By John Davis, Oxford Citizen
Experience is something the Ole Miss Rebels have on their side heading into the 2014 season. So do the Boise State Broncos.
The 2014 season opener for both teams appears, at least on paper, to be a fairly even matchup. A total of 15 starters return for both the Rebels and Broncos, who finished the 2013 season with an 8-5 overall record.
Boise State, which has won 155 games since the start of the 2000 season, meets Ole Miss in Atlanta’s Georgia Dome on Aug. 28.
Phil Steele, one of the nation’s most respected authorities on college football, feels like the contest should be a good one.
“It’s the only game where I have Boise an underdog all season, and that should show you just how good Boise is,” Steele said. “When you look at Boise State two years ago, they had six returning starters. Last year they had nine returning starters. Now, (having) six and nine returning starters is unusual. It’s low for any team to have, and perhaps that’s why they’ve struggled and only gone 19-7 the last two years.”
Boise’s offense has always depended on a solid signal caller and Steele said he was high on senior Grant Hedrick, who he felt was an upgrade over Joe Southwick.
“Hedrick came in after Southwick got banged around, now he’s a veteran, senior quarterback,” Steele said of Hedrick, who threw for 1,825 yards and 16 touchdowns last year as a part-time starter. “They have Jay Ajayi at running back, who rushed for almost 1,500 yards. They are talented at wide receiver. And the defense gave up 413 yards per game, which for Boise is remarkably high. This should be a much improved unit.”
Wide receiver Matt Miller returns after setting a single-season record at Boise with 88 catches for 1,140 yards, a mark that was the third highest in school history. Miller can also find the end zone, having caught 12 touchdowns last season, fourth highest in a single season at Boise.
Ole Miss will enter the game as a favorite, Steele said, but he did feel like it was a dangerous game because of Boise’s experience and because no one is sure what first-year coach Bryan Harsin is exactly going to run on offense or defense. Harsin, a Boise State alum and Bronco football player in the late ‘90s, was the head coach at Arkansas State in 2013.
“I think the advantage for Ole Miss is (that) they will have the crowd edge with the game being played in Atlanta,” Steele said.
Boise’s top returner on defense is junior corner Donte Deayon, who finished with six interceptions and 15 pass breakups to earn a nod on the All-Mountain West second team. Deayon’s secondary mate, safety Jeremy Ioane, is another highly regarded Bronco defender. Ioane was also named to the second team All-Mountain West squad after making 59 tackles last season.
Three Boise assistant coaches have ties to the South or the SEC. Marcel Yates, the new defensive coordinator, was at Texas A&M last season serving as the co-defensive coordinator. Steve Caldwell, the Broncos’ assistant head coach and defensive line coach, comes to Boise from Arkansas State.
Caldwell has also coached at Arkansas, and from 1995-2008, he was one of the top assistant coaches to Philip Fulmer at Tennessee. Caldwell is also a former assistant coach to Bobby Franklin at Northwest Mississippi Community College.
The final tie resides in tight ends coach Elijah Drinkwitz, who was at Arkansas State last season under Harsin and the year before that under Gus Malzahn. Drinkwitz is very familiar with the Malzahn’s up-tempo style on offense, having served as Auburn’s graduate assistant in 2010 – the year the Tigers’ won the national championship with Cam Newton at quarterback – and in 2011.