Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Who's ready for girls in sundresses?

By Tiger Fan

Lest there be any doubt, Mizzou’s game on Saturday against Ole Miss is one of the key games of the season. A win against an SEC foe should propel the Tigers to a 5-0 start and the best season in years. It would also reinforce all the optimism felt by most Mizzou fan’s after last weekend’s drubbing of Murray State and help to put some butts in the seats at Faurot as the season moves forward. A loss against the Rebels would prove that we’re not, in fact, on the move. It would prove that we still can’t take care of inferior opponents. If we can’t beat Ole Miss, do you really think this is the year we finally beat KSU? Knock off Oklahoma? Make it to a real bowl game? No way. So basically, there’s nothing at stake on Saturday… except maybe the whole season.

Coach

By now, we’ve probably all heard the story of Ed Orgeron arriving at Ole Miss, taking off his shirt and challenging his players to fight him. There’s no doubt about it, the former USC defensive coordinator is tough – and if everything in that story is true, he’s pretty much insane. Orgeron is in his second year at Ole Miss after serving as the defensive mastermind of the Trojans’ national championship teams in 2003 and 2004. Although he only put together a 3-8 record last year with the Rebels, recruiting is Orgeron’s specialty (he was named the National Recruiter of the Year by the Sporting News in 2004 and was responsible for recruiting players like Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart). The coach brought his recruiting touch to Ole Miss and lured in a top-10 recruiting class for this season. But can he succeed as a head coach? That remains to be seen. You can’t read too much into last season, mainly because Orgeron was stuck with the players recruited before his arrival. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt in this game because of one simple stat: national championship rings. Orgeron 2, Pinkel 0.

Advantage: Ole Miss

Defense

The discussion of the Ole Miss defense has to begin with senior linebacker Patrick Willis. Already on everyone’s 2006 Butkus Award watch list, Willis earned first-team All-American honors last season and seems like a mortal lock to repeat that feat this season. And before you think that it will take 11 guys to stop the Mizzou offense, I ask you to look no further than the game against Troy State in 2004 and a man named DeMarcus Ware. Willis is coming off foot surgery, but he seemed to be in great shape in last week’s win over Memphis: 12 tackles, 1.5 for a loss and a fumble recovery. Still, a few things are worth noting. First, Ole Miss lost it’s entire D-line to graduation last season and even if 5-star freshman tackle Jerrell Powe is declared academically eligible this week, they don’t look to be solid up front. In fact, they just moved a true freshman o-lineman to DL for depth. Ouch. Compare that with a Mizzou D-line that goes at least six deep and has multiple All-Conference contenders. Point Mizzou. Second, the Rebels gave up 374 yards, including 149 on the ground, to a Memphis team that is ranked 81st nationally by College Football News and is without last year’s star at tailback, DeAngelo Williams. (As a comparison, Mizzou gave up just 150 total yards last week). Third, the Rebels Secondary is relatively inexperienced and although Jamarca Sanford is very solid at strong safety, Mizzou brings its own talented safety to the table in David Overstreet. I know you can’t read too much into one game, but you would have to think the Tigers from Missouri will be able to pile up even more yards than the Tigers from Memphis. Bottom line: Willis will be a handful for the Tigers, but if they can keep him in check, good things will happen.

Defensive line advantage: Mizzou

Linebacker advantage: Ole Miss

Secondary advantage: Even

Offense

The inexperienced Ole Miss offense is led by Brent Schaeffer, a former Elite 11 quarterback who transferred away from Tennessee in 2005. Before you get all riled up about Schaeffer, let me remind you that Mizzou also has an Elite 11 QB on its roster: Chase Patton, who sits third on the depth chart. As it turns out, high school accolades aren’t nearly as important as college performance. So far, Schaeffer has struggled in the latter category. He started as a freshman at Tennessee before losing his spot to Erik Ainge after breaking his collarbone. Last week, in his debut with the Rebels, he was 7 for 16 for 97 yards, but scored twice on the ground. Mizzou sometimes struggles with mobile QBs, so this could pose a challenge. The most explosive weapon for Ole Miss, however, is freshman WR Dexter McCluster. He is generously listed at 5’9” (about my size) but used his quickness last week to rack up 268 yards of total offense and a touchdown in his first college game. Mizzou will need to keep an eye on him, as he has the ability to make plays all over the field. If Mizzou settles into its traditional “five-yard-cushion” coverage, things could get ugly. But one McCluster doesn’t add up to a Coffman, a Franklin, a Rucker and an Ekwerekwu. BenJarvus Green-Ellis (who apparently comes from a family that struggles to settle on one name) leads the way at running back. He transferred from Indiana in the spring of 2005 and racked up 127 yards and two TDs in last week’s opener. He is a hard-nosed running back who likes to get a lot of carries. We have seen lots of running backs like that wear out the Mizzou defense in the past. With so many newcomers, the Ole Miss offense is still trying to bring it all together. Still, they were efficient in last week’s game and did not turn the ball over. Having a unit like that will always give you a chance to win.

