Tennessee vs Ole Miss for Lunch
As game day approaches, usually beginning Wednesday afternoon like a scratchy throat signaling the ultimate chest-flim fest, paranoia starts to seep in, no matter who the opponent. It starts to settle in on Thursday like a relative who lost his job and just moved in with you and the Misses. By Friday, it’s a full-fledged 103.5-degree fever, with night sweats and up at 2 am to vomit your Orange Confidence.
No matter how well your team has been playing, there is Potential Death standing right around the corner. “This might be the game the wheels come off” you tell yourself. “This might be the day that the New Year’s Day Dream vaporizes into a mist with a foul odor that hangs around well into December” you say to yourself while cutting yourself shaving.
So, to say the least, I’m worried.
Not necessarily because we’re playing the Rebs in Oxford Town. No. Well, that’s part of it. Ole Miss can be a formidable opponent, especially in their own cute little house. Yes.
So what is it?
Is it that highly talented Rebel QB my biggest worry? Nope.
Is it that massive defensive front four, ready to show Coach O what they have become, my biggest worry? Nah.
Is it that little feller in the backfield that’s harder to catch than the clap in a nunnery? No sir.
It’s the dreaded 11:00-time start on the road. Scares me to death.
Think about it. The game-day routine is different if you’re beginning to bang heads in the morning than the normal afternoon or evening game. Off just enough to make a difference in performance if the schedule isn’t adequately considered and managed.
We’re not pros, and we don’t play that many road games. However this coaching staff doesn’t seem to overlook much, so I’m sure they’ve paid attention to that challenge. I hope the kids can manage and be both physically and mentally ready.
Ole Miss, 6-3 (2-3 SEC), has won 3 of its last 4 games. Three more to play. Winning out would restore major respectability to the program obviously over-hyped before the season began. Saturday they were able to rest quite a few players against Northern Arizona (as did Tennessee in the second half).
So who are the Rebels’ horses to watch (or mules – thanks Steve Kiner)?
Dexter McCluster, Senior RB (#22). In 8 games (he didn’t play last week), 82 rushes for 473 net yards and only 2 TDs. But, he’s also caught 27 passes for 352 yards and 2 TDs. He might be on the small side, but he can play big at times. Sophomore Brandon Bolden (#34) has more rushing yards (523 net) but isn’t the all-purpose threat that is McCluster.
Jevan Snead, Junior QB (#4). In 9 games, he is 134/258 for 1850 yards, 17 TDs, and 13 INT’s. No trend to be seen in his performance a la Jonathan Crompton who just keeps getting better and better. On Saturday, Sneed could be either Joe Namath at his best or Jonathan Crompton against UCLA.
Shay Hodge, Senior TE (#3). In 9 games he’s caught 45 passes for 733 yards and 6 TD’s. Pretty good numbers.
Jesse Grandy, Freshman WR/Kick Returner (#10). He didn’t start returning kicks until mid-season (Alabama game). Since then he’s returned 16 KO’s for 481 yards and 2 TD’s. Enough said.
Greg Hardy, Senior DL (#86). 11 solo tackles (6 solo losses). 5 solo sacks plus 4 QB hurries. Hello. Unfortunately for the Rebs, it was announced yesterday that Hardy will miss the remainder of the season because of a broken wrist.
Jerrell Powe, Junior DL (#57). 16 solo tackles (8 solo losses). 2 solo sacks plus 1 QB hurry. Two other quality front lineman, too.
What are Ole Miss’ major statistical strengths and weaknesses?
- Scoring Defense: 4th in SEC / 12th Nationally. Most points against was 33 by Auburn. Only two games where opponent scored 20 or more points – Auburn (33) and Alabama (22).
- Pass Efficiency Defense: 3rd in SEC / 14th Nationally. No doubt aided by the Rebs’ fearsome foursome putting pressure on the QB.
- Sacks: 2nd in SEC / 16th Nationally. Greg Hardy has 5 solo sacks and 4 QB hurries. This strength may be severely weakened with Hardy’s injury.
- Kickoff Returns: 3rd in SEC / 16th Nationally. The Nutter got lucky and found a freshman who has been a godsend to the Rebs.
- Pass Defense: Even though they’re 7th in the SEC, they rank 23rd nationally. The SEC is a defensive-minded league. You can still be very good while ranked in the lower half of this conference.
- Passing Efficiency: 9th in SEC / 72nd Nationally. Snead is highly unpredictable and has thrown a bucket load of INTs.
- Turnover Margin: 11th in SEC / 102nd Nationally. Are you listening, Eric Berry?
- Passing Offense: This is probably overrated if you look at team stats. The Rebels are 4th in the SEC but 57th nationally. The SEC is not a passing league.
- Rushing Defense: 7th in SEC / 58th Nationally. But remember, the Rebs play in the SEC. So this isn’t really a weakness.
UT should be able to stop Ole Miss’ running game unless Sneed is on and mixing it up between throwing to the WRs and the RBs. But If Sneed has one of his downers, the Vols could romp. Wouldn’t that be fun.
Jonathan Crompton. Is he going to continue to improve on Saturday? Lord, we’re starting to expect the world from the young man when a few weeks ago we wanted his head. Will Tennessee want to rely on the pass or the run in this one?
Let’s remember a couple of games. Georgia, and especially Memphis, expected the Vols to rely mostly on the ground game from the get-go, and both paid the price. Coach Lane Kiffin knew this, and set up his game plan accordingly.
So to answer the question of how Tennessee is going to approach this game, odds are that the answer lies in the question of what does Ole Miss expect the Vols to do.
I think Crompton has them confused. Doesn’t he now confuse everybody? If the Rebs key on Tennessee’s running game, I think the Vols will burn Old Miss with the pass. I think the Rebs will key on the Vols passing game and try to keep us within the 20’s. They’ll be willing to give up rushing yards between the red zones. So, watch for an offense similar to what we brought to Georgia. Not a lot of pocket passing, but more play-action and roll outs. Likely a balanced, 50-50 rushing-passing game. If Crompton sits in the pocket in this one and is effective, he’s loads better than I already think he has become.
The Vols’ defense is going to try to get inside the head of Jevan Sneed big time. Make him soil his pants. He knows it’s coming, but he doesn’t know when. This is going to be the fun part of Saturday’s affair.
The crowd factor? No bother to the Vols. Oxford isn’t Gainesville or Tuscaloosa. And we were respectable in those towns.
So, as Paul once sang,
I’ve got a feeling, a feeling deep inside.
Oh yeah. Oh yeah.
Tennessee 31 Ole Miss 17
Call me crazy, I don’t know.
Maybe that’s why I love them so.
All times Eastern. 2009 opponents in bold.
- Kentucky at Vanderbilt 12:20 pm
- UAB at Memphis 1:00 pm
- Florida at South Carolina 3:30 pm
- Western Kentucky at Louisiana-Monroe 4:00 pm
- UCLA at Washington State 5:00 pm
- Auburn at Georgia 7:00 pm
- Alabama at Mississippi State 7:00 pm
- Ohio: BYE WEEK
All times Eastern.
- Tennessee at Ole Miss • 12:00 pm • CBS
- Kentucky at Vanderbilt • 12:21 pm • SEC Network
- Florida at South Carolina • 3:30 pm • CBS
- Alabama at Mississippi State • 7:00 pm • ESPN
- Auburn at Georgia • 7:00 pm • ESPN2
- Louisiana Tech at LSU • 7:00 pm • ESPNU
- Troy at Arkansas • 7:30 pm • CSS