Morning y’all. Hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving. I was thankful to be around family, lots of them down in Meridian.
I delayed the Predictions Post a day, but here we go.
The main prediction for the weekend should be whether Ole Miss will keep its coach Hugh Freeze. I’ve seen many who think the discussion is laughable, that Freeze will not leave. It may end up that way, but unless and until he makes a more definitive statement about his future than his happiness it’s an open discussion.
Word on the street is there’s interest in Freeze from Florida athletics director Jeremy Foley and that Foley intends for the Gators’ process to move quickly at the end of the regular season. For Ole Miss, that will be around 6 p.m. Saturday.
For those who do not peel back the layers and look at what Freeze has accomplished at Ole Miss they will only see a team that has yet to win more games than it’s lost in SEC play in his three seasons as coach. That won’t change Saturday unless the Rebels win. If they don’t, a 4-0 SEC start will end with a 4-4 conference record.
Peel back the layers, as Foley is doing, consider the state of the program upon Freeze’s arrival, and you’ll understand the very good work he’s done at Ole Miss. That’s on and off the field, and while on the field is the bottom line, off the field is very important to Foley.
Rarely is the game itself the second story line when the Mississippi rivals play, but that could be the case Saturday.
But there is a game …
A month ago it was a more evenly matched game. It leans a little to the Bulldogs right now mostly because of the injury situation for Ole Miss.
While Freeze has talked about the need for chains to keep Bo Wallace, who sustained a sprained ankle last week against Arkansas, from playing in this game it’s possible that Wallace does not start or play.
In his two media appearances Freeze talked about the likelihood that Wallace would play. He also talked on Monday about the need to get his two redshirt freshman backups – Ryan Buchanan and DeVante Kincade – ready to play.
If Wallace does play his ankle will be a game-long issue, and it could worsen with every snap as the afternoon rolls along.
The fact that it’s his right ankle – the foot he must plant when he throws – greatly complicates the matter.
So maybe Wallace plays, but there’s great question about his effectiveness.
That said, at least one of the redshirt freshmen needs to play a big role in this game, and that’s Kincade out of the gate.
There will be a strong competition between the young guys in spring, and I suspect it will carry into August. There’s a good chance that this team is headed for a two-quarterback system next year, not because neither can win the job but because the skill sets are so different.
And Ole Miss needs Kincade’s skill set against MSU.
The Rebels need it because they’ve been unable to consistently run against SEC defenses and because State’s front seven is good.
Freeze needs to do something to spark the run game. After the false hope created when Jordan Wilkins and Mark Dodson both ran for 100 yards against Presbyterian the run game was another struggle against Arkansas. Those two got some earlier opportunities as we talked about here last week, but in the modern lingo you could write it this way: Arkansas>Presbyterian.
Freeze is not beyond tinkering with the run game even at this late date. Remember, it was just last year in the Egg Bowl that he lined up Robert Nkemdiche in the backfield. It was successful for a few plays.
Some type of adjustment in the run game is needed. Kincade is the likely choice because he’s a quarterback, he handles the ball every play, and he gives you the opportunity to pass … more than Barry Brunetti did when he was the running quarterback.
Kincade actually started the season in this role. There was one snap against Boise, a few against Vanderbilt and Lafayette, but that role began to fade. In my humble opinion it’s time to reinvent it in a big way.
The other ways Ole Miss might win this game involve a good day for Wallace. Were he healthy there would be a better than average chance for that against an MSU secondary that has given up a lot of passing yards.
The Bulldogs have also picked off a few passes, nine in SEC games, and Wallace will sometimes throw it to the other team. He’d been really good at not doing that against league teams until Arkansas when he did it twice. Both were in the end zone, and one was returned 100 yards for a touchdown, creating a 21-point swing for the Razorbacks. Then there were the two fumbles in a four-turnover day for Wallace.
The last time MSU visited Ole Miss, Wallace threw for 294 yards and five touchdowns. He had Donte Moncrief then, and doesn’t have Laquon Treadwell now. That makes the Ole Miss offense a lot different, but I like the Rebels’ receivers even sans Treadwell.
The great unknown here is Wallace’s health, and the guess is it’s going to be average at best. It could be poor enough to keep him out of the game altogether.
One thing I typically fail to give enough credence when trying to guess this game is emotion. If Ole Miss is going to win this game it has to be the more emotionally invested team.
Freeze has to convince this group to play harder than it’s played this year. Dan Mullen has done that with his team in this rivalry.
Just last year it was MSU that didn’t have its starting quarterback. Dak Prescott came off the bench late and eventually scored the winning touchdown in a 17-10 Ole Miss overtime loss.
Prescott was able to make that kind of impact because the Ole Miss offense could not take control of the game earlier. The Rebels squandered opportunities, and the MSU defense kept it low-scoring.
Prescott only rushed for 29 yards on nine carries when he came off the bench, but his 3-yard TD run was the winner.
It’s quite possible that script could work for Ole Miss Saturday. The Rebels’ defense is good enough to keep it low-scoring. Ole Miss improved in its run defense against Arkansas. There’s much more room for improvement, but Fayetteville was a step for Ole Miss.
Prescott, like Wallace, is prone to throw it to the other guys, and Ole Miss has been prone to nab errant passes this season. Even some that weren’t errant, and Ole Miss corners, mostly Senquez Golson, made big plays.
There’s a lot of sound reasoning that points to MSU in this game.
It will take the perfect storm for Ole Miss to win. Sometimes this rivalry produces that.
Prediction: Ole Miss 22, MSU 21