Information Overload: Ole Miss Edition
Opponent: Ole Miss Rebels
Kickoff: 9:00 PM
OK, not quite what anyone this side of the Mississippi had in mind last week. What many thought was going to be a route turned into an all-out war. Faced with a sputtering offense and a 13-0 defecit, the dawgs rallied behind backup Joe Cox and pulled out one of the most exciting wins in Sanford stadium in recent years. Big kudos to Colorado coaches, players and fans. They were ready to play and gave us all we could handle. We were lucky to pull out the win on a day when absolutely nothing was working. Hopefully it will be a slap in the face as we enter the heart of the conference schedule, playing conference games in each of our next 7 contests before closing with Tech. As bad as we played last week, hopefully we can learn from it and start to improve.
Looking Back at Week 4
The good: Umm…not much. Joe Cox looked steady in relief. AJ Bryant made some great grabs. Martrez Milner played up to his abilities, and not just on the TD catch as he had several nice grabs. Kregg Lumpkin continued to receive some nice blocking and turn it into positive yards. Really the best thing to be taken from Saturday is that we got tested and passed. Against a team that was motivated and playing to their potential, we played poorly and stayed with it enough to pull out the win.
The bad: Where do you start? Early on, the defense got gashed by a team that wasn't very good offensively. That's putting it mildly. They were the worst offensive team we've played this season. They certainly didn't look like it this week, though, as they executed well and moved the ball (at least in the first half). The receivers dropped several catchable balls. The OL was spotty at best. Last week I said that one key would be to see how our LBs played and early on they were exposed in coverage in the flats against their TEs (actually just one TE).
The indifferent: How about the play of the offense under Matthew Stafford. Between the inability of the OL to open holes for our running backs and the WRs not consistently making plays on catchable balls, Stafford wasn't able to get the team moving consistently. He didn't play poorly, the team just didn't execute until after Joe Cox took over. It can be debated whether or not Joe Cox was the source of the execution, but that's beyond my knowledge and would be pure speculation.
• After seeing how well CU executed against us early on and how easily they seemed to exploit some holes they found in our scheme, it reinforced the idea that stats and writeups like this one only take you to a point. With that being said, Ole Miss' offense relies on a mobile QB, a rushing attack that's been about as productive as ours (albeit behind one back getting the bulk of the carries) and a passing game that has struggled to get going under a new coordinator.
• Ole Miss is sporting a new QB this season, but he's one that's no stranger to SEC play. Brent Schaeffer started a few games at Tennessee before transferring after Eric Ainge emerged as the clear starter. The Rebels hung lots of hopes on Schaeffer being the savior to their offense, pretty much handing the keys to the team over to him before he even arrived on campus. The shifty southpaw has certainly exhibited the arm and legs he was touted to have coming in, but he's yet to be a consistent threat and thus the offense has sputtered. Schaeffer is completing less than 50% of his passes on the season and has struggled with 5 INTs through 4 games versus only 3 TD passes. He's more of a threat running the ball and after the CU QB had success with that last week, look for a steady dose of QB sneaks. He has 41 rushing attempts on the season (10 sacks included in that number) for 92 yards. Schaeffer got pulled last week after an ineffective effort against Wake Forest and was replaced by another JUCO transfer in Junior Seth Adams who was 8 of 11 for 84 yards in his first action of the season. Schaeffer is listed as their starter in the press release, but he might be on a short leash this week.
• Another transfer has made an impact at the running back position, where BenJarvus Green-Ellis transferred in from Indiana to lead the Rebels in rushing. Green-Ellis is a 5-11, 211 pound bowling ball that just wears down opponents. He's averaging almost 20 carries a game. On the season he's got 335 yards rushing (84 ypg) and a decent 4.6 ypc. He hasn't been much of a factor in the passing game to date, with only 4 catches on the year with a long reception of 4 yards. Green-Ellis would likely have even more attempts on the season had the Rebels not been in large holes in each of their last 3 games. In their season opening win over Memphis, he logged his season high in attempts (26) and yards (127). He's seen his production tail off sharply though and Sophomore Mico McSwain has been rumored to see a larger portion of playing time.
