Clearly excited by his team’s 28-10 win over UTEP, Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze immediately returned to his message in the postgame interview session, and that message is wilderness.
As No. 14 Texas visits, the Rebels are still there, he says. I believe him.
There’s been a lot to like about Ole Miss in two games, an exciting fast-paced offense, strong quarterback play, a good running game, Donte Moncrief at WR, a defensive line that showed improvement from Week 1 to Week 2.
There has been plenty that needs more improvement too, oddly enough field goal kicking one of those things. The ease with which teams are passing the football is another, this in spite of the fact that the Rebels are on a pace to shatter sack numbers from a year ago. Ole Miss had just 13 sacks last year and has nine through two games. Still the passing yards have come for the opponents. It’s impressive that Bo Wallace has completed 76.8 percent of his pass attempts, but opponents are completing 72.2.
So where the Rebels might have an advantage against a Texas’ vertical passing game that has been fairly pedestrian, they might not be in position to exploit that advantage.
I liked the defensive line last week. From Central Arkansas to UTEP, there was a big step forward. Unlike Texas-El Paso, this week’s Texas has no hyphen. The Austin boys cover the whole state, and everything is bigger over there you know. So this will be a big and athletic offensive line blocking for backs that go 223 (Malcolm Brown) and 230 (Joe Bergeron).
The Rebels will have to be at their best even in the fourth quarter after fatigue sets in. That’s when big backs break tackles most.
The Longhorns, under former Mississippi State defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, have given up yards between the 20s, but teams have had trouble punching it in. Wyoming scored 17 in a 37-17 loss, New Mexico nothing in a 45-0 loss.
I think the Texas speed hurts Ole Miss here. The Rebels are not a team that lines up and marches forward behind a physical offensive line. The up-tempo offense has a lot of good about it, but it depends on backs to get to the edge and wide receivers to make somebody miss or break a tackle at first contact. I think the closing speed of the Texas defense shows up here and causes the Rebels trouble.
I think Ole Miss is an improved football team. This game will be a great measuring stick to learn just how much improvement there’s been with SEC play just two weeks away.
Texas has fallen off a bit since its 2009 BCS title game appearance against Alabama, but it’s still a formidable opponent. The Rebels have lost nine straight against ranked opponents, and last year this game would have been a blowout.
The combination of Texas coach Mack Brown not having his best Longhorns team, plus an improved Ole Miss, plus the excitement that has been manufactured by a 2-0 start gets the Rebels off to a good start in this game. They will compete for 60 minutes, and while Freeze says he can’t control the scoreboard, I don’t think it will say 52-3 by game’s end.
But I think there will be two touchdowns worth of difference.
Prediction: Texas 35, Ole Miss 21