Ole Miss takes their show on the road for the first time this season to face their first ever Pac-12 opponent, the Cal Golden Bears on Saturday night. The Rebels will travel over 2,100 miles for their first true test in 2017 after beating South Alabama and UT Martin in their first two games. Despite the 2-0 record, Ole Miss has some work to do if they hope to make to 3-0.
In the first two games, Ole Miss has been able to pull away due to explosive third quarters, but against teams in the thick of the Rebel schedule, it may be too late by the second half. Ole Miss trailed UT Martin at the end of the first quarter in week 2 and held only a slim 13-10 lead over South Alabama at halftime in week 1. Explosive third quarters were able to rescue the Rebels from disaster, but against Cal or in their upcoming games against Alabama and Auburn, they may not have that same luxury.
Ole Miss has scored 48 points in the third quarter this season, which is a polar opposite of the Rebel team which let large leads to FSU and Alabama slip away due to poor play coming out of the half. This week will give Ole Miss a chance to prove they can put it all together. Earlier this week, OC Phil Longo talked about the importance of a fast start moving forward.
“Total yards and production-wise we have been fine, but that doesn’t mean anything if you don’t finish the drive,” Longo said. “So, that was the emphasis at halftime in both games, and that will be the emphasis this week with the away trip. The focus is going to be on starting faster, no question.”
The good news for Longo and the Rebels is the production they have received from QB Shea Patterson and his explosive group of wide receivers. Patterson is second in the country with 918 passing yards, while his number one target, A.J. Brown, leads the nation in receiving yards with 389 along with 4 touchdowns. Damarkus Lodge has turned in 3 TDs on the young season, and D.K. Metcalf may be due for a breakout game. Jacob Peeler, Ole Miss’ WR coach came to Oxford after coaching at Cal, and his insight may be an edge for Ole Miss heading into Saturday.
“He probably won’t be able to give us much about their scheme, but certainly he can help us identify individuals who are capable of making explosive plays, tell us their strengths and weaknesses,” McGriff said.
The Rebel running game has gotten off to a slow start totaling just 156 yards through the first two weeks, but the air attack has more than made up for the deficiency. Senior Jordan Wilkins leads the team with 65 yards on the ground. Cal’s passing defense is ranked 119th in the country, so the Rebels may stick with the aerial attack this week. But with the Alabama matchup looming large after the bye week, the Rebels need to find a running game quickly.
On the defensive side of the ball, DC Wesley McGriff hopes to see a better tackling effort from his players. McGriff has been pleased with the energy in the first two weeks, but he needs to see more production, or there may be changes on the way in the rotation.
“Every position has to go out and perform to earn the right to start,” McGriff said. “Every position from the D-Line to the linebacker to the secondary all have their hand in the jar in terms of giving up to many yards in the run game…and you can throw me in there as well.”
Cal recently lost running back Tre Watson to a leg injury which will sideline him for the season. On Monday before the news was reported, McGriff called Watson “the best player on the offense.” While their feature back may have gone down, McGriff knows that the Rebels will have their hands full with the other Golden Bear playmakers.
“On the edge, they have two explosive receivers out wide,” McGriff said. “So we certainly have to pay attention to them, know where No. 8 (Demetris Robertson) is. They’ll give him the reverse; he’ll stretch the defense vertically. It’s certainly going to be a challenge for us. They’ll spread the ball, get as much grass as they can to get their playmakers the football. We’re going to have a big challenge of tackling in space, and also stopping the run game.”
Cal comes into Saturday’s game at 2-0 with wins over North Carolina and Webber. Cal has been able to score over 30 points in each of their first two games while allowing 20 points in each matchup. QB Ross Bowers is completing an efficient 67 percent of his passes but has also thrown 2 INTs. The Rebel defense has only come away with one turnover this season, so this could be the week to play aggressively in an effort to make game-changing plays in what could become a shootout. While Watson went down, the leading rusher for Cal, Patrick Laird is still active and ready to roll. Laird has totaled 200 yards through two games, and the Rebels currently rank 102nd in rush defense, so they have their work cut out for them in stopping the run game this week.
The Rebels get starting TE Dawson Knox back for the first time this season, and D.D. Bowie is expected to play after injuring his wrist in week 1.
Game Time/Where to Watch & Listen
Kick-off for Saturday’s game is set for 9:30 p.m. central time at California Memorial Stadium in Berkeley, California. The game will be televised on ESPN and can be heard on the Ole Miss Radio Network, OleMissSports.com and SiriusXM channel 83.
Steven Gagliano is the managing editor of HottyToddy.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.HERE!