OLE MISS REBELS
GAMEDAY: Sept. 1 at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas
2017 RECORD: 6-6, 3-5 SEC
RETURNING STARTERS: 12 (OFFENSE 8, DEFENSE 4, ST 0)
HEAD COACH: Matt Luke (2nd Season, 6-6 overall and at Ole Miss)
Let’s face it – I’m not sure what the AdvoCare Kickoff committee was expecting for their 2018 Kickoff Game this season, but it may be the game of the unexpected when Texas Tech and Ole Miss face off at NRG Stadium in Houston on Sept. 1.
Both teams arrive at camp with plenty of questions to answer and plenty of gaps to fill on both sides of the ball this season. For Ole Miss, there is only one sure thing – a talented group of receivers, led by future NFL player, A.J. Brown.
Brown returns for what will be his final season in Oxford after leading the Rebels with 75 catches for 1,252 yards and 11 scores last season. He is joined by fellow returning catchers DK Metcalf, and DaMarkus Lodge. Add in tight end Dawson Knox, and you have four of Ole Miss’ top five receivers from last season back in uniform for 2018. Now they just need senior Jordan Ta’amu to get them the ball – often and securely.
Ta’amu becomes the easy heir to the QB slot after taking over duties seven games into the 2017 season when Shea Patterson was injured against LSU. Patterson has since transferred to Michigan to be Jim Harbaugh’s savior after escaping the dark storm that Hugh Freeze left in Mississippi following numerous recruiting violations and an NCAA investigation. The storm won’t get any lighter for the Rebels, who even if they manage to win six or more games this season will not be bowl eligible.
But that has not deterred Ta’amu’s excitement to be “the guy” for second year head coach Matt Luke.
“He’s a player’s coach,” Ta’amu said. “He’s been in our shoes … He loves the university and Ole Miss as a whole and the players and our families … I believe he knows what to do.”
What Luke more than likely wants Ta’amu to do is continue where he left off in Ole Miss’ 31-28 upset of No. 16 Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl to end the 2017 season, tossing two TDs – one to Brown and another to Metcalf. That topped off a 1,682-yard passing season in less than seven games with 11 touchdowns and only four picks.
PRESEASON MVP: Jr. WR A.J. Brown – This guy is going to be playing on Sundays next year. There is no doubt about that. In fact, he is more than likely a top-10 pick. The only doubt is how healthy can he stay in 2018 and how will he follow up his solid season of catching 75 passes for 1,252 yards and 11 touchdowns?
KEEP AN EYE ON: So. WR DK Metcalf – Ok, ok. Yes, it’s easy to choose any of the talented receivers as guys to “keep an eye on” this season. But Metcalf is a physical, tall receiver (6-4, 225) who can break away from the line and takeover smaller secondaries. He provides the perfect secondary weapon to Brown’s style as evident by his 39 catches for seven scores last season.
QUOTE TO NOTE:
“The work he puts in. The whole receiving corps does a great job of doing more even when it’s not expected of them. They are there, late at night, holidays and weekends working. I would say their group probably works the most, and I inspire my group to step it up and match that level of intensity. He does a great job leading his guys. Ole Miss is known for great receivers and receivers going to the NFL, so they want to make the receiving brand a national brand.” – Jr. DL Josiah Coatney on Ole Miss WR A.J. Brown.
TEAM AND PERSONNEL
STILL NEEDS WORK: Ole Miss returns only four – that’s right, FOUR – starters on defense this season which includes just two guys up front and two in the secondary. That means trying to fill gaps in the most crucial spots for a defense that gave up more than 270 rushing yards per game against SEC opponents last season. Can you hear the Texas Tech running backs frothing at the mouth to that? Hello run game opportunity for the Red Raiders in this opener. They still will have to get past Josiah Coatney and Benito Jones in the tackle spots, but a solid run game may be the perfect test for both these squads on Sept. 1.
K Luke Logan – – Walk on sophomore kicker will be the man on PATs and field goals this season but is pretty much unproven in a league that demands good special teams if you want to steal points away at crucial times. Maybe if Ole Miss and Texas Tech are tied, we can just sit back and watch a World Cup style shootout between Hatfield and Logan and see who misses … or makes one first, under pressure.
RB D’Vaughn Pennamon – – Pennamon replaces Jordan Wilkins, who scampered for just over 1,000 yards last season and nine TDs. The junior back rushed for 217 yards and two scores last year but is coming back from knee surgery and missed spring practices. He easily appears to be the favorite in the backfield over Scottie Phillips.
2018 PREDICTION: 4-8, 1-7