Well, it’s Memphis week, and the Laremy Tunsil thing has been resolved but is not yet complete.
Many, myself included, had speculated that Tunsil would miss six games and be back for Memphis. As the games piled up for Tunsil, six seemed like such a nice round figure, half a season.
Maybe the NCAA tacked on another since Tunsil was less than “forthcoming,” according to the Ole Miss news release, in the early stages of the investigation.
It would benefit Tunsil to play in this game and have one Saturday of game speed under his belt before tying one one with SEC sack leader Myles Garrett next week when Texas A&M visits.
That won’t be the case, and a Memphis defense that ranks No. 90 in sacks and No. 113 in tackles for loss won’t have to contend with Tunsil.
The Tigers haven’t been a defense that creates a lot of negative yardage plays, and that should bode well for an Ole Miss offensive line that, sans Tunsil, started quickly and played well but was overmatched at Florida.
Even while winning before Florida the Rebels’ line had struggled at times down close to the goalline. That weakness was magnified in Gainesville when Ole Miss reached a first-and-goal from the 1 but was pushed back 4 yards and kicked a short field goal.
Memphis has been pretty fair in rushing defense this season, giving up 131.6 yards a game, No. 37 nationally.
Sometimes the rushing numbers shine a little bit when teams are passing every play, and Memphis has allowed 306.8 passing yards a game, No. 121.
Ole Miss will have opportunities to run the ball, and I think Hugh Freeze will look for those because he likes to be a creative play-caller but also because his top two running backs, Jaylen Walton and Jordan Wilkins, are Memphis-area kids and are really motivated to play this game in the Liberty Bowl.
I guess it’s good that somebody’s motivated to go to the Liberty Bowl. I certainly am not, but that has to do with a small, cramped press box with tiny windows.
Ole Miss basketball coach Andy Kennedy will sometimes play a hunch and let backups play a little longer against their hometown or home-state schools. He has seen that move pay off. It wouldn’t be surprising if Freeze called Walton’s or Wilkins’ number in a certain situation based on their extra motivation.
It won’t necessarily be obvious, however, because both of them play key roles. It’s good for Ole Miss to have Walton back this week after he sat out last week resting a sore ankle.
The real matchup that favors Ole Miss here, however, is the passing game.
The offensive line has been better at protecting Chad Kelly than at dominating opponents in the run game for four quarters.
Ole Miss didn’t rush for 100 yards at Alabama, but it did protect Kelly enough for him to throw for 305 yards and three touchdowns in the second half.
The Ole Miss offense has been its most dynamic this season when Kelly has had time to find deep targets down field.
It certainly looks like quarterbacks have been able to find those targets against the Memphis defense.
That’s a good thing, because the Memphis offense has been able to score its points to the tune of 47.8 per game.
Mike Hilton’s move to Huskie will help slow the crossing patterns and possession passing that Florida used to burn Ole Miss.
The short game is a lot of what Memphis does, but keep an eye on sophomore C.J. Hampton who was inserted into the lineup in the secondary shuffle. He made his first start last week against New Mexico State and wasn’t challenged like he will be Saturday.
There are enough matchups in this game to favor Ole Miss and help the Rebels find a path to their sixth non-Tunsil win.
The most important matchup, though, may be the intangibles. I mentioned earlier the extra motivation for Walton, Wilkins and other Memphis-area kids.
The Memphis players will be extra motivated too, and Tigers coach Justin Fuente may be the most motivated man in the building.
If Memphis wins it has a chance to run the table and land a spot in a New Year’s Six bowl game.
Fuente is making $1.4 million a year. He’s already being mentioned for bigger jobs, jobs that could more than double his salary, and the more he wins this season the bigger the job opportunities become.
Memphis will come out playing like it’s hair is on fire, and Ole Miss will have to match that intensity.
And matching opponent intensity is something the Rebels didn’t do well in their last two SEC games, a win over Vanderbilt at home and a big loss at Florida.
Prediction: Ole Miss 45, Memphis 30