KEYS FOR VICTORY
1. Pass rush
For different reasons, we’ve really not seen what this Ole Miss team can do in this regard.
The plan against Vanderbilt often called to drop linebackers to help in coverage, and a four-man rush – sometimes less – didn’t get to Austyn Carta-Samuels very much.
Southeast Missouri State did not drop back and pass much and worked to get the ball out of the quarterback’s hand quickly.
Getting to whoever takes snaps for Texas is imperative to help pass coverage that’s shown it needs help.
2. Read option
It’s what the Rebels do, and they need to do it well. Whether a new defensive coordinator makes a difference or not, Ole Miss needs to execute its option with confidence against a team that struggled mightily to stop the play last week at BYU.
It’s been a challenge to build a game plan, Ole Miss coaches not know how Greg Robinson might do things differently.
This should be about Ole Miss doing what it does in spite of what Robinson does. The Rebels should approach this game with confidence in their own ability from recent success boosted by the knowledge that the Longhorns clearly have some issues to correct.
3. Win the turnover margin
The Rebels were turnover-free against Vanderbilt. There were two fumbles last week, both by backup quarterback Barry Brunetti, and an interception by QB Robert Ratliff.
No doubt Ole Miss coaches have worked with Brunetti, and his ball-protection will be taken into account with his role at Texas.
Starting quarterback Bo Wallace has been turnover-free this season, notable improvement for a guy who threw 17 interceptions last year. Three of those were against Texas.
That’s not to say that Wallace hasn’t been lucky on a couple of throws this season.
If Wallace throws to only his receivers and not the Longhorns, Ole Miss will have a great chance to move the ball and score.
WHAT TO WATCH
When Texas has the ball
The Longhorns have liked to pass more than run in two games, most of that with quarterback David Ash, who torched the Rebels last year but also had the support of 350 rush yards. But he won’t play today.
Texas averaged 4.5 yards a carry against BYU but didn’t sustain enough drives to overcome 40 points by the Cougars. Ash wasn’t as good in the air as he faced a BYU rush that sacked him four times.
Ash is sidelined today with a head injury, and the Longhorns will also be without running back/wide receiver Daje Johnson, a key playmaker.
Ole Miss has been pretty good at stopping the run, holding opponents to 3.0 yards per attempt, but pass defense remains a work in progress.
Expect Texas to take shots at the Ole Miss cornerbacks with whoever it plays at quarterback.
When Ole Miss has the ball
While the Rebels talk about balance, they’ll start with the run. Texas has a new defensive coordinator, but the Longhorns still have the players who gave up 550 rushing yards to BYU.
A change in leadership may yield immediate improvement, or it may not. It did give Freeze more to plan for during the week.
Look for Ole Miss to go to its bread and butter, the read option, early. If there’s success the Rebels will go to it more and more. Freeze is not scared to run the same play multiple times in succession.
The run game could also get a lift as reserve back I’Tavius Mathers continues to heal from a sprained ankle suffered in camp. Mathers had a 10-yard touchdown run last week, but his most impressive run went for 35 yards. Freeze says Mathers gives Ole Miss a different dimension in the power run game.
Texas quarterbacks vs. Ole Miss cornerbacks
A healthy and available Charles Sawyer would have improved the Rebels at corner, but Sawyeris out after his DUI arrest of last Sunday. Rarely do players with a DUI one weekend play the next weekend.
The Longhorns’ preferred starting QBAsh – who was 19-for-23, 326 yards, 4 TDs against Ole Miss last year – will miss the game or be limited.
However, if an FCS option-running quarterback can throw touchdown passes against the Rebels, as Southeastern Missouri’s Scott Lathorp did twice last week, it’s not a stretch to think the Texas backup could have equal or similar success.