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Rebels’ well-balanced offense should test Cal defense

Rebels’ well-balanced offense should test Cal defense

OXFORD, Miss. – Number 23-ranked Cal will be playing over 2,000 miles from home Saturday against a Southeastern Conference opponent — with a 9:00 a.m. Pacific time kickoff.

But excuse the Bears if they feel a tad bit of déjà vu at game time.

Last Saturday, Cal held on at home to beat North Texas, 23-17. In that game the Mean Green quarterback, Mason Fine, threw for 210 yards despite losing leading receiver Rico Bussey to a knee injury in the first quarter. 

Matt Corral

Matt Corral drops back to pass against SELA. (Photo: Dan Anderson, The Rebel Walk)

Although 210 yards might not seem like a lot, it gave the senior over 10,000 passing yards in his career, and he also fired two touchdown passes in the game to give him 71 in his career, a UNT record. Fine completed 21 passes to nine different receivers.

This week, in the form of Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral, the Bears will be looking at a bigger version of Fine—with just as many weapons at his disposal.

Corral, although only a redshirt freshman, is just as much of a leader for the Rebels as Fine has been throughout his career. And on the field, Corral looks a lot like the North Texas quarterback with his ability to get out of the pocket and make plays.

So how was Cal able to keep Fine in check like it also did with Washington’s Jacob Eason in the Bears’ 20-19 win in Seattle? 

Ole Miss coach Matt Luke knows exactly how.

They are very, very talented in the secondary. They can play man. They are experienced in their zone coverage. They don’t give you anything easy, they make you earn it. When you have really good players executing a really good scheme, that is a recipe for success.

Ole Miss head coach Matt Luke on the Cal secondary

Can the Golden Bears’ success continue this week against the Rebels’ less-experienced offense?

That remains to be seen but one thing is certain; what the Ole Miss passing game lacks in experience, it makes up for with an explosiveness the Bears may have not seen this season.

Cal’s three wins are against FCS Cal-Davis (27-13), No. 14 Washington and Conference USA’s UNT. In those three games, the Bears have surrendered just 184 yards per game. The defense has only come up with two interceptions; although, Cal has recorded eight sacks.

The defensive front is stout, as well, for the Bears. Cal held the Mean Green to just 119 yards on the ground mainly on the play of Evan Wheeler. The leading returning tackler in the FBS had 11 stops against North Texas and has notched 41 already this season.

The Bears will see a well-balanced offense with a three-headed rushing monster of Scottie Phillips, Snoop Conner and Jerrion Ealy. That attack could loosen up the Cal secondary. If It does and the Rebels’ offensive front has a good day, Corral and Company will have a good day.

Scottie Phillips

Ole Miss running back Scottie Phillips scores a touchdown against Southeastern Louisiana. (Photo: Dan Anderson, The Rebel Walk)

Corral is averaging 192 yards a game through the air and the running game is chipping in another 179.

Eleven different Rebels have caught passes this year and each receiver can gain yardage after the catch. Ten different Rebels caught passes against Southeastern last Saturday.

And Cal must decide how to defend the pass. Unlike most teams, Ole Miss spreads the ball around. Three running backs, two tight ends and six wide receivers have all been Corral’s target. 

Last week, North Texas used that ball distribution to its advantage after falling into a 20-0 hole. After mounting a comeback, which included completing the first scoring pass against Cal this season, the Mean Green found themselves down just six points, with less than two minutes left at their own 35.

The Bears’ defense came back to life and secured the win by not allowing North Texas to gain a first down.

That defensive stand came just in time for Cal head coach Justin Wilcox.

“Our coaches did a great job putting a package together,” Wilcox said.  “And the guys ultimately went out there and executed it and made some nice plays.”

Whether this week’s game comes down to a final drive or not, one thing is certain – it will be a heck of a matchup.

Hotty Toddy!

About The Author

Steve Barnes

Steve Barnes joins The Rebel Walk staff as a senior writer and brings a trifecta of journalistic experience. As a writer, he has covered college sports for, and as well as served as a beat writer for various traditional newspapers. He has been a broadcaster for arena football and several national tournament events for the National Junior College Athletic Association as well as hosting various shows on radio. A former sports information director at Albany (Ga.) State University and an assistant at Troy and West Florida, he has helped host many NCAA conference, regional and national events, including serving five years on the media committee of the NCAA Division II World Series. Barnes, a native of Pensacola, Fla., attended Ole Miss in 1983-84, where his first journalism teacher was David Kellum. The duo has come a long way since that time. He will bring a proven journalistic track record, along with a knack for finding the out-of-the-ordinary story angles to The Rebel Walk. Barnes continues to reside in Pensacola a mere ten minutes from the beach because he does have taste and a brain.

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