You know how this works. I spent some time asking questions with RCR writer JUCO All-American. Without any more introductions, let’s get onto it.
Brent: Tell me about this transfer running back, Scottie Phillips. We all know your QB and receivers at this point, being multi-year starters (plus the fact that we ALL thought Brown was going to be a Tide receiver for a while during his recruiting), but this running back’s name just kind of appeared out of nowhere for those of us who don’t follow Ole Miss. He’s averaging over 10 yards per carry. Is it reasonable to think he’ll continue to sustain at least 75% of that success as the season wears on?
JUCO: Phillips is a junior college transfer who was pretty good in juco but not ridiculously prolific. He got ot Oxford in January and quickly seized the starting role vacated by Indianapolis Colts starter Jordan Wilkins. I was down on him a lot by default because, despite my pen name, I really dislike junior college players.
He has been wonderful so far though, albeit against bad competition. He seems to have a good mix of agility, speed, and reasonable size. I haven’t seen him really truck guys, so I don’t know if that’ in his repertoire, but he’s definitely shaking defenders out of their shoes at times and thrives in a one-cut system. He gets downhill quickly, as evidenced by only one carry for a loss so far this season. There are some consistency issues around the running game (too many gains of 1 or 2 yards which are buoyed by 40+ yard runs), but I can’t place that blame on him, given my inability to effectively judge how much is the fault of the offensive line.
Brent: Defensively, what is Ole Miss’s strongest unit (Dline, linebackers, seconday)? Weakest?
JUCO: Oh, man… the strongest unit on defense. I guess… like…. the defensive line? So far they’ve been the least terrible, though they’re still not doing anything of note. This defense is just really, really bad. I can’t heap any praise.
The weakest unit is clearly at linebacker, where the two best players are true freshmen who would do well to redshirt for a year. There are just tons of linebackers who are both slow and not good at tackling, and as you might imagine those two things don’t combine for much success. Whenever players who aren’t freshmen or sophomores are on the field at that position, I wonder what’s going through the coaches’ heads.
Brent: To steal a question from what you already asked me, could you name one offensive and one defensive player that us Alabama fans may have never heard of but are likely to make an impact this weekend?
JUCO: On offense, the pleasant surprise (outside of Phillips) has been sophomore wide receiver Braylon Sanders. Sanders is obviously the fourth best receiver on the team at the moment, but he has nearly 200 receiving yards and has made noise in deep, intermediate, and short routes. I don’t think anyone really expected him to do anything of consequence, given who he’s running behind, but he has really dominated when given the opportunity. Those opportunities have come very early in games as well, so it’s not as if he’s some depth guy who comes in when the defenses are worn down.
Defensively….. sheeeeeeeeeesh. Um…. I’ll say junior Montrell Custis, a corner Ole Miss gladly accepted when Alabama wasn’t willing to offer the Alabama native. He had three PBUs in a row in a big defensive stop against Texas Tech, and I could see him making a few nice plays Saturday as well. When it comes down to it though, the only hope, and I use that term loosely, Ole Miss has is flukey turnovers and a wild game offensively.
Brent: What’s the general feeling around the Ole Miss program right now? Are fans optimistic for the season and Matt Luke’s tenure, or a little more down? What kind of record do you expect to have at the end of the season?
JUCO: The general feeling, unfortunately, is one of relative indifference. This game isn’t even sold out, which would have been stunning to hear three years ago. That being said, bowl ineligibility, a lack of defensive talent, and the frustrating turn of events that led to Matt Luke’s hiring have turned a lot of Ole Miss fans’ interest away from Oxford.
I don’t think any fans are optimistic relative to how they ever were under Hugh Freeze, though some are still predicting eight wins. I don’t really understand how the Rebels get there, but I guess maybe there’s some issue around seeing all our warts and none of the ones belonging to teams we’ll play.
I’m guessing 6-6, though I don’t think anything more than four wins is guaranteed. You won’t find many people who are more down on the Matt Luke hire than I was (and maybe still am) though.
Brent: Based on your knowledge of Alabama, what specific positional or schematic matchup do you think Ole Miss has the best chance to exploit?
JUCO: To win any games this season, Ole Miss has to rely on Jordan Ta’amu and the Rebel wide receivers dominating their matchups. Luckily, that’s possible against most teams on the schedule. Whether the rest of the team comes together for a complete game though is a different story.
Still, with AJ Brown (who played decoy in last year’s bloodbath after suffering a knee injury against Cal), Damarkus Lodge, and DK Metcalf coupled with a quarterback who doesn’t freak out against good defenses, I think there’s a chance to make noise on that side of the ball. As you may be recognizing at this point though, I don’t have much hope for the other side of things.
Brent: And the fun one: what’s your final score prediction, and how do you think the game will flow?
JUCO: Bama by 24. I can’t fathom the defense stopping your running OR passing game. With the talent you have on defense, I don’t see any way the offense keeps pace. I’m obviously hoping for a better showing than last year’s 66-3 debacle and do think the Rebels might keep it close enough to be interesting in the first half. Eventually though, they’re going to have to start getting stops on defense, and I don’t think that will happen.