• At receiver, Freshman WR Dexter McCluster has proven to be their top playmaker. At 5-9, 170, he's not the biggest receiver we'll face all year, but Ole Miss has shown a commitment to getting him the ball in a multitude of ways. He's got 14 receptions on the season for 183 yards. He's also 3rd on the team in rushing yardage behind Green-Ellis and Schaeffer with 70 yards on 7 carries (a 10 ypc average for all you non-math majors. The only other player on the team with more than 6 receptions is another freshman, Marshay Green (with 10). Green came in as a RB but was switched to WR. Like McCluster, Green isn't the biggest WR, at 5-10, 170. Both appear to be possession type WRs though, as they only average 12 ypc between the two of them. Mike Wallace seems to be the more explosive WR, with his better than 21 ypc average.
• The Ole Miss OL has given up 11 sacks on the season (through 4 games) against a considerably weaker DL than they'll be facing this weekend. They've got some good-sized guys along the front, as you'd expect of any SEC team. RG John Jerry is a true freshman (after a year at Hargrave) and stands in at a whopping 6-5, 350. Sophomore LT Michael Oher is generally considered the best of the bunch. The 6-5, 322-pounder was named to a few freshman All-American teams after last season and made a few preseason all-SEC teams as well. RT is a big question mark for them right now, as the season starter is out and his replacement was injured also and will miss our game. His backup is listed as true freshman Reid Neely but its unclear who new OL coach Art Kehoe (recently of Miami) will plug in at that spot.
• Bottom Line: These guys aren't a very good offensive team, but they're better than CU before we played them from a purely statistical standpoint. They average 135 ypg rushing the ball. Schaeffer's struggles have led them to a weak 147 ypg through the air. They're 96th in the country in total offense, after playing an early season schedule of Memphis, Missouri, Kentucky and Wake Forest. After I got burned last week pointing out how bad Colorado was offensively, I think I'll just say that on paper, Ole Miss doesn't necessarily look scary. After our D got touched up a little last week, look for them to come out refocused and ready to continue their play form the 2nd half of CU.
• Key Matchup to watch when they have the ball: If Schaeffer returns to his starting job, which I fully expect, watch our LBs and safeties as they try and contain him. We struggled last week with the CU QB, especially early, as he was able to take advantage of our DEs crashing down. Naked bootlegs saw him able to scramble for yardage or hit dragging TEs for nice pickups. Our LBs will have to step up.
• Ole Miss is sporting a defense that has struggled this season. While there are certainly some strengths, overall they aren't quite up to the level one would expect under a coach with the defensive background of Head Coach Ed Orgeron. They've struggled equally against the run and pass, coming in 100th and 76th respectively in the national rankings in each of those categories.
• The DL was somewhat of an experiment coming into the season, with shifting of positions and new faces immediately being inserted into the starting lineup. Converted DE Peria Jerry got the nod at one of the interior DL spots but is out with an injury. JUCO transfer Heyward Howard stands in at the other spot after transferring in over the offseason. The loss of super-recruit Jerrel Powe really unsettled the interior DL. The most impressive of the DEs to date is Marcus Tillman. The 6-4, 255 pound true freshman has 11 tackles on the season, including 3 for a loss and 1 sack. He's certainly playing better than they had hoped for. The opposite starting DE is another true freshman, Greg Hardy. Their DL is very unsettled and Orgeron admitted as much this week, indicating his lineup could change considerably dependent on who looks remotely ready to play. This group have trouble getting pressure on the QB from the DL (odd considering Orgeron's specialty was DLs), currently ranking 85th in sacks. Not much was expected of this DL coming into the season and let's just say they've lived up to expectations.
• At LB, the clear heart of the defense is all-everything MLB Patrick Willis. After leading the team in tackles last year with 128, Willis is already on pace this season to match those numbers, racking up 46 tackles, 12 more than anyone else on the team. At 6-2, 240, he moves well and is a sideline-to-sideline MLB that can cover ground and rarely misses a tackle. He led the nation in solo tackles last year (partly because their defense was on the field a lot). Willis already has 5.5 TFLs and to show his range, he's got 3 pass breakups also. He's flanked on the strong side by another solid playmaker in Garry Pack who is currently 2nd on the team in tackles. Pack, a Jr, had 3 sacks and 6 TFLs last season and tied Willis for the team lead in sacks amongst returning players with 3. WLB Quentin Taylor is a solid 6-0, 240 pound sophomore who's having a very good campaign, currently 4th on the team in tackles. Taylor rounds out a very solid LB corps that is easily the strength of the D.
