August 29, 2008

Ole Miss - Memphis preview

The match-up:
This meeting will be the 58th
all-time and it is the Rebels' sixth-most played series. Ole
Miss holds a 45-10-2 lead in the series and has won the last
three games. The Rebels have won 12 of the last 16 meetings
dating back to 1988, and prior to 2003, had won four straight
over Memphis. Ole Miss is 17-2 against the Tigers in Oxford and
won the first 15 games in Mississippi. The Rebels won, 28-25, in
the last game at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in 2006.

At Stake:
New Rebel head coach Houston Nutt has been emphatic that he
wants to field a winning team and take his seniors where they've
never been before - to a bowl game.  There's lots of
indicators that point to Nutt being able to do just that,
starting with an excellent coaching staff and an SEC-caliber
quarterback in Jevan Snead.  There are depth issues at
several positions, but if Nutt wants to get the Rebels
bowl-bound, it starts with Memphis - as well as several other
winnable games early in the season.

Keys to the Game: 
1) Pass coverage: A key strength on the Memphis team is some
tall, experienced and talented wide receivers and the secondary,
particularly at cornerback, is an area Nutt has raised the red
flag that could be an area of concern for Ole Miss because of
talent and depth. On the plus side, veterans Dustin Mouzon and
Cassius Vaughn have improved under the new staff and appear to
have won their jobs back as starting corners.  But the
secondary must prevent the big play and not get picked apart -
like they did last year when the defensive gave up almost 350
yards through the air 2) Stopping the run:  Memphis'
offensive line has had some injuries and new faces will be on
the field at running back.  Ole Miss' defensive line needs
to dominate the line of scrimmage with linebackers quickly
plugging the run. Memphis head coach wants to run the football
to take pressure off a new quarterback, and the Rebels don't
need to let that happen.  3) Win the turnover battle: Ole
Miss won in Memphis last year because of a blocked punt returned
for a touchdown and an interception returned for a touchdown. 
This game could also be decided on turnovers.

Ole Miss rushing versus the
Memphis ground defense:
 Gone is back to back 1,000
yard rusher BenJarvus Green-Ellis and the days of seeing him
grinding it out with 25 carries a game.  While junior
Codera Eason will get the start, look for Nutt to find a "horse"
on Saturday against Memphis, be it Eason or one of three true
freshmen - Enrique Davis, Brandon Bolden, and Devin Thomas. 
Nutt's proven a master of knowing exactly when to insert the
right running back - be it Darren McFadden or Felix Jones - at
Arkansas in the right situation - and he'll be searching for
that combination on Saturday.  Another plus for the Rebels
is something they've never had before - a running game
coordinator - and offensive line coach Mike Markuson will
execute those duties against Memphis.  Running blocking
hasn't always been the current offensive line's forte in
previous years, but look for the Rebels to get a running game
going against Memphis behind a veteran line and some talented
backs.  Memphis gave up over 200 yards a game on the ground
last year - but will look to improve on that under former Miami
defensive coordinator Tim Walton, who will run West's defense
this season.  Memphis has a veteran defensive line that
includes former Rebel signees

Corey Mills

Jada Brown
. They are joined by 6-foot-2, 300 pound Freddie
Barnett at the nose tackle position and 6-foot-3, 265 pound
tackle Clinton McDonald.  Memphis struggled at linebacker last
season, but returns two of three starters this season including
Josh Weaver and 6-foot, 250 pound Winston Bowens in the
middle. However, Weaver was moved to safety during fall camp.

Advantage: Even

Ole Miss passing versus the
Memphis secondary: 
A fact is that Ole Miss has been
crippled with no consistent passing game in the last four
seasons.  That should change with the maturation of a
talented wide receiver corps and Snead under center. 
Memphis could be challenged with defending the Rebels' passing
game as it returns only senior LeRico Mathis at one corner
and and Tony Bell and Brandon Patterson at the safeties - but
overall, the unit gave up 240 yards a game though the air last
season.  Ole Miss could present Memphis with several challenging
game strategies on Saturday - either seek to try to pound the
ball on the ground and seek to establish a dominating running
game, lulling Memphis to sleep for the deep strike - or the
Rebels could come out and go to the air early and often -
essentially setting up the run with the pass.  The Memphis
defense returns nine starters on a defense that was not too good
last year, and under a first year coordinator, key will be how
much the defense has improved in the off season and the team has
fully grasped Walton's defense.

Advantage: Ole Miss

Memphis rushing
versus the Ole Miss ground defense: 
The Tigers lost
Joseph Doss to graduation and their number two rusher from a
year ago, T.J. Pitts remains sidelined. That means Memphis will
turn to junior college transfer Curtis Steele, who redshirted
last season. Steele is originally from Franklin Tenn. and played
at Northwest C.C. He had 94 yards in the Memphis' spring game
and was named offensive MVP.  Memphis also got a boost for
this season with addition of former Miami running back Charlie

At Miami, Jones rushed for 713 yards and
10 touchdowns in three seasons. He
played as a true freshman in 2004,
ranked second on the team in rushing in
2005 and gained 206 yards, with four
touchdowns, in 2006. He broke his foot
at the start of Miami's 2007 preseason
and then took advantage of a
relatively recent rule that permits players who have graduated
to transfer for their senior year without penalty.  With
two new running backs and a makeshift offensive line, Ole Miss
should dominate in this aspect of the game. West said that his
offensive line is nearly depleted headed into the game. 
But that's off set some by the fact that Ole Miss will be
without an All-American (Greg Hardy) and All-SEC performer (Peria
Jerry) on its defensive line. 

Edge: Ole Miss

Memphis passing versus the Ole
Miss secondary:
  Call it baptism by fire as College of
the Sequoias transfer

Arkelon Hall
, a former Washington State signee who was rated
the No. 8 pro-style quarterback in the nation in 2005, gets the
start for Memphis. At 6-foot-2, 215 pounds with 4.7 speed,
Memphis is looking to Hall for some mobility at the position,
however, West emphasized that earlier this week that he won't
ask too much of Hall, and if Hall does get rattled, he won't
hesitate to pull him in favor of Will Hudgens, a senior who has
seen action against Ole Miss before. On offense, the strengths
appear to be three returning starters on the offensive line and
perhaps one of the best wide receiver corps in the country led
by junior Duke Calhoun, who Ole Miss recruited hard, but lost
out to the Tigers.  Calhoun is joined by 6-foot-8

Carlos Singleton
and 6-foot-4 Maurice Jones - a tall group
that Ole Miss had difficulty defending last year when Memphis
racked up 343 yards through the air against the Rebels.

Edge: Memphis 

Special Teams:
Special teams looks solid with both the punter and kicker
returning and Michael Grandberry returns to return kicks, where
he averaged almost 22 yards a return and Earnest Williams will
handle punt return duties where he averaged nine yards a try.

Edge: Even

Weather forecast:
Partly cloudy, chance of a
thunderstorm. Highs in the upper 80s and lows in the upper 60s.
Chance of precipitation is 30 percent.

Broadcast information: 
TV: There is no live TV for this game. The CSS replay of the
game will be Sunday, Aug. 31 at 1 p.m. CT (Richard Cross,
play-by-play; Harry Harrison, color analyst). RADIO: Ole Miss
Radio Network (David Kellum, play-by-play; Pete Cordelli, color
analyst; Stan Sandroni, sideline reporter). XM Satellite Radio
channel 141. WEB: will provide live audio,
live stats and an in-game blog for the game. The official Rebel
athletics website will also provide a full game recap, photo
gallery and video highlights at the game's conclusion.



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