Offensive line advantage: Mizzou

Quarterback advantage: Mizzou

Running back advantage: Ole Miss

Wide Receiver advantage: Mizzou

Special Teams

Last week in this space I correctly predicted that Mizzou would probably block a kick against Murray State. Don’t look for that to happen this week. The SEC athletes will be much better than those in the OVC. Also, with SEC Freshman of the Week McCluster returning kicks, anything could happen. The Rebels return their punter and kick-off specialist from a year ago. The only question mark could be freshman kicker Joshua Shene, but his track record is impressive: Overall Kicking Champion at the 2006 National Punting and Kicking Competition Expo (maybe Pinkel should check that event out some time) and No. 2-rated kicker by Scout.com last season. Sounds like a solid group to me.

Advantage: Ole Miss

Bottom Line

This won’t be the cake-walk that many Mizzou fans foolishly seem to think it will be. In fact, I see no reason for all the brash predictions of a blow-out. Last time I checked, we’re still Mizzou and these are the types of games we usually lose. Should we win on paper? You bet. Will we win? That’s harder to say. But I have faith that the Tigers can get it done. Chase is the type of player who steps up in big games and while Willis is an amazing talent, he can’t guard four receivers and a running back on every play. I think Mizzou wins it in a nail-biter, 30-28.

5 comments:

Mark M. said...

From a Rebel, I think that is a pretty fair analysis of the game. It seems apparent that you've done your homework on Ole Miss (noted by the fact that you are aware of the Jerrell Powe situation).

With that said, I thought you would have better appreciated Schaeffer's 'game management' in our opener; a real sign of leadership.

To me this is a VERY intriguing match up and one that WILL propel the winner to a better than expected (at least from outsiders) season, and will place the loser in a situation where they can't afford to lose any of the 'shoulda' games to attain their goals for the season.

Rocky Miskelly said...

Excellent fair assesment. By the way, Ed has 4 (FOUR) count 'em 4 NC rings, two at usc and 2 at Miami.

KellerReb said...

solid analysis, should be a great game to watch. probably a lot of points scored as Ole Miss struggled on D last week, but their Offense started to get comfortable after the first couple of drives. I look forward to watching Chase Daniel, as I am from Keller, TX, just down the road from where he played high school ball. Should be exciting, HOTTY TODDY!

fingokra said...

All in all I would say this is a fair assessment. I think you are underestimating Schaeffer base on his passing numbers against Memphis and overestimating Daniel. I am not emplying that Daniel isn't a fine player, or that Ole Miss will shut him down. It should be noted though Ole Miss's defense although obviously suspect is still much better than Murray St.

Also as someone has already stated "Coach O" has four NC rings. Werner (new OC) and Kehoe (new OLC) have seven more between them. Speaking of Kehoe, don't underestimate the difference he has made with the OL. Missouri is considerably more experienced, but Ole Miss's OL is improving by leaps and bounds. I wouldn't be as quick to give Missouri the nod here, as you might think.

One final note/correction, you state that the Ole Miss defensive backfield is relatively inexperienced. This simply isn't true. They didn't play well against Memphis, and there is little to no experienced depth. However, three of the four starters are back from last year. They are quite experienced.

PWILL said...

Nice write up, very good assesment. I'm sick and tired of Mizzou losing games like this as it's been going on for the last several years. Can we please, finally win all of our non-con games? Hopefully lining up and practicing against Brad Smith has our defense somewhat prepared for Schaeffer.