The unranked Texas Longhorns will upset the No. 25 Ole Miss Rebels this Saturday.
Sure, it’s quite odd to see Texas assume the underdog role against an Ole Miss team that won just seven games last year. It’s certainly got to be a shot to the pride of one of the most storied programs in college football.
Maybe the Longhorns should have thought about that before coughing up 550 rushing yards to a subpar BYU team.
The last time the Rebels faced Texas as the higher-ranked team was back during the 1958 Sugar Bowl. Their 39-7 victory also happens to be the only time they’ve beaten the Longhorns in seven tries.
Don’t expect that to change on Saturday.
Here’s what Texas has to accomplish in order to come away victorious.
Establish the Passing Game
While the Longhorns might struggle to defend the run, Ole Miss has had difficulties defending the pass this season.
Through two games, the team ranks No. 69 in pass defense, allowing 229.5 yards per game. Furthermore, the Rebels have allowed opposing quarterbacks an efficiency rating of 137.9—No. 82 in the nation.
After surrendering 35 points to Vanderbilt, Ole Miss’ defense looked questionable during the team’s 31-13 win against FCS foe Southeast Missouri.
Redhawks quarterback Scott Lathrop actually had a solid passing day in the loss. The sophomore threw for 159 yards and two touchdowns on 16-of-24 passing. It could even be said that Lathrop outperformed Rebels quarterback Bo Wallace (8-of-15, 188 YDS, 2 TDs).
Remember, this is the same unit who is only a year removed from when Texas hung 66 points on them. Don’t expect it to get any easier in front of a hostile crowd in Austin.
Sure, the possibility of being without quarterback David Ash could be an issue for the Longhorns—the junior is listed as questionable with head and shoulder injuries, according to the Associated Press. However, backup Case McCoy is fully capable of replacing him.
Last season, McCoy threw for 722 yards and six touchdowns on 54-of-76 (71.1 percent) passing.
Regardless of who starts, Texas must ensure the passing game is established if it wants to win.
Assert Themselves Defensively
On the flip side, the Longhorns must ensure that Ole Miss doesn’t take advantage of their weaknesses on defense.
During the 40-21 Week 2 loss at BYU, Texas put together one of the most embarrassing defensive efforts in program history. Among their many follies, the Longhorns conceded a school-record 550 rushing yards. That includes 259 from quarterback Taysom Hill alone.
On the season, Texas ranks No. 121 (out of 123) in rush defense, allowing an average of 327 yards per game.
Immediately following the game, head coach Mack Brown announced that defensive coordinator Manny Diaz would be reassigned. Greg Robinson, a former co-defensive coordinator for the Longhorns, will replace him.
However, things are not all bad on the defensive front.
Texas actually has done quite well against the pass. The team ranks No. 24 in defensive passing efficiency, holding opposing quarterbacks to an efficiency rating of 97.9, while ranking No. 46 in pass defense (185.5 YPGA).
If the Longhorns could manage to contain the run—or jump out to an early lead—the team might be able to force the Rebels to throw the ball.
That would play right into Texas’ strength.
Summing It All Up
The Longhorns just had their first wake-up call of the year and Brown is this close to losing his job.
If that’s not motivation enough for Texas to show up this weekend, I don’t know what is.
There’s no doubt Ole Miss is capable of winning this game. However, the team doesn’t want—or need—this game as much as the Longhorns do.
A loss here would send Texas to a place the program hasn’t been in since before Brown arrived back in 1998. That just won’t fly in Austin.
The Longhorns will prevail by at least two touchdowns.