The Ole Miss Rebels and the Texas Longhorns face off in the first-ever matchup of a game played between the two schools in Oxford, MS. You can catch the game on ESPN, Saturday night at 8:15 p.m. CDT. The teams have played six times in their history with Texas leading the series, 5-1. The most recent game was a 19-0 win by Texas, way back in the 1966 Bluebonnet Bowl. (Media page from OlemissSports.com)
Those of you outside the state of Mississippi probably see this matchup as Goliath versus David, 1980's Russia hockey versus the USA or maybe Peyton versus Eli.
I’m not going to pretend that Ole Miss has many advantages in this game. What I will do, as every week at this time, is give you my vision of what the Rebel game plan should look like to have success.
Ole Miss is a program of highs and lows. In the last five years, the Rebels are either knocking on the door of 10 wins or threatening to lose 10. When they are successful, the team is built around a few key star players. Without a leader or star, this program tends to struggle.
This team’s success or confidence has been described as "swagger" by wideout Vince Sanders to Hugh Kellenberger of the Clarionledger.com, and this season is all about finding out how to be successful building confidence.
Texas has also had some struggles the last couple of years, finishing well below their fans' expectations. Even though the Longhorns are ranked in the Top 15 coming into this game, coach Mack Brown and his team feel like they have a lot to prove this season.
Whichever team walks away with a win Saturday should start to feel that swagger return.
Scouting the Longhorns
Most college football teams will try to establish the run, and Texas is certainly led by their running backs. This early in the season it is tough to have a team identity, but the running back will always be the focus at Texas.
Mack Brown has nine returning starters and is focusing on a balanced offense. UT running back Joe Bergeron leads the Longhorns with 159 yards on 26 carries. Texas as a team has 426 yards total on the ground, and starting QB David Ash has 377 total yards passing.
Ash has looked comfortable at the position and is playing the underneath and short passing game very well, with a completion percentage of 73.5.
The Longhorns' competition has been weak, as has Ole Miss’. Wyoming had some success in the first half of Texas’ first game of the year with 276 total yards passing but only 69 on the ground. New Mexico gained 206 yards on the ground with only 35 through the air (take into account New Mexico is a triple-option offense).
Special teams could be big in this game as Texas leads the nation in punting with a 49.75-yard average, and they are also tied for ninth in kick returns with 22 yards per attempt.
Installing the Game Plan
In a way (and I’m speaking strictly in a statistical fashion), these two teams look similar. Of course, Texas runs the ball to open up the pass, and Ole Miss does just the opposite, but the results are similar. Ole Miss to date has 567 yards on the ground and 536 yards in the air, and bottom line, you like to see your offense balanced.
Looking at opposing squads, I would expect Ole Miss to have success passing the ball (at least on the short routes), while I expect Texas to have success on the ground. The Rebels are thin and undersized at defensive line and linebacker.
I won’t spend much time debating special teams. Ole Miss is 0-4 on field goals and misplayed two punts last week.
As is most often the case, the game will probably be won in the trenches. And that is bad news for Ole Miss. If you are Hugh Freeze, you do not want to put this team head to head and hope that Texas’ offensive line is not very good. You don’t want to put Ole Miss' running backs against Texas' front seven.
If Ole Miss has a chance to win this game, there is only one way to do it, and that is to take advantage of the crowd excitement (as reported on the SECblog from ESPN), use the emotion that this game will invoke and attempt to go out and jump on Texas early. Put up some points and force Texas to pass the ball in order to catch up.
Basically the same thing they did last week against UTEP as the Rebels carried a 21-0 edge into halftime.
One thing we do know, Texas is not UTEP and Ole Miss is not New Mexico…but David did beat Goliath, and Eli has two Super Bowl rings.