• The Rebel secondary was very good last year, finishing 14th in the country against the pass. While they have some individual talent back there and return 3 of 4 starters from last season, they've struggled this year, plummeting to 106th in pass efficiency defense and 76th in pass defense. The top returning player in the secondary is SS Jamarca Sanford, the sophomore capitalized off a strong freshman season and is currently 3rd on the team in tackles. He's a hard hitter back there. Considering how much trouble we had with the CU safeties playing up in the box, Sanford could have a big game. The remainder of the secondary is a pretty veteran group, with 2 seniors and a junior rounding it out. CBs Nate Banks and Trumaine McBride are both solid CBs with experience that aren't afraid to stick their head in there and make a tackle.
• Bottom Line: This is a tough defense to figure out. They've got the talent, especially in the back 7, to be much better than they have shown on the field. Given their issues of getting a pass rush, it appears folks are getting all the time they need to make reads and just picking apart the secondary. While our OL has struggled at times in the running game, they've typically been able to keep pressure off the QB, so we should have time to make throws, it'll just come down to execution, something we haven't exactly excelled at. If we can get a hat on their LBs, we should be able to get the running game going, but Willis is a difference maker and keeping him blocked won't be an easy task. Given their strength at LB, don't look for tremendous success with screens, something we seem to lean on more this season.
• Key matchup to watch when we have the ball: Can our FBs and interior OL open holes for the running game against Patrick Willis. If we can neutralize Willis and reestablish our running attack, the passing game will become that much more effective, especially the play action.
The OM Game Overall
Given the debacle that was the first 50 minutes of game time in the CU game last week, I wouldn't look for our players to be reading too many press clippings or coming out flat anytime soon. That game served as a wake-up call and fortunately for us the call was answered. With that being said, we still have lots more questions to answer if we're going to make a run at the SEC Championship and we can start to answer those questions Saturday in Oxford.
I don't think it will much matter who plays QB. Both guys are capable and if you rewatch the CU game, you'll realize that Stafford wasn't quite as bad as you might have thought on first glance and Joe Cox probably didn't play quite as well as you might have thought. It's always like that. Look for both guys to play and rotate often unless someone is clearly playing better. It'll be up to the team to determine who gets the bulk of the snaps based on the offensive execution. I wouldn't be surprised to see Stafford start since he's been the guy for the past few weeks. I think Cox plays a good bit Saturday and the two likely end up splitting time pretty close to 50/50. Given Cox' success coming off the bench (so to speak), I think it's natural that they continue that rotation but then again I thought we'd roll over Colorado, so what do I know.
I don't really care who plays QB as long as we start to see some production on offense. Against a pretty shoddy opponent schedule the offense hasn't exactly been the picture of perfection. The defense has looked effective enough against the same poor competition, but how will they react when they face a top notch offense? The CU game reminded me somewhat of the UF game last year where our defense came out getting completely gashed and the opposing offense kept it on its heels with a new wrinkle (against UF it was the presences of a TE and FB, against CO it was the bootleg and use of the TE) for long enough to get a few scores up while our own offense sputtered along. Against UF, the lead proved insurmountable and it nearly did so Saturday. We won't face a top tier defense or offense this week, so it would be nice to see a solid performance on both sides of the ball just to establish some confidence going into the meat of the conference schedule, but if Saturday taught me anything, it's not to take an opponent for granted. I'm sure the coaching staff is preaching that exact same thing to the players this week.
• It's unclear whether or not Jarvis Jackson will be able to go because his foot injury flared back up. If he sits, look for Danny Verdun-Wheeler to slide over and Brandon Miller to get the nod at SLB.
• Luckily MoMass stepped it up in the 4th quarter because he was certainly cruising for a 2nd 'calling out' from the coaching staff of the season with a couple of questionable drops.
• While the running game certainly isn't humming, FB Brannen Southerland has certainly made a case for Richt's use of formations with the FB. He's displaying the athleticism and speed that make him a weapon.
• Martrez Milner showed some signs of becoming a go-to player for us. Sure, it's easy to point to his TD as a key moment, but he had several nice plays, including a swing pass from Cox where he showed his uncanny speed for his size beating a LB to the corner and turning up field. If he can consistently catch the ball, he can be a real mismatch. Hopefully that game will have a similar effect on his play that Pope had two years ago when he became so dominant.
