BYU vs. Ole Miss: 7 Key Player vs. Player Matchups

Craig WilliamsContributor IIISeptember 1, 2011

BYU vs. Ole Miss: 7 Key Player vs. Player Matchups

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    Rebel the Bear is not intimidated to meet Cosmo the Cougar.

    Ole Miss will be introducing their new mascot, Rebel, during the season opener this Saturday against Brigham Young. 

    While Rebel may be fearless, Rebel fans remember well last year’s home opener, a 49-48 shocking loss to Jacksonville State. Prepared that they may lose another heart breaker, they are unprepared to ever lose a party.

    The tailgate party is on in Oxford, Mississippi! The bourbon and beer are purchased and packed in coolers, ready to go. 

    Brigham Young fans are also invited to the festivities. They will bring the root beer.

    Obsessed fans of both teams have been spending months reading up on the newcomers' performances against their favorite seasoned veterans in practice. All the delicious rumors and speculation are about to be settled on the field.

    These key matchups pit the heavyweights of both teams head-to-head in what will be the most exciting battles at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium this Saturday.

Bolden vs. Pendleton

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    Ole Miss running back Brandon Bolden (5'11", 215-pound senior) against BYU strong-side linebacker Jordan Pendleton (6'3", 235-pound senior).

    Senior RB Brandon Bolden is the star of the Ole Miss offense.

    Rushing for nearly 1,000 yards last season, he is turning a lot of heads in the SEC this preseason as a player to watch.

    Did I mention he’s fast?

    Ole Miss released a video earlier this month in which Bolden spun a football on the ground at a Vaught-Hemingway Stadium goal line. He then sprinted to the 50-yard line and back before the ball stopped spinning.

    "He's in the best shape he's ever been in," Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt said. "He's excited about his offensive line. He's really taken a leadership role. I love the way he's talked to our younger guys, just done an outstanding job of leading and committing to all parts of the game."

    Brigham Young is stacked at linebacker this year. The strongest unit of the BYU defense may give Bolden fits in his first game of his final season as a Rebel.

    Strong-side linebacker Jordan Pendleton will be getting well-acquainted with the star running back.

    Pendleton came to BYU as a wide receiver. He then put on 40 pounds of muscle and converted to linebacker. He plays the position with the speed of a wide receiver and the strength of a Greek god.

    He suffered a season-ending knee injury in the Cougars’ fifth game of 2010 and during the offseason had surgery to both his knee and his shoulder.

    When asked if it was nice to see a healthy Pendleton out on the field on the first day of practice, Bronco Mendenhall responded with, “Better than nice! He did a great job. He’s in excellent shape. He’s really motivated. He’s a really good leader and a great player.”

Williams vs. Heaps

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    Ole Miss weak-side linebacker Ralph Williams against BYU quarterback Jake Heaps.

    Welcome to college football, Ralph Williams.

    Your first assignment is to blitz the buzz right out of the preseason hype surrounding Jake Heaps, a dark horse Heisman contender for the 2011 season.

    Williams (6'0", 238-pound redshirt freshman) impressed Houston Nutt during the fall camp. Redshirted last year, high expectations are now spinning over this 19-year-old Miami native’s head. 

    He will be depended upon to get into Heaps' face frequently throughout the game.

    Jake Heaps was phenomenal in the New Mexico Bowl, capping off a successful freshman campaign.

    He completed 25-of-34 passes for 264 yards, four TDs and one INT in a rout of UTEP. 

    There is a definite buzz swarming around this youngster in camp. Through a four-day stretch, he completed 21-of-25 passes for 337 yards and four touchdowns, including two jaw-dropping bullets downfield for 60 and 70 yards.

Grant vs. Brown

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    Ole Miss nose guard Uriah Grant (6'0", 300-pound junior) against BYU center Terrence Brown (6'4", 318-pound senior).

    There is no question about it. The battle to watch in this game will be between the offensive and defensive lines.

    Mississippi’s talented O-line has received a lot of BYU’s preparation time. 

    With an impressive O-line of its own to boast of, though, Brigham Young offers up some key players in exciting matchups against the Ole Miss D-line.

    The Grant vs. Brown contest will be huge.

    Ole Miss coaches are pumped about JUCO transfer Uriah Grant.  "He's really tried to provide some leadership, even though he is one of our newest players," Price said. "He brings maturity to that position. He brings strength. And he's a guy that plays with a really high motor inside."

    In the other corner of the ring, BYU center Terrence Brown has been named to the Rimington Trophy watch list for 2011, competing for the title of best center in all of college football.

    Brown has lost 15 pounds to prepare for his final season as a Cougar.

    "I'm just going to play my hardest, grateful I'm on that [Rimington] list but it doesn't affect how I go about my business day to day. I want to play hard and improve. As long as I'm improving, I'm happy," he said.

Lockett vs. Reynolds

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    Ole Miss defensive end Kentrell Lockett (6'5", 255-pound senior) against BYU left tackle Matt Reynolds (6'6", 322-pound senior).

    Veteran Kentrell Locket is back for a sixth season after tearing his ACL last year, missing nine games. 

    He is the clear team leader on the defensive side of the ball and is also great with the media.

    Lockett said, "Last year when we lost the opener to Jacksonville State, we thought we could just roll our helmet out there and beat them. 

    Last year is not going to be this year. We've got too many people that are hungry, too many seniors that have a lot of dog in them that want to get the bad taste of last season out of their mouths."

    "Too many seniors that have a lot of dog in them" might be just what the Rebels need to defeat the feline Cougars.

    Cougar Matt Reynolds also has a lot of dog in him, though. A starter at left tackle since 2008, he allowed one sack in 2010. One!

    Expected to go early in the 2012 NFL draft, Reynolds created some stirring when he opted out of joining the professionals and returned to Provo for his senior season.

    He is listed as a 2011 candidate for the Outland Trophy, Lombardi Award and Lowe’s Senior CLASS Award. (Celebrating Loyalty and Achievement for Staying in School—the award goes to an achieved player in community, classroom, character and competition.)

    Watch for one of these two team leaders to make strong statements to their opponent early in this intriguing crash collision.

Moncrief vs. Eason

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    Ole Miss wide receiver Donte Moncrief (6'2", 217-pound freshman) against BYU corner Corby Eason (5'8", 175-pound senior).

    Ole Miss and BYU have something in common. 

    They both look to their defensive backs as a team weakness on defense.

    Mississippi, in particular, can blame its eight losses in 2010 largely on poor play by the secondary. That spells bad news for the Rebels with Heaps and Co. coming to town.

    Not to worry. Brigham Young’s secondary is inexperienced too.

    Ready for his college football debut, Donte Moncrief will hope to take advantage. 

    Moncrief comes to Ole Miss rated the No.2 recruit out of the state of Mississippi by SuperPrep, where he is also rated as an All-American selection.

    Clarion-Ledger listed him as the No.7 recruit on the Top 10 Most Wanted list.

    In the August 20 scrimmage in front of 6,000 fans, Moncrief gave Rebel fans a show with impressive scores on a 35-yard reverse and a 53-yard reception from Randall Mackey (who is now suspended following an arrest for disorderly conduct at a downtown Oxford bar).

    Up against Moncrief, BYU senior corner Corby Eason will get his opportunity to show off in the South.

    From Georgia, he split time at the position last year. Fans remember well his ability to blitz opposing teams' quarterbacks.  

    Switched now to the other side of the field where he will blitz much less, coaches hope to depend on all 5’8’’ of his experience and improvement to lead an inexperienced unit.

    "He's smart," Howell said of Eason. "He knows the defense and the coverages that we do better than anyone. He's someone you want out there. I trust him.

    I can trust him in any situation to get it done.”

Brassell vs. Hadley

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    Ole Miss wide receiver Nickolas Brassell (6'0", 172-pound freshman) against BYU corner Preston Hadley (6'0", 200-pound junior).

    At the other side of the field, freshman star Nickolas Brassell will look to burn BYU with his speed.

    Ole Miss has already won a major battle just getting this kid in a Rebels uniform. He was also heavily recruited by Alabama and Mississippi State.

    “Brassell, who was about 90 percent sure of his decision last week, took a trip to Ole Miss two weeks ago, and fell in love with the players, atmosphere and Nutt,” Bleacher Report reported this February.

    “Brassell can quickly eat up cushion, force a corner to bail, get even and leave. He has great separation quickness and gets in and out of his breaks well.

    Brassell has a solid catch radius and strike zone to make grabs away from his frame and is also athletic enough to adjust on the move to poorly thrown balls. He'll stretch the field for Ole Miss and help open up the running game, while also factoring as a dynamic return man.”

    Brigham Young defensive back Preston Hadley has battled strong in fall camp to win the nod as the starter. He’ll have his hands full covering the shifty freshman playmaker in his first game.

    A JUCO transfer from Snow College in nearby Ephraim, Utah, Hadley transferred in time for spring practices and immediately impressed BYU coaches.

    He plays with a swagger that has been compared to Brian Logan, who started at the position last season and has since graduated.

    His junior college experience could prove invaluable against his freshman opponent.

Pendleton vs. Apo

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    Ole Miss corner Wesley Pendleton (5'11", 180-pound junior) against BYU wide receiver Ross Apo (6'3", 200-pound freshman).

    Two newbies will battle it out to prove who will establish himself this season.

    Wesley Pendleton had a successful JUCO career at Copiah-Lincoln Community College in Wesson, Mississippi. Last season he recorded 28 tackles, 11 pass break ups and three interceptions at the junior college.

    He's super fast.

    Ross Apo of Brigham Young has some speed himself.

    Big things were expected to come his way last year, but he sat out instead with a critical injury to his finger. The NCAA granted his petition for a medical redshirt and in camp he has established himself as the go-to guy for Heaps' deep ball.

    Apo is having a great time in practices learning new techniques from coach Ben Cahoon, a former Canadian Football league star who retired from playing the game to take over coaching wide receivers at BYU.

    Expect to see a different look from BYU's wide receivers compared to last year—an improved one.