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Previewing the Opponent Offense: Ole Miss Rebels

Bears? LandSharks? I dunno anymore

NCAA Football: Mississippi at Texas Tech Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

All in all, the Ole Miss offense is pretty similar to what we saw last year. QB Jordan Ta’amu, who finished 2017 as one of the more talented passers in the SEC, returns as a full time starter and is one of the most efficient passers around.

The Ole Miss spread offense has morphed over the past few years from a misdirection run and screen offense to more of a pure air raid as they seek to emphasize their elite core of receivers. Their emphasis on the run game in the last two seasons has barely been a step above nonexistent, and is mostly just used as a constraint in game flow theory to keep defenses from totally selling out on the pass rush.

As I said above, Ta’amu has been crazy efficient so far this year. He’s completed nearly 70% of his passes for 784 yards (12.1 yards per attempt) and 7 touchdowns to no interceptions so far. Interestingly, nearly all of his damage is done on first down, where he’s averaging 75% completion and nearly 15 YPA, with 6 touchdowns.

But by third downs, he drops to 55% and “only” 9.3 yards per attempt. Obviously, small sample size of only two games and all, but thus far it looks like the key is to survive Ole Miss’s 1st down play calls, and it’s all downhill from there.

Junior receiver A.J. Brown is the top receiver on the team. The 230-lb pass catcher has out muscled SEC defensive backs for catches and broken tackles for the last two seasons, and has been in contention for top in the conference for a while now. After catching 75 balls for 1252 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2017, he’s on pace to top those numbers with 15 catches for 251 yards and 3 touchdowns in only two games so far.

Behind him, sophomore DK Meltcalf is even bigger at 6’4” 230, and had 646 yards and 7 touchdowns in 2017. He’s also on pace to top his numbers from last year with 11 catches for 174 yards and 2 touchdowns so far. Those two make up a pair of huge receivers who excel at making contested catches in all areas of the field and breaking tackles for extra yardage after the catch.

Senior DeMarkus Lodge is more of a true deep threat who had 698 yards and 7 touchdowns of his own last year. He hasn’t quite had the opportunity to catch his fellow receivers yet in the first two games, nabbing only 6 catches for 96 yards. But he’s been a consistently explosive player for the past couple of years, and will continue to be a dangerous player— particularly if a defense focuses too much on Brown and Metcalf.

Sophomore Braylon Sanders is a new candidate to the scene. Smaller than the others at 6’0” 195, he’s caught 8 balls for 193 yards and a touchdown so far. Though not an established player, he’s flashed potential as the #4 receiver, and is just the type of guy who can really be a thorn in the side of an unsuspecting defense.

Tight end Dawson Knox was the second TE in the SEC in receiving yards with 321. Though a relatively unknown household name, he did wind up on the Mackey award watch list, and is yet another receiving threat on this team. He pulled of a 23 yard reception in the first drive as a starter in his career against Alabama in 2017.

In the running game, JUCO transfer Scottie Phillips is the man here. The diminutive ball carrier is a shifty, change-of-pace kind of guy who’s excelled so far at making plays with the ball when defenses are too focused on slowing down the passing game. He’s taken 31 carries for 311 yards (over 10 ypc!) and 4 touchdowns. Thus far, he hasn’t been too involved in the passing game with only 2 catches for 4 yards, but he has the talent to be a threat out of the backfield if need be.

Along the offensive line, the left side is the strength. LT Greg Little was a consensus 5-star prospect 2 years ago, and is a preseason All-American and all that jazz in year two of his collegiate career. LG Javon Patterson is a 4 year starter, while C Sean Rawlins is a 3-year starter who’s on the Rimington watch list. The right side is a little more tenuous, with redhshirt freshman Ben Brown manning the right guard spot. RT Alex Givens was a 2nd-team All-Freshman selection two years ago, but struggled with concussions in 2017, and never quite matched what he showed in his first year.

All in all, I nearly could have copy and pasted the offensive preview for Ole Miss from 2017, and not much has changed. They were dangerous then, now they’re dangerous and more experienced. If Arkansas State and Louisville were tests to the revamped Tide secondary, the Rebel-Bear-Landshark offense is more of a graduation exam. If they come out and manage to shut down or at least limit the Ole Miss receivers, then I’ll be ready to say they’re ready for any passing game that college football can throw at them.