Rebel RoundUp: Time to Pack the Vaught against Austin Peay, Preview of the Governors
OXFORD, Miss. — On Monday night, the Ole Miss football team showed us why it deserved all the preseason hype.
A “Kiffin-less” team went into Atlanta and dictated the entire game against Louisville on both sides of the ball. The Rebels took a 26-0 lead into halftime behind a trio of rushing touchdowns (one each from Corral, Conner, and Ealy) and a pair of field goals from newcomer Caden Costa. Corral spread it out to eight different receivers in the first half.
— SEC Football Vids (@SECFootballVids) September 7, 2021
The real story of the half comes from the defensive side of the ball where the Rebels notched a shutout of Cardinals’ quarterback Malik Cunningham and his offense. Maryland transfer linebacker Chance Campbell brought a heart and hustle that has already carved himself a spot in the hearts of Ole Miss fans. He does all the little things and makes all the plays.
Ole Miss would keep its foot on the gas in the second half en route to a 43-24 win behind 381 passing yards from Matt Corral and 188 rushing yards on the ground (Corral, Conner, Ealy, and Parrish). Wide receiver Dontario Drummond stole the show, catching nine passes for 177 yards and a score. The defense forced two turnovers and limited the explosive plays to control the game the rest of the way.
Now with a short turnaround, Ole Miss gets to travel home for the first game inside Vaught Hemingway Stadium of the 2021 season. The Rebels will host Austin Peay State University on Saturday in what I can only expect as a near-sellout crowd in Oxford.
- Kickoff: 7:30 PM ET / 6:30 PM CT
- TV: ESPN+ / SECN+
- Stream: WATCH ESPN (on ESPN app)
- Memphis: WHBQ-AM 560
- Oxford: WOXF-FM 105.1
- Jackson: WFMN-FM 97.3
- Betting Lines:
- Ole Miss:
- Moneyline: Ole Miss
Series History and Side Notes
This will mark the first-ever meeting between Ole Miss and Austin Peay.
Ole Miss honors veterans with Military Appreciation Game
Ole Miss will honor the men and women who served and have served this great nation in military service Saturday with its annual Military Appreciation Game. The university’s mission to honor and support its student veterans does not go unnoticed by its military faculty and staff. Notable alumni and service members will be recognized during the game and halftime will feature a special tribute to our nation’s military by The Pride of the South marching band.
Austin Peay Preview
In the 2020 spring season under new coach Scotty Walden, the Govs succeeded in winning six games and a few against ranked competition. Walden came to APSU after spending time at Southern Miss as an offensive coordinator and as interim head coach. He got his first offensive coordinator job In 2012. Remarkably, he is only 31 years old, so his first job was right out of college when he became the offensive coordinator for Sul Ross — where he had been the quarterback a year earlier.
Walden was also one of the youngest head coaches in college football after leading Division III East Texas Baptist University to a 7-3 record in 2016. The team had a record-setting offense that scored 49.9 points per game and 568.2 yards per game.
As far as his coaching philosophy goes, Walden has taken elements from both Rich Rodriquez and Mike Leach (two names the state of Mississippi is familiar with). It is best described as a vertical spread offense that utilizes tempo and vertical routes with a goal to apply added stress on defenses. Walden’s teams like to dictate how the defense must react.
We have found two good examples of concepts that Scotty Walden likes to use in his passing game.
Don’t be surprised for them to take 5-10 deep shots this game and really go out and test the Ole Miss secondary. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Walden try to get the linebackers to bite on the RPO using that mesh concept as well.
The Govs have had a whirlwind over the past year or so from winning a conference championship in 2019 to having three coaches in a seven-month span. In 2020 under Walden, things started to look up during the FCS spring season as the Govs secured a 4-2 record including wins over No. 7 Jacksonville State and No. 13 Murray State.
Austin Peay State comes into this game 1-0 with a 30-20 win over UT-Chattanooga last Thursday.
Austin Peay Offense
The Ole Miss defense already dealt with one true threat at QB in Louisville’s Malik Cunningham. Now they have to deal with a much lesser-known but still talented signal-caller in Draylen Ellis. A few Rebel fans may remember the name especially those from the Olive Branch area.
Ellis is in his sophomore season for the Govs, and in the six spring games he impressed mightily as a freshman as the Ohio Valley Conference named him Co-Freshman of the Year in 2020. In the six games, he tossed for over 1200 yards and 14 touchdowns. In March he became the first player ever to repeat as back-to-back Conference Player and newcomer of the Week. Ellis also was a finalist for the Jerry Rice Award given to the FCS top player of the year.
Austin Peay is off to a fast start on the road. Draylen Ellis delivers a nice pass to Baniko Harley for the TD. Great ball placement by Ellis on that throw.
AUSTIN PEAY 13
SE MISSOURI STATE 0pic.twitter.com/wjAj1tNM20
— CFB Blitz (@BlitzCfb) March 14, 2021
Last week against Chattanooga, Ellis completed 23 passes on 33 attempts for 425 yards and four touchdowns. His longest completion was for 57 yards. He also threw two interceptions and was sacked three times.
The running game was a weak point against Chattanooga until the fourth quarter. The Govs had totaled only 127 yards in the game but 90 came in the game’s final quarter. The main player to know is Ahmaad Tanner who is a COVID senior for the Govs. He is a 6’0″, 205-lb. back who has had meaningful snaps dating back to the 2019 season.
Last week, Ahmad rushed for 103 yards on 19 attempts with a long of 31. Through the first three quarters, the Govs rushed for 30 yards on 25 attempts. The other two names you can expect to see are Jariel Wilson and Brina Snead. The former is a 5’9″, 195-lb. scatback, while the latter is 6’1″ and 215 lbs. and will be more of a power back. Tanner is a mix between the two and will get most of the carries. C.J. Evans is a good receiving back who will line up as a back and receiver.
Wide Receiver / Tight End
APSU lost its big target in DeAngelo Wilson who transferred to Western Kentucky. He was the leading receiver for the past two seasons for the Govs. Now with Wilson gone, Baniko Harley is the top option for Ellis. Harley is a 6’0″ wide receiver who transitioned to the spot after being a reserve QB early in his collegiate career.
— Pete Thamel (@PeteThamel) September 3, 2021
Drae McCray and D.J. Render were productive last week with each hauling in five catches and a TD. D.J. Render previously played at Kansas State, making appearances in twenty-four games for the Wildcats on both offense and defense. McCray is a small receiver at 5’8″ who will be in the slot. He is a former running back and track star in high school. He actually held an offer from Oregon. Look for him to use his speed on screens and a lot of those downfield crossing routes.
The Govs didn’t have a tight end record a catch in the game against UT Chattanooga. The most experienced tight end they have is grad transfer William Wilcox who came over from Middle Tennessee. The other name is Elijah Brown who has been a bit of a Swiss army knife and a quality blocker. He made a couple of starts on the offensive line during the 2020 abbreviated fall season.
Seth Johnson, Colby McKee, Bucky Williams (First Team All OVC) are the big names to know for the Govs offensive line. The trio earned preseason All-OVC honors.
Garrett Bell is another to watch out for as he got a few starts in both the 2020 fall and spring seasons. The Govs also brought in a grad transfer from Bowling Green State University in Joe Ware. Both Bell and Ware have the versatility to play either the guard or tackle spot for the Govs.
Austin Peay Defense
This group is still trying to figure itself out. They have one returning senior in Kwame Sutton who Chris Kappas and Chris Jones will have to lean on heavily. He ended the abbreviated season last year with 4.5 tackles for loss. They did bring in a pair of FBS transfers in Eric Bentley (Akron) and Brian Merritt (Houston). Those two will try and bolster the interior of the line.
Kenneth Martin and Terrell Allen both bring back some experience. Allen will figure to lineup opposite of Sutton as the other main defensive end in the bunch. Jau’von Young, Damion Barber and Demeteri Scott all have a little playing experience. Barber is a former Penn State transfer. The group also brings in six true freshman of whom a couple may rotate in.
This may be the strongest point of the defense as the duo of Jack McDonald and Troy Henderson return. McDonald was a First Team All-OVC selection for 2020-2021 and amassed multiple double-digit tackle performances in 2020. In 2019 he accumulated 118 tackles, 9.5 for loss. That year earned him sophomore All-American honors.
According to @GovsFB, the FCS players with the most tackles since the start of the 2019 season (varying amounts of games, of course):
North Dakota State’s Jackson Hankey: 202
Western Carolina’s Ty Harris: 195
Austin Peay's Jack McDonald: 193
— FCS Football (@FCS_STATS) September 9, 2021
Troy Henderson took a more interesting path to Austin Peay. Out of high school he originally enrolled at Syracuse and was redshirted his first season. After another year for ‘Cuse, he transferred to Kennesaw State where he excelled for two seasons before transferring to the Govs. In the shortened season he notched 58 tackles. Those two will man the inside positions come Saturday.
The outside backs look to be between four guys vying for playing time. The likely candidate to be out there the most is Darryl Rogan. He has plenty of experience from the 2019 team while missing 2020 with injuries. Hunter Scholato is a grad senior who is looking at his first major minutes. Hosea Knifely Jr., and Jackson Griner round out the group.
Isaiah Norman is the feature corner for Austin Peay. A long player at the position, standing at 6’1″, he brings physicality and experience as a grad senior. Then you have the duo at safeties in Jonathan Edwards and Kam Ruffin. Edwards is a free safety likely to play over the top while Ruffin is a thumper who will come up from the back on plenty of occasions.
Two names to keep an eye on are Shamari Simmons and Devin Smith. Simmons is a junior college player who had a very good camp while Devin Smith is a transfer from Georgia Tech who tallied plenty of experience for the Yellow Jackets.
The matchup to watch is Norman vs. Sanders/Drummond. Last week we saw Drummond explode while Sanders was tying up Tre’ Clark. This week I want to see whoever Norman covers work to get open as we can prove how dynamic the Ole Miss receivers can really be.
Cole Deeds is returning as the kicker for the Govs after making 16-of-18 attempts last season. The punter position will be held down by Matt Rigney. He only averaged 36.3 yards per punt, but he has a leg with a long of 64. The most important specialist position may be the long snapper. Ethan Meyers will hold that role after COVID brought some unfortunate luck to the snappers of 2020. Kam Thomas is the lead kick returner for the Govs.
The Govs have serious ability to succeed at the FCS level. They have a bright young mind at head coach while bringing back a talented young QB and some veteran offensive line presence. It’s not crazy to think they may be somewhat successful in trying to test the Ole Miss secondary.
For the Rebels, the keys are establishing the run, forcing the linebackers to go downhill, and freeing up space for big chunk plays. The safeties need to be in tune and able to read what is going on with a lot of these downfield attempts the Govs will take.
My take is the Rebels win comfortably, 52-17, and the duo of Snoop Conner and Jerrion Ealy combine for 4 TDs. My side bet is that Braylon Sanders has a huge game.
(Feature image credits: Austin Peay, Josh McCoy-Ole Miss; graphic: Nick Filipich, Rebel Walk)
TJ Oxley is a current MBA student at Ole Miss after having earned his undergraduate degree at the University of Toledo. He currently covers college hoops and the NBA Draft for the Basketball Society as well as all things Ole Miss for The Rebel Walk.