Know Your Enemy: Mississippi Rebels
Win and you’re in. Ole Miss and Texas A&M represent the final two games for a Missouri team that finds itself down 3-2 in a best of seven series.
For Mizzou, there is no margin of error, no backing its way into the SEC Championship game—and that’s how it should be for a team whose unprecedented successes this season have been asterisked by outsiders, who cite an injury-centered narrative that was widely overlooked last season as the Tigers stumbled to a 5-7 finish.
“I’m excited about [having to win out to win the SEC East],” senior EJ Gaines said. “People are calling it a lot of pressure, but…I don’t think it puts any extra pressure on us, it is just another opportunity that we have to succeed. I think this football team has decided to be better.”
Everyone from Mizzou has been saying the right things, but it is hard to ignore just how daunting a task this will be for Missouri. It begins this weekend in The Grove against an up-and-coming Ole Miss team that nearly beat No. 9 Texas A&M before knocking off No. 6 LSU and concludes next Saturday against Johnny Manziel, the best player in college football.
“Teams that prepare right don’t let that affect them,” coach Gary Pinkel said. “They focus on what they can control, and that is playing well. That is when your mental toughness kicks in, and you do not let outside things change your focus. I will be really disappointed if we put all those kind of pressures on ourselves. That does not help you play well.”
Saturday’s game will be unique from a few of the other’s Mizzou has been involved in—both teams are getting healthier. The Tigers will be getting back quarterback James Franklin and wideout L’Damian Washington (would not have played last weekend if Missouri had a game), while the Rebels returned leading-rusher Jeff Scott last week and may get defensive back Charles Sawyer back in time for Saturday’s game.
While Mizzou rested, Ole Miss throttled Troy 51-21 in Oxford, Miss. Quarterback Bo Wallace tallied four touchdowns (3 passing, one rushing) and set a school record with 751 yards of total offense, while the Rebel defense held the Trojans to -13 rushing yards.
“I’m excited about how our kids performed,” coach Hugh Freeze said. “We had a couple of explosive plays we gave up early and a few too many penalties, but we settled in after that and played really well.”
Ole Miss utilized a balanced rushing attack with seven different players accumulating at least 45 yards on the ground, including Jeff Scott who racked up 54 yards on 11 carries—an encouraging performance considering it was his first game since Oct. 12.
“I just wanted to make sure that he felt like he is back,” Freeze explained to Hugh Kellenberger of the Clarion Ledger. “After his last carry and I told him that. I said, ‘Tell me how it feels.’ He said, ‘I just felt rusty. I didn’t feel crisp. But I’m not in pain.’ I think it was good he got some snaps this week and maybe he can knock all the rust off this week and get back to his old self.”
Under the Radar REBEL to Watch
Quarterback Barry Brunetti
While he’s not the starting quarterback, Barry Brunetti has been a regular contributor for Ole Miss over its four-game win streak. His role initially was similar to James Franklin’s in 2010—he was essentially a decoy, used almost exclusively for quarterback option plays. However, as teams began to stack the box whenever he entered the game, Freeze opened the playbook, allowing the senior quarterback to show off his arm and keep opposing defenses on their heels.
“We started out the first couple of games, every time he came in we ran it,” co-offensive coordinator Dan Werner said (story). “We were doing that to set it up and now people understand that if you load up the box he’s going to throw it deep on you.”
Brunetti notched a 3-yard touchdown pass against LSU. On that play (which came in the first quarter), the 6-1 senior drew the defense over as he rolled to his right, creating space for his receiver who was left uncovered at the front corner of the end zone. Obviously, the caliber of competition needs to be taken into account when looking at his 94- and 97-yard passing performances versus Idaho and Troy, but to accumulate such a high-volume of yards on so few completions (seven and four) is pretty impressive.
- On paper, this matchup seems to set up for an old-fashioned Big 12 shootout. Both teams average nearly 500 yards of total offense per game and are capable of picking up yards both on the ground and through the air. However, for all the yards Ole Miss racks up (498/game–3rd most in the SEC), it only puts up about 35 points per game. By comparison, Mizzou averages about 41.
- Ole Miss’ defensive line has been bolstered by the return of Robert Nkemdiche, who was injured in the season opener against Vanderbilt. Tabbed SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week following his four-tackle, one sack performance against Troy, Nkemdiche is lightning quick off the line of scrimmage and has only been getting better as he works his way back.
- “He is getting healthy again. That’s helped. And he’s getting more comfortable with his transition to playing an interior position instead of on the edge. He certainly looked good the other day, and hopefully he’ll play big Saturday night. He’s certainly playing faster and being more comfortable.”–Hugh Freeze
- Step one for Mizzou’s defense: Shut down tailback Jeff Scott and the gaggle of running backs that have emerged behind him.
- Side note on Scott: he played against Troy for the sole purpose of getting ready for the Mizzou game. He’s one of the program’s all-time leading rushers and is a very good punt returner as well, averaging nearly 13 yards per return (2nd best in SEC).
- Getting pressure on Bo Wallace will be crucial. Mississippi’s offensive line is nothing spectacular and he has a propensity for making bad passes when under duress.
- Balanced play-calling from Pinkel will be key, especially on those first few drives when Ole Miss will be bringing heavy heat on Franklin.
- Mizzou’s receiving corps will once again have a significant advantage physically over the Ole Miss defenders, but considering how porous the Rebels’ run defense is, it should be a big night for Henry Josey and MU tailbacks as well. [Ole Miss allows 150.4 rush yards per game]
- “That’s a physics problem that we can’t solve. It is a concern for sure, because there are times where their guys are just more able to make a play on the ball than maybe some DBs that they’ve faced. That is a great concern and something that we’ve got to figure out what the best answers are when those cases arise.”–Freeze
- Beware All-American candidate safety Cody Prewitt.
Cautiously optimistic about this one. Led by its defense, Mizzou escapes Oxford with a win. Tigers by 4Brian Haenchen founded Hank’s Sports Blog in 2009. You can follow him on Twitter (@Brian_Haenchen) or email him (firstname.lastname@example.org).