• Quentin Moses and Charles Johnson are excellent talents but they're going to have to step up the production if they expect to receive the same recognition at the end of the season as they did early.
• The OL suffered another incredibly inconsistent game. Adams played poorly but I'll give him a pass because of the stomach issues he had all week. These guys really need to mesh into a solid unit before we face the better SEC DLs like UT, UF and AU.
Tracking Our Opponents
• WKU – they had their bye week last week
• SC – rebounded from the Wofford scrape with a 45-6 drubbing of Florida Atlantic
• UAB – they lost to Miss St, never a good thing…it was in overtime though
• CU – they almost had a program defining win last weekend…they travel to Missouri this week
• OM – got shellacked by Wake Forest…at home…and only managed 26 yards rushing…not good
• UT – put up 17 4th quarter points to put away Marshall 33-7
• VU – scored 28 2nd half points to win 38-9 over in-state 'rivals' Tennessee St.
• MSU – got their first win of 2006 against UAB…hooray Croom!
• UF – they had their hands full last week against an inspired UK team, winning 26-7
• UK – a TD late in the first half gave them the lead...promptly gave up a TD and didn't score again
• AU – 38-7 final belied a close game for much of the day…it was 17-7 with 1:00 left in the 3rd
• GT – They looked good on national TV, handling an absolutely horrible UVA team24-7
• Another top 20 opponent for SC, another "biggest game in the program's history." Auburn travels into Columbia on Thursday to face the mighty Gamecocks (doesn't have the same ring as the mighty gators...Spurrier's probably realizing this about now). They've already decided they're doing the whole 'blackout' thing where all their fans were black, get fired up, convince themselves they couldn't possibly lose, and then ponder drastic measures when reality comes crashing down. I only know of twice they've done this and both times results in losses. The first of which (that I remember) was when Spurrier himself took the gators in and absolutely destroyed SC. The other time was two years ago when Greene hit the winning TD to Reggie Brown late.
• Much was made about Ralphie's (the CU Buffalo) trip to Athens. Yes, her 'handlers' appeared to all be dressed like the cowboy from the village people and yes, she was higher than Marcus Thomas on a joyride with Odell Thurman and yes, her horns aren't symmetrical (don't know why I thought that was going to be the case) but man, she was a sight to see running across the field. If it weren't for the potential of her mauling and goring folks it would've been really cool to see her run free, but it was still pretty neat to see her get led across the field.
• Not sure if you heard the audio of the Michigan State radio host after their collapse to Notre Dame or not, but it was an absolute classic meltdown of an on-air "personality." I mean it was pure genius. An excerpt (on the MSU DC): "He is the single worst defensive coordinator ever born into this world…I would rather have H.R. Puf-n-stuf with Teddy Ruxpin as his assistant than to have you in this booth one more week." His co-hosts keep trying to calm him down to save his voice but he won't let them, so they just giggle as his voice fails over the 10-minute or so rant.
• My seemingly season-long struggle with who is slotted as our TV announcing crew can take a week off as the guy who (in my opinion) is the best in the business will be doing the play-by-play for our game. Ron Franklin has somehow gotten lost in the shuffle of announcers shifting around. In my humble opinion, he's much better than the late night announcer for ESPN2, but hey, that's just me.
• Not that we've played an NFL schedule this season but it's a bit sickening to look at the schedule of WVU. Yes they beat us in a bowl game last year and they're getting more mileage out of that win than any single win in the history of college football, but they play basically one decent team…Louisville. A Louisville team that will be without its all-everything RB and could very well be without its starting QB.
• Can somebody explain to me how Notre Dame wins a close game against GT and everyone says they survived a test and showed character, etc. We win a close game and drop in both polls and the perception is we were incredibly lucky. Now I know one game was on the road, yadda yadda…it just kills me the perception of Notre Dame.
• So the UGA-UT game time gets announced for 7:45 PM. Given all the early starts to this point in the season, I expect the tailgating folks to unwind and try and fit in as much as they can. Please folks, remember to clean up your spots. If don't, President Mikey might make the whole dang campus family-friendly and put all tailgaters on the Intramural fields or somewhere in Oconee County.
Have a safe weekend,