of conversation amongst Rebel fans, but I say Ole Miss should stay the course with who they are. Throw the ball to the backs and use screen passes and shovel passes. Ole Miss can find ways to get the ball to the backs without using traditional means.
Protect and hit the deep ball – Cal has given up the long ball multiple times in the first two games against receivers nowhere near as talented as Ole Miss receivers A.J. Brown, DaMarkus Lodge, D.K. Metcalf, Van Jefferson and Markell Pack. The Rebels should be able to hit ‘em deep—early and often!
- Shea Patterson breaks his record from last week and throws for over 500 yards.
- Van Jefferson or DJ Metcalf will have a huge game. The focus will be on AJ Brown and he will get his, but one of these two will be big today.
- Defense forces two turnovers
I look for the Rebels to score often, and I think the defense will make enough stops to give the offense the cushion it needs.
My score is an Ole Miss victory, 48-31.
(Feature image credit: Dan Anderson, The Rebel Walk)