The Rebel RoundUp Preview: Ole Miss hosts Troy in Season Opener
OXFORD, Miss. — Ole Miss football is back! Fresh off an incredible second year, Rebel head coach Lane Kiffin and company look to retool things as the portal king has brought in plenty of fresh faces to Oxford.
Today marks the long-awaited start of the 2022 season as the Rebels host the Troy Trojans at 3:00 p.m. (CT). Ole Miss is fresh off a 10-3 season in 2021, culminating in a Sugar Bowl berth that saw the Red and Blue lose a bravely-fought contest against Baylor after Matt Corral went down with an injury.
Analysts have the Rebels finishing all over the place as they look to recreate some of the success from last year. The major question surrounding the Ole Miss program is which QB will emerge to replace Corral. Both Jaxson Dart and Luke Altmyer have competed hard throughout fall and spring, each with solid camps to make their case.
Each quarterback brings a top-level pedigree to Ole Miss, leaving Coach Lane Kiffin in a situation where he has not only one, but two quality options to take the field on Saturday. It is widely rumored USC transfer Jaxson Dart will get the start but that both QBs will see the field as the position battle continues.
Could Ole Miss do something similar to Michigan, where one signal caller starts the first game and the other starts the second? You never know….but what we do know is both Dart and Altmyer are looking to gel with new offensive coordinator Charlie Weis Jr., who joins the Rebels after a recent stop at South Florida, and that each is fully capable of running the offense.
Troy, on the other hand, enters the game with a new head coach for this season, while returning defensive talent that should have them competing to be near the top of the Sun Belt if things go according to plan.
New head coach Jon Sumrall joins the program after a stop at Kentucky as linebackers coach. Sumrall is a familiar face to Ole Miss fans as the Trojans’ head man was the linebackers coach for the Rebels for the 2018 season.
The Trojans will be starting Gunnar Watson at quarterback. He has started games in each of the last two seasons, and this year, beat out transfers Peter Costelli and WVU/WKY transfer Jarrett Doege as well as freshman Tucker Kilcrease.
The Troy offense also returns Kimani Vidai who averaged 4.6 yards per carry and 6.5 yards per catch last year as a back who can make plays all over the field. The heart and soul of the Trojan defense comes in the form of Carlton Martial. The undersized linebacker has put together a solid collegiate career after starting his career as a walk-on.
If that sounds like a familiar story, it is. The linebackers coach for the Trojans is none other than Tayler Polk, a former walk-on linebacker and fan favorite at Ole Miss. He was also undersized but played with the heart of a giant. Look for Martial to do the same.
- Kickoff: Saturday, Sep. 3rd, 3:00 PM CT
- TV: SECN
- Memphis: WHBQ-AM 560
- Oxford: WOXF-FM 105.1
- Jackson: WFMN-FM 97.3
- Betting Lines: (via odds shark)
- Ole Miss: -21.5
- O/U: 57.5
- Ole Miss Moneyline: -1500
- Tennessee Moneyline: +1110
POINTS OF EMPHASIS
Turn Up the Tempo
A lot of the success in the Lane Kiffin era has been due to the high-powered offense that has taken the field for the Rebels. New offensive coordinator Charlie Weis, Jr. is the new play caller and is tasked with continuing that offensive success — with an offense full of fresh faces.
The Troy defense had five players named to this year’s Preseason All-Sun Belt first and second teams, and the group returns seven starters from a year ago. That being said, the group still knows the task ahead of them as multiple players have mentioned playing the Ole Miss offense.
“They’re a tempo team, so it’s a lot about getting acclimated to the pace we’re going to have to play in this game. I’m sure we’re up to it, though. You know you’ll be tired after and we want to make sure everyone’s conditioning is at a high level throughout the game.”
Troy linebacker Carlton Martial on Ole Miss
There’s a big difference in trying to simulate the Ole Miss offense versus actually having to go up against it. Ole Miss has a physical advantage against Troy and should use the Rebels’ size, speed, and pace to wear down the Trojans. Getting a few double-digit play drives in early would go a long way to establish the flow of this game.
Establish the Run and Let Zach Loose
In the offseason, Troy placed an emphasis on improving its defensive side of the ball. Hiring a defensive-minded head coach in Sumrall proves that.
For Sumrall, stopping the run was another point of emphasis and thats why he brought in Sheil Wood from Army to help lead the defense. Both Kentucky (Sumrall’s last stop before assuming the Trojans’ job) and Army were in the top 20 in run defense.
Despite the great coaching hires and experience at Troy, Ole Miss has a chance to exploit the Trojans after their inconsistent run defense last season. In the final five games of 2021, Troy gave up an average of 210 rushing yards per game.
The Rebels have seen some shuffling around on the offensive line in practices this fall, but they return a tremendous amount of experience. Nick Broeker and Jeremy James started every game last year, while Caleb Warren and Eli Acker both bring starting experience. Lane Kiffin also added transfer Mason Brooks, who was a first team All-CUSA selection, and camp phenom Jayden Williams to add to the line.
Zach Evans should be loving every second of this offensive line. Evans, a former five-star recruit averaged 7.3 yards per carry over his two seasons at TCU. Evans has the ability to shoot through gaps and explode into the second and third level to bust off some really long runs. Behind this line, he could be in for a memorable start to his Ole Miss career.
Protect Whoever Plays at QB
The one area of the Troy defense that really excelled last season was the pash rush. That group was the top in the Sun Belt in 2021, and they return three of their best for the 2022 season.
The group includes Jahvon Solomon, Richard Jibunor, and Will Choloh Jr. Soloman, who plays on the edge, notched double-digit sacks last year and 17.0 TFL.
Choloh Jr. is set to be the man on the interior of that defensive line and he tallied 7.5 tackles for loss. The final piece of the trio is the Richard Jibunor who spent last year in the bandit position being that pass rusher, coverage hybrid who also lines up on the line. Jinunor recorded 7.5 sacks last season.
The last thing Ole Miss wants in this game is for the QBs to have to play frantically. The goal is to get in and settle into a rhythm. Troy, on the other hand, is going to be doing everything imaginable to make either Dart and Altmyer uncomfortable. Ole Miss needs the new pieces on the line to gel quickly so the offense can stay balanced.
Show Off The Secondary
Last year Troy struggled to move the ball downfield. The combination of Gunnar Watson and Taylor Powell accounted for over 2800 yards in the air as the Troy offense amassed 340 yards per contest.
Troy returns its top receiver in Tez Johnson, but he’s the only player from last year who caught over 35 passes. With another year of experience and new OC Joe Craddock on their side, the Trojans should look to be an improved group on offense.
However, Troy will have its hands full as the Ole Miss defensive backs are arguably the deepest part of the roster. That group for Ole Miss includes returners Tysheem Johnson, AJ Finley, Otis Reese, and transfer Isheem Young. Freshman Davison Igbinosun has also been making plays in camp as well, garnering attention from coaches and teammates, alike. The revamped 3-2-6 under DC Chris Partridge looks to be more aggressive and will challenge Gunnar Watson and the Trojan receiving corps to make plays.
Stay tuned to The Rebel Walk for all your game info. Hotty Toddy!
(Feature image credit: Josh McCoy, Ole Miss)
TJ Oxley is the Vice President of Operations and the Director of Community Relations for The Rebel Walk. He is also the Director of Basketball Content and Senior Basketball Writer. He has over five years of experience providing in-depth analysis of college basketball through multiple platforms. A former MBA graduate of Ole Miss, TJ started with The Rebel Walk in 2019.