Last year the Texas Longhorns came to Oxford, a place where they had installed many four-year transplants over time. There were habitual hashtags, outrageous rentals, private planes and oh yeah, Matthew McConaughey.
It was the most hyped game in Oxford since Alabama rolled to town in 2009. Unfortunately, just like its predecessor, the game did not live up to the hype. Ole Miss was blown out at home 66-31, demoralizing the fanbase who only half-remembered the game.
The Ole Miss offense was able to put up 31 points on Texas but looked pretty awful doing it. Bo Wallace threw three picks and finished with a 7.9 QBR. The offensive line allowed Wallace to be sacked five times. The ground game was less than half of what Texas got rushing. Sans Donte Moncrief, the Rebels had just 85 receiving yards.
That was Ole Miss’s first big game of the Hugh Freeze tenure and it didn’t look great. Flash forward one year and see how the times have changed. Freeze gave runs at LSU, Vanderbilt and Texas A&M and could have been a 10-win team with three plays going their way. The bowl drought ended with the Rebels drumming Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl to gain eligibility and then stomping out the Pittsburgh Panthers in Birmingham. A top five recruiting class that has infused elite talent into the program has already paid dividends. The team has burst out of the opening gates with a 2-0 start and a big road win under the belt to go along with a Top 25 ranking. It has been dubbed the “Rebel Rise”.
Texas on the other hand has anything but risen. After starting 4-0 Mack Brown’s club dropped four conference games. Winning the Alamo Bowl does not do much for fans and administrators who expect national titles. The booster detractors reached a fever pitch on Saturday night when the Longhorns went out to Provo, Utah and allowed 550 rushing yards in a 40-21 loss to BYU. Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz was fired and in a desparate move, the Longhorns hired Gregg Robinson to replace him. Brown’s got a Texas-sized hot plate on his seat and needs a home win over a ranked team badly.
Back to 2013 where the Rebel offense will need to continue to roll to defeat Texas on the road. Wallace will need to step up bigger than he did last year and has already shown tremendous strides this season. After being plagued by turnovers in Year One, he has thrown zero interceptions so far. He’s 39-62 for 471 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He has also rushed for a net of 63 yards and two touchdowns. He’s more mature than last year and is poised for a big game against a limited Longhorn pass rush.
Jeff Scott leads the rushing attack for Ole Miss. Like most of the offensive starters, Scott saw very limited action last week against Southeast Missouri. He’s ran the ball 16 times for 166 yards and the biggest touchdown of the season, a go-ahead score against Vanderbilt with under two minutes to play. Even more impressive for a speed back, he has yet to be taken down in the backfield. The combination of Scott, Wallace, I’tavius Mathers and Barry Brunetti on the ground could give Texas fits. Last week BYU’s quarterback rushed for 259 yards and three touchdowns so the taking is there for Wallace and Brunetti.
Moncrief had a huge game last year going for over 100 yards and a score but has been limited this season. There have been constant double-teams on the junior which has allowed others to get involved. Heralded freshman Laquon Treadwell leads the Rebels with 11 catches and could pose problems for corner Carrington Byndom. Evan Engram leads Moncrief by one yard with 131 on the season for most on the team. The return of Vincent Sanders is huge and the lethal air raid that Ole Miss can put forth is now in full force.
Pierce Burton is injured but can play according to Freeze. He has been held out of practice with a bum ankle and if he goes down it is Laremy Tunsil coming into the game. Texas returns a veteran front seven, namely Jackson Jeffcoat, Steve Edmond and Jordan Hicks, but has accumulated just two sacks this year. If the line holds up and can improve on the five sacks allowed in last year’s matchup, Wallace and Scott could do a lot of damage out of the backfield.
Robinson’s hire has thrown a wrench into the Rebel gameplan. While that may seem like a disadvantage, just remember that his last defenses at Michigan were among the worst in college football. With a week of preparation for the game, the defense will either be swimming in the new material or he will be trying to make their old philosophy better. It could wind up being another shootout between the two and if the Rebels can start scoring early, don’t expect much to change.