The Ole Miss Rebels went on life support after Vanderbilt QB Austyn Carta-Samuels hooked up with a wide-open Stephen Scheu to take the lead with only one minute and 30 seconds left in the game last Thursday. In a true "do or die, put up or shut up" scenario, Rebel RB Jeff Scott took a handoff 75 yards into the heart of the Commodore student section for a game-winning score.
Having escaped Music City with a thrilling victory over its SEC East foe, Hugh Freeze's squad now hosts FCS school Southeast Missouri State (SEMO) Saturday night in the friendly confines of Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
It'll be just what the doctor ordered for the Rebs, as difficult road trips to Texas (September 14) and Alabama (September 28) await Ole Miss in its two games following SEMO.
The SEMO Redhawks are 1-17 all time against FBS opponents, and that number should drop to 1-18 come Saturday night. Before looking ahead to the matchup, let's take a minute to look back at last week.
Reviewing Game 1
Bo Wallace looked solid in his return from shoulder surgery. Not only did the junior starter go 31-of-47 for 283 yards through the air, but by and large he made sound decisions when in trouble. Sure, a pass or two could have been picked off by the Commodores, but none were.
Well done, Bo.
As for No. 2 QB Barry Brunetti, he did exactly what he was supposed to do when his number was called: move the ball across the goal line.
RB Jeff Scott
Senior running back Jeff Scott carried the ball fewer times throughout the first three quarters, providing him with pretty fresh legs down the stretch. Before he took his 12th carry 75 yards for the game-winner, he had only carried the ball 11 times for 63 yards.
A continued modest workload for Scott, particularly in the first half of games, could yield similar returns late in contests this season.
The Fab 4 (or 5)
The Rebel "Fab Four (or Five)," comprised of freshmen WR Laquon Treadwell, DE Robert Nkemdiche, OT Laremy Tunsil and S Tony Conner, had an outstanding college debut.
Not only did Treadwell's nine receptions for 82 yards set a single-game reception record for a Rebel freshman, but they also were enough to earn him the label of SEC freshman of the week.
Not to be forgotten is extremely talented freshman tight end Evan Engram, who pulled in five passes for 61 yards. He could easily be the surprise of the entire class.
While Nkemdiche only made two official tackles, his physical presence was felt throughout the game. And certainly don't forget about the big man's first-down carry on the punt fake last week.
Conner pulled in a timely interception, while Tunsil provided some quality minutes on the offensive line.
The more time and experience these young stars can gain in these first few games, the better they'll become.
After only one game, they're off to a damn fine start.
Vandy came away with three touchdowns in each of its three trips inside the red zone against Ole Miss. Had the Rebel defense been able to force the Commodores to even one field goal instead of a touchdown, the Rebels would have had more breathing room in the game.
Now, minus LB Denzel Nkemdiche, the defense will really need to develop some confidence this week before taking on the Longhorns.
Keep an eye on linebackers Keith Lewis and Serderius Bryant against SEMO.
Playing from Ahead
While the Red and Blue took an early 10-0 lead in the first quarter, they also allowed Vandy to storm back with 21 unanswered points in the second quarter.
In order to truly compete with the likes of Texas, Bama and the rest of the SEC later this season, Ole Miss must keep the pedal to the metal the entire game.
The injury bug struck in the first game of the season. In fact, it took out two very meaningful Rebels in LB Denzel Nkemdiche (meniscus) and OG Aaron Morris (ACL).
Fortunately, Nkemdiche should be back on the field in four to six weeks, but Morris is now lost for the entire year.
Looking Ahead to SEMO
Last weekend, SEMO fell to Southeastern Louisiana by a score of 45-7. This week, things could get even worse for the Redhawks.
In four games against SEC opponents all time (0-4), SEMO has been outscored 147-10. With 11 players having made their first career starts last week, facing an SEC opponent on the road this weekend will present more than a few challenges.
In 2012, SEMO finished with a record of 3-9. The three wins came against the likes of Mars Hill, Tennessee Tech and Austin Peay.
Those aren't exactly "quality" wins.
The strength of the Redhawk offense lies in its rushing game, as SEMO has rushed for 200-plus yards in eight of its last nine games (including 206 against last week). Having surrendered only 126 yards on the ground to Vandy in the opener, look for the Rebels to hold SEMO to a similar figure.
The Redhawk passing game was another story last weekend, as it only managed to amass 88 yards passing on 19 attempts. Expect the Rebel "Landshark Defense" to look much better this weekend, with blitz packages coming early and often. Denzel Nkemdiche may be out, but little brother Robert should have quite the coming-out party Saturday night in front of the home crowd.
As for the SEMO defense, there just isn't a lot there. (At least it doesn't seem so through one game.)
In the season opener, SEMO gave up 309 yards on the ground to Southeastern Louisiana. Through the air, Southeastern Louisiana was 12-of-18 for 185 yards. With as high paced and up tempo of an offense as the Rebels will run against SEMO Saturday night, the scoreboard operator best not leave his seat for long.
All of that being said, Ole Miss will never take a team "too lightly" after the debacle against FCS opponent Jacksonville State in 2010.
Freeze will have his kids ready to go.
If the Rebels take care of business early and don't let up once a solid lead is established, the game should provide younger and less experienced players with the real-game experience they need to develop.
Keep an eye on the younger stable of running backs like Jaylen Walton, I'Tavius Mathers, Mark Dodson, Kailo Moore and Jordan Wilkins in the second half against SEMO. Also keep an eye on the play of the backup quarterback spot, if Wallace is able to rest for any significant time.
The Johnny Rebs will move to 2-0, and The Grove will be in its full glory all day and night.
Prediction: Ole Miss 57, SEMO